What Are Patent Maintenance Fees?

If you have a utility patent or you’re thinking about getting one, you might have heard about maintenance fees. People often refer to patent maintenance fees as patent renewal fees and patent annual fees. So, what are patent maintenance fees? Patent Maintenance fees are patent office fees that must be paid at 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5 years to the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) to keep a patent as granted. Patent maintenance fees start at $800 at 3.5 years, $1,800 at 7.5 years, and $3,700 at 11.5 years. So, if you’re figuring out the budget for your patent, you should take into consideration the maintenance fees that need to be paid to keep the patent active.

If an inventor fails to pay the patent the mandatory maintenance fees, the patent expires. However, the patent office does offer patent holders a 6-month grace during which he can pay the maintenance fees. For example, if a patent holder fails to pay the $800 maintenance fee at the 3.5-year mark, the patent office gives the inventor a 6 month grace period during which to pay the fees, in addition to a late fee. If a patent holder completely fails to pay the maintenance fee after the 6 month grace period, the patent expires.

So, if the patent office grants your utility patent, make sure not to miss the maintenance fees. The first maintenance fee you have to pay is at the 3.5-year mark, paying this fee will keep your patent granted until the 7.5-year mark when you will have to pay the second maintenance fee.

After paying the final maintenance fee payment at 11.5 years, your utility patent will remain granted until it expires at the 20-year mark. The patent term for utility patents is 20 years from the date an inventor files his patent application with the patent office. During the 20-year patent term, a holder of a utility patent will be able to stop others from using, making, and selling the patented invention or product until the patent term expires.

Who Has to Pay Maintenance Fees?

Not all patent holders have to pay maintenance fees, only holders of utility patents are required to pay maintenance fees. Design patents and plant patents do not require patent holders to pay maintenance fees. As unfortunate as it is, only utility patent holders must pay maintenance fees at the intervals we covered above.

How Often are Maintenance Fees Due?

Here is a list of the maintenance fees that are due on every utility patent that’s granted by the USPTO.

Utility patent holders must pay the following maintenance fees:

  • 3.5 Years: $800
  • 7.5 Years: $1,800
  • 11.5 Years: $3,700

These maintenance fees are calculated from the date the patent office grants the utility patent. So, the fees are required 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5 years after a utility patent is granted by the USPTO. As previously mentioned, inventors have a 6 month grace period during which to pay the required fees. Be careful though as the late fees can be painful, so paying your maintenance fees on time will save you a ton of money.

Also, the maintenance fees you pay depend on the size of your business. So, if you’re a business that has less than 500 employees, you may have to pay less to maintain your patent.

If you qualify as a micro-entity you may need to pay the following fees:

  • 3.5 Years: $400
  • 7.5 Years: $900
  • 11.5 Years: $1,850

Why Do Inventors Have to Pay Maintenance Fees?

The USPTO charges maintenance fees for two main reasons. The first reason they charge them is to generate revenue to operate the patent office. A portion of the maintenance fees goes to fund the examination of patent applications. The second main reason the patent office charges maintenance fees is to free up inventions and new technology.

By charging maintenance fees, inventors who don’t want to pay them or can’t pay them will have their patents expire. Once the patent expires, the invention falls into the public domain, allowing others to use and improve upon the patented technology. This promotes innovation and makes way for other inventors to create new technology that’s based on inventions, machines, and processes that were once patented.

Should You Pay Maintenance Fees?

If you have an invention that you’re making good money from, then absolutely yes! pay the maintenance fees and keep your patent active. Paying the maintenance fees on time allows inventors to continue to stop their competitors and anyone else from using, making, and selling the patented product without their express permission. But we understand that not all inventions are successful.

So, if you’ve invented something and you’ve been unable to commercialize the patented product or invention, then you may consider not paying the maintenance fees to keep the patent granted.

We know it’s a hard decision to make, especially if you’ve paid a ton of money to get a patent, but if you can’t make money from your invention, ask your attorney about cutting your losses by not paying the maintenance fees on the patent. Your attorney should be able to explain the consequences of not paying the required maintenance fees. That said, if you have an invention and you believe it’s valuable, try looking for companies that may be interested in purchasing your patent or licensing it.

Paying Maintenance Fees vs. Not Paying Maintenance Fees

We will keep this short and sweet. If you pay the maintenance fees, you will be able to continue to have control over who uses, makes, and sells your invention or product because your patent will remain granted. If you fail to pay the maintenance fees within the 6 month grace period, your patent will lapse (expire) and others will be free to use and selling your patent invention or product with obtaining your permission.

So, if you have an invention that is successful, make sure to pay the maintenance fees on time. The fees are not optional, they are mandatory and must be paid to maintain your patent and your right to restrict others from exploiting your invention by either using it, making it, and selling it.

What Can You Do If You Fail to Pay Maintenance Fees on Time?

If you fail to pay the maintenance fees on a patent at any of intervals, the patent office a 6 month grace period during which you can pay the maintenance fees that are due. However, if you pay late you will have to pay a late payment fee. That said, if you don’t pay the required fees within the 6 month grace period, you will have to file a patent reinstatement petition to reinstate your patent as granted.

Here are the requirements to reinstate a patent:

  • The delay in paying the maintenance fee was unintentional,
  • Payment of the required maintenance fee,
  • Payment for the petition to reinstate your patent to its grant state,
  • A signed statement that your nonpayment of maintenance fees was unintentional,
  • The petition must be signed

Note: Filing a petition for reinstatement of a patent does not guarantee that the patent office will reinstate a patent. The patent office may refuse to reinstate your patent. If the patent office refuses to reinstate your patent, they will refund your maintenance fees. Also, if you’ve missed more than one maintenance fee payment (remember there are 3 required throughout the life of a utility patent), you must file a petition for every missed maintenance fee payment. Also, if the patent office refuses to reinstate your patent, the petition filing fee is not refunded, only maintenance fees will be refunded.

How to Check the Status of Your Patent?

You can check the status of your patent by heading over to the USPTO website and using the PAIR System (Public Patent Application Information Retrieval System). You can search for your patent by using either the patent number or the patent application. Both of these numbers can be located at the top portion of your patent application.

Can a Patent Be Renewed After it Expires?

If a patent expires for failing to pay maintenance fees, a patent holder may be able to renew the patent by filing a petition to reinstate the patent, however, if an invention expires because the patent term has ended, it cannot be renewed. Design patents don’t have maintenance fees, so they usually expire because the patent term has ended, like utility patents, once a design patent expires, it cannot be renewed.

Patent Maintenance Fees

By now, you should know that patent maintenance fees, commonly known as patent renewal fees or patent annual fees, must be made at pre-determined times in order for an inventor to keep his patented as granted at the patent office. If an inventor fails to pay the maintenance fees, he has a 6 month grace period in which to pay the maintenance fees. If the fees are not paid within this grace period, the patent expires. If the patent expires, it falls into the public domain where anyone can use and make the patented invention without having to obtain the express permission of the patent holder. If you have any general questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.