The USPTO (The United States Patent and Trademark Office) issues utility patents to inventors to protect processes, machines, and compositions of matter. Utility patents last for 20 years from the date an inventor files a patent application with the patent office. We often get asked: How long does it take me to get a utility patent approved by the patent office? We will answer this question below.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Utility Patent?

According to data from the USPTO, it currently takes 24.2 months for an inventor to get a utility patent. Please note that some applications take longer while others take less. The patent office currently has 552,349 pending utility patent applications. As you can probably tell from these numbers the patent office has a large number of unexamined patent applications that it has to get to. So, if you’ve filed a utility patent application please be patient.

According to patent office data, applicants for utility patents should receive their first office action within 16.2 months of filing a nonprovisional patent application. That said, if you don’t receive your first office action within 16.2 don’t panic because this is the average, some applications take longer while some take less time.

Why Do Inventors Apply For a Utility Patent?

Inventors apply for utility patents because they allow them to stop others from using, making, and selling their invention for a limited period of time. For utility patents, this limited-time lasts for 20 years from the time an inventor files a utility patent application.

This allows inventors to be the only ones making and selling the patented invention. This gives them an advantage against their competitors because the patent holder can stop them from making and selling the same or similar product. Also, if someone seeks to patent the same invention, the patent office will prohibit them from doing so.

Inventors patent their inventions because they can profit them, either by selling the patented product, selling the patent entirely, or licensing the patent for others to use.

Some inventors choose to license their patents to others because it’s often cheaper to do so instead of bringing the product to market and having to spend money marketing it. Instead, the inventor licenses it to a third party that already has access to customers willing to purchase the patented product.

Time It Takes to Complete The Steps to Get a Patent

1) Performing a Patent Search

The first step an inventor must take before applying for a patent is conducting a patent search to ensure that that the invention that the applicant wants to patent has not been publicly disclosed and that no one has patented the same invention. This is so because patent law requires the invention to be new, unlike anything else that’s out there. If an applicant does not know how to perform a patent search, he should contact an attorney to assist him with performing this search. A patent search can take anywhere between 1 week to 4 weeks, depending on the invention.

2) Preparing Your Utility Patent Application

Once your attorney performs a patent search by searching the USPTO patent database and other public sources, if everything looks good, your attorney will proceed to prepare your utility patent application. The time it will take your attorney to draft your patent application differs from one invention to another, often depending on the complexity of the invention to be patented.

That said, while the patent office does not require applicants for utility patents to be represented by an attorney, the patent office recommends that patent applicants hire an attorney to assist them with the preparation and filing of their patent application. This is so because a patent application has to comply with many rules and making even seemingly minor mistakes could get your patent application rejected.

If you don’t have the money to hire a patent lawyer, you do have the option of hiring a patent agent. Patent agents are licensed by the USPTO to assist applicants with their patent applications. They charge less than patent attorneys while performing many of the same functions that patent attorneys do.

3) Filing Your Utility Patent Application

After preparing a utility patent application, an applicant must file it with the USPTO. This can be done online by paying the required USPTO fees. Once an applicant files his patent application with the patent office, he will be able to immediately market his invention as patent pending. Typically, once an applicant submits a utility patent application, the patent office issues a serial number that can be used to track the status of the application.

4) Time It Takes the Patent Office to Grant or Deny a Patent Application

Once an applicant files his patent application with the USPTO, the patent office estimates that applicants should expect to receive their first office action with 17 months of filing their patent application and that the patent office will either approve or deny a patent application with 24 months of an applicant filing his utility patent application.

If you don’t hear back from the patent office within these time frames, don’t freak out because some applications take longer while others may take less time to work their way through the patent office.

Factors Affecting How Long It Takes To Get a Utility Patent

The biggest factor affecting how long it takes to get a utility patent is the art unit or technology group a patent falls under. Said differently, how long it takes to get a utility patent depends on the field of the invention and which examination group an invention is sent to. The time it takes to get a patent depends on how many applications are pending at the art unit to which the application is sent to. Some art units are more congested than others.

The second important factor that affects how long it takes to get a utility patent is whether an applicant filed a provisional application or a nonprovisional application. Provisional patent applications are not examined until an inventor files a regular, nonprovisional patent application within 12 months of filing a provisional application.

The third factor is whether an applicant submits a regular patent application or applies for one using the USPTO Track One Option. Track One is a priority filing option that promises to examine a patent application and provide an applicant with either a rejection or approval within 12 months of filing a utility patent application. That said, Track One priority filing costs between $1,000 to $4,000 in addition to the regular filing fees charged by the patent office.

Marketing Your Invention or Product As Patent Pending

As soon as an inventor files his utility patent application with the patent office, he will be able to market his product or invention as patent pending. While your patent application is pending you can market or sell your invention while including the patent-pending designation on the product or packaging. Some applicants use this as a marketing method because it’s a selling point for many customers.

That said, although an applicant is free to market his product as patent-pending, he does not yet have the power to stop others from using, making, selling, and offering to sell the patent-pending product until the patent office grants his patent application. This is so because the inventor does not yet have a patent to enforce, he only has a pending patent application.

If the patent office grants the inventor’s patent application, the patent holder will then be able to restrict others from making and selling the patented product for 20 years. The 20-year patent term begins at the time an applicant files his utility patent application.

Time It Takes to Get a Utility Patent

By now, you should know that it takes the patent office approximately 24 months to either grant or deny a patent application. The time it takes to get a patent depends on which art unit an application is assigned to and whether an applicant chooses the Track One priority filing option. According to the USPTO, applicants should expect the first office action with 17 months of filing their patent application. If you have any general questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.