Once the examiner has reviewed a patent application and found that it has one or more allowable independent claims, he or she will issue a Notice of Allowance. This requires the applicant to pay the publication fee—if it has not been paid already—and an issuance fee. Once that is paid, the patent office will print the patent and provide the inventor with a ‘ribbon copy,’ a certified copy of the patent featuring the patent office sea and ribbon, signed by a certifying patent officer.
Maintaining Your Patent
At this point, the patent can be enforced against potential infringers. However, the patent must be kept valid in order to keep patent protections in place. To do this, maintenance fees must be paid four years, eight years and twelve years after the patent office grants the patent. Federal regulations set the time periods when these maintenance fees can be paid without having to pay a surcharge. Those periods, referred to as the ‘window period,’ are the 6-month periods immediately preceding each of the three due dates, which are defined by law.
This means that the three window periods occur—in relation to the initial granting of the patent—(1st) 3 to 3 1/2 years, (2nd) 7 to 7 1/2 years, and (3rd) 11 to 11 1/2 years after the initial approval. A maintenance fee paid on the last day of a window period can be paid without surcharge. The last day of a window period is the same day of the month the patent was granted 3 years and 6 months, 7 years and 6 months, or 11 years and 6 months after grant of the patent. Thus, if your patent was granted on January 1st, 2020, the end of the first window period would occur on July 1st, 2023.
Patent Maintenance Fee Grace Periods
If you are slow in paying your maintenance fees, there is still a ‘grace period’ in which you can pay the fees, with a surcharge, and avoid having your patent expire. These periods, referred to generally as the grace period,’ are the 6-month periods immediately following each due date (the last day of the window period when you can pay your maintenance fee without a surcharge). Counting from the day your patent is first approved, each grace period occurs (1st) 3 1/2 years and through the day of the 4th anniversary of the grant of the patent, (2nd) 7 1/2 years and through the day of the 8th anniversary of the grant of the patent and, (3rd) 11 1/2 years and through the day of the 12th anniversary of the grant of the patent.
For instance, if your patent was granted on January 1st, 2020, the first grace period would tend from July 2nd, 2023, to January 1st, 2024. As long as each of these three maintenance fees is paid no later than the 4th, 8th, and 12th anniversaries of the initial granting of the patent, your patent will not expire.
These fees cannot be paid in advance, as the Patent Office raises the fees on a regular basis. Remembering to pay these fees can be difficult, especially over such a long period of time. So, contacting a registered patent lawyer and having them handle this can save a lot of time and heartache. Typically, we charge $200 per maintenance fee submission, plus the cost of the fee.