The Risks of Expiring Patents


When you protect your product or technology with patent lawyers, and effectively market it, its value increases and people will be drawn to it. 

What happens when a patent expires after 20 years?

When a patent expires, it creates both risk and opportunity. You have new opportunity to patent an improvement upon either your own invention, or someone else’s. Meanwhile, if your patent is expiring, the biggest risk is that someone else will take your idea and then use your name to try and get the funding they need to develop their product.

It’s important to understand what patents are and what they mean. Patents are a legal protection that prevents others from making or selling a product that you invented. Inventions are never made in a vacuum, so you can always benefit from improving upon someone else’s invention.

Under United States law, a patent is nonrenewable, and can only be valid for up to 20 years from the time of filing. After expiration, you cannot obtain another patent for the exact same invention. However, you can legally file a patent for an improvement upon the invention.

Patent Expiration and Generic Competition

It’s always important to keep a close eye on the patents your competitors are using or have used recently. It’s important to be proactive in your research and always be aware of what can enter the market soon. 

For example, suppose you create a device that saves people money on their phone bill every month. There’s a big risk when you invent something that people will try to clone it, which is why – in order for your invention to qualify for a patent – you have to make sure it stands out.

When the patent expires after 20 years, the effect on your revenue will depend on the market demand. If your product creates a long-term trend, the risk of generic competition is much greater. That being said, that risk can be mitigated when:

  1. You have proprietary know-how to make the product or device at a quality above what competitors can do, or
  2. The generic competition creates a secondary, “step-up” market: when people use cheaper alternatives for a while, more of them will eventually want to convert to your product, because they’ve already spent the money and they see the value.

And yet, above all, the biggest risk with a patent expiry is that the product or service you’ve patented may no longer be in demand, and if it is then there might not be enough demand to maintain profitability. The best option is to invent something else that is more in line with new trends.

Patent Expiration as a Profit Center

You can make money if you improve upon your own invention, or even someone else’s expired patent. That’s a key premise behind crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter.

You can make money by improving upon someone else’s invention by creating a patent for it and then licensing that patent to others. You can also make money from improving on your own invention by selling your patents outright.

How to Do Patenting the Right Way

Many new and exciting inventions are copied by competitors, but there are ways to protect yourself. By protecting yourself legally, you also get to understand the process of patenting in and out, to where you can maximize the effectiveness of your patent – both in the written description, and the diagrams that accompany it. The less specific, the less you get to make yourself stand out.

Booking a free consultation with a patent attorney in Houston (Google) is key to understanding patent law, and gaining a major competitive edge while saving time and money.