Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jan 3, 2020

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Russ Weinzimmer, a patent attorney whose practice works with individuals and small companies to help them protect their inventions and intellectual property, has been practicing patent law for over 20 years. In that time, he’s been asked a lot of questions. Here are his answers to some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) he gets on the process, the application and the time periods involved.

Question: How long does a patentabilty search take?

Answer: It can take anywhere from seven to 14 days.

Question: What’s involved in completing the patent application?

Answer: What you have to do as an inventor is work with the patent lawyer to explain how to “make and use the invention.” That is, you must explain your invention to the patent attorney so that one of average skill in that field could make and use it “without undue experimentation.” This means that a person who needs to make and use your invention from reading your patent should not have to do any inventing. They should just be able to make and use the invention based on what we teach in the patent and their own knowledge of the field.

Question: How long does it take for a patent to issue?

Answer: Three years on average. You cannot sue anybody until the patent issues, although you get increasing protection from the moment you file.

Question: How long do patents last?

Answer: A patent lasts 20 years from the filing date of the patent application.

Question: After that 20 years expires, can they re-patent it or is that it?

Answer: That’s it for the original invention. However, any improvements made during that 20 year time period can be patented and those patents can extend beyond the 20 year term.