Whether you’re currently working on a design that you want to protect with a design patent or you’ve already patented your design, you might be wondering when does a design patent expire? We will answer this question below.

Do Design Patents Expire?

According to the USTPO, yes, design patents expire 15 years from the date that the USPTO grants a design patent. The USPTO (The United States Patent and Trademark Office) is the entity responsible for granting inventor design patents, as well as other types of patents.

The patent term for design patent applications that were filed on or after May 13, 2015, have a patent term that lasts for 15 years from the date the patent office grants the design patent application. That said, this was a new change to patent law. Design patent application filed before May 13, 2015, last for 14 years from the date the patent office granted a design patent. So, just keep in mind that the law did change, so look at the date of the patent application filing date to determine the patent term.

Why is it Important to Know When Design Patents Expire?

It’s important to know when design patents expire because a design patent holder will no longer be able to stop others from using, making, and selling the patented design once a design patent expires.

While a design patent is still active (has not expired), the design patent holder is able to stop others from using, making, copying, and selling the patented design. This allows the inventor of the design to exclusively profit from the patented design.

If a party copies, sells or otherwise infringes upon the inventor’s design, the inventor can send them a cease and desist letter to stop using his design. If the party does not stop, the inventor can sue the party for patent infringement in federal court. If the inventor is successful in the lawsuit, he may be able to obtain a court order, ordering the party copying or selling the design to stop such activities.

Once a design patent expires, the patent holder loses the right to exclude others from using and selling the once patented design. The patent holder will no longer be able to stop others from copying and selling the design because the design becomes part of the public domain.

This may open the door for others to copy and profit from the design. That said, copyright law may still offer some protection over the once patented design, so ask your lawyer if your design is still protected under U.S Copyright Law.

What Happens When a Design Patent Expires?

By now, you probably know that while a design patent is in effect, an inventor can stop others from making and selling a design that’s the same as or similar to the one that an inventor has patented. So, what happens when a design patent expires 14 or 15 years after the patent office granted the patent?

When a design patent expires, the patent holder loses patent protection over his invention and the invention falls into the public domain. Once a design is in the public domain, people can often freely copy the design without having to obtain the express consent of the patent holder.

Can a Design Patent Be Renewed After it Expires?

Unfortunately, one a design patent expires, it cannot be renewed. This is so because unlike utility patents which can expire due to nonpayment of maintenance fees, design patents do not have maintenance, so they usually expire due to the expiration of the patent term. Once a design patent expires due to the expiration of the 15-year patent term, a patent holder cannot renew the patent.

If you have a design and the patent on that design expired, try to come up with a new design that’s similar, yet different enough to convince the patent office to grant you a design patent.

What Do Design Patents Protect?

Design patents protect how an invention looks. They protect the aesthetics and appearance of nonfunction items. Design patents cannot be used to protect how an invention works. This is so because the patent office issues utility patents to protect how an invention works and the functional aspects of an invention.

Design patents are almost always cheaper to obtain and less complicated to obtain than utility patents. This is so because design patents usually claim one design, whereas, utility patents often make numerous claims.

How Long Does it Take the Patent Office to Grant Design Patents?

According to data from the USPTO, it currently takes the patent office, 20.4 months to either grant or deny a design patent application. That said, design patents have a very high approval rating. Most design patents are issued without the applicant even receiving an office action. That said, if you do receive an office action, don’t panic as office actions are often overcome by making amendments and/or changes to the design patent application.

How Long Do Design Patents Last?

How long a design patent lasts depends on when an applicant applied for his design patent. Patents originating from design patent applications filed on or after May 13, 2015, have a patent term of 15 years, while patents originating from design patent applications filed before May 13, 2015, have a patent term of 14 years.

For example, if you applied for a patent on May 1, 2015, and the patent office grants the patent on May 1, 2016, the patent will last for 14 years, expiring on May 1, 2030. On the other hand, if you applied for a patent on May 15, 2015, and the patent office grants the design patent on May 1, 2016, the patent will last for 15 years, expiring on May 15, 2031.

How Can You Tell If a Design Patent Has Expired?

You can tell if a design patent has expired by calculated the design patent term. To do this, look at when the design patent application was filed. If the application was filed on or after May 13, 2015, add 15 years to the date the design patent was granted and you should have the patent term or patent expiration date. If the design patent application was filed before May 13, 2015, add 14 years to the design patent grant or issue date and you will have the patent term or patent expiration date.

What Does the Expiration of the Patent Term Mean?

The expiration of the patent term simply means that the life of the patent has expired. The patent term refers to the 14 or 15-year lifespan of a design patent. So, when you hear someone saying that a design patent has a 15-year patent term, just know that they are referring to the 15-year life of a patent. That said, if you hear someone saying the design patent term has expired, this just means that the design patent has been granted for more than 14 or 15 years and has expired.

Why Do Design Patents Expire?

Patents expire to allow others to use the design and improve upon it. Without having an expiration date for patents, people would not be able to use great designs. The design patent term gives inventors just enough time to be able to profit from their design without having competitors using and selling the same design.

Patent law believes that 15 years is enough time for an inventor to profit from his design, after that, the design becomes part of the public domain, allowing anyone to use the once patented design. That said, don’t use someone else’s design just because the patent term expired because the design may still be protected under copyright law.

Can Design Patents Expire Due to Nonpayment of Maintenance Fees?

Fortunately, in the U.S, inventors are not required to pay maintenance fees to keep design patents from expiring. U.S Patent law only requires the payment of maintenance fees for utility patents. Once a patent office grants a design patent, the patent remains in effect until the patent term expires, maintenance fees are not required to keep design patents granted.

Does a Design Patent Expire?

As you’re probably aware by now, a design patent does expire after 15 years from the date the patent office grants it. However, you should be aware that a design patent applied for before May 13, 2015, has a 14-year patent term. The patent term is different for design patents applied for after May 13, 2015, which have a patent term of 15 years. We also covered things such as the importance of design patents, as well as the fact that design patents cannot be renewed once the patent term ends or the patent expires. If you have any general questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.