Patents are essentially a contract between the owner of the patent and the government. In exchange for the government giving the patent owner the exclusive right to make, use, sell, and import the invention covered by the patent, the patent owner agrees to place the invention in the public domain at the expiration of the patent term. For most utility patents issuing today, the patent term lasts 20 years from the earliest priority date. Generally, this means that the patent owner has exclusive rights to the invention covered by the patent for 20 years beyond the date the patent application was first filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Owners of design patents have exclusive rights for 14 years past the issue date of the patent.
Kelly G. Swartz is a registered patent attorney practicing in Melbourne, FL. She focuses her practice on patent, trademark, and copyright law.