The owner of a patent has the exclusive right to make, use, sell, offer to sell, or import into the United States the invention described by the claims.1 Anyone else who engages in those activities, without the permission of the patent owner, is an infringer. An infringer can be sued for money damages2 and can be compelled by a court to cease the infringing activities.
Generally speaking, the exclusive rights conferred by a patent begin on the date the patent issues and expire 20 years after the filing date of the application (or any earlier application cited for purposes of priority).3 Consequently, the term of the patent will vary depending on how long it takes for the application to make its way through the Patent Office. A patent issued in 2005 on an application filed in 2000 would last only 15 years, expiring in 2020.4
Until recently, the term of a patent was seventeen years from the date of issue.5 Consequendy, long delays in prosecution, sometimes due to maneuvering by the applicant, occasionally resulted in patents issuing on inventions
1 See 35 U.S.C. § 271(a).
2See Section 11.8.
3 35 U.S.C. § 154(2).
4 The 20-year term applies to utility patents. Design patents, discussed in Section 12.1, have a
term of 14 years from the date of issue. 35 U.S.C. § 173.
5 Due to the change from a 17-year to a 20-year term, patents applied for prior to June 8, 1995,
are entitled to the greater of the 20-year term provided by the current statute, or the term of
17 years from issue provided by the former statute. 35 U.S.C. § 154(c).