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Important Dates in US Patent History

the highlights

Granted Patents filed this year expire in 2034

See the fuzzy boundary language disclaimer below.
(Little about patents is ever clear cut.)

2034

 
 

2013

US switched from first to invent to first to file
 

2012

Earliest prior art date for patents filed in 2013
USPTO published its first patent application

2001

 
 

1997

The Oldest Enforceable Design Patent —
Design Patents Are Valid for 14 Years
The oldest enforceable utility and plant patent —
Utility and Plant patents are valid for 20 years*

1991

 
 

1976

Full Text and Image of Granted Patents Availablel at USPTO
First US Plant Patent Granted

1931

 
 

1843

First Design Patent Issued
First reissue patent granted

1838

 
 

1836

Patent 1 Issued —
USPTO starts using the current patent numbering system
First US Patent issued and signed by George Washington

1790

 
 

1789

US Constitution signed
Fuzzy boundary language on patent expiration dates — There are lots of factors that impact the expiration of a patent. Some patents expire early because the inventor doesn't pay the fees, or the court or USPTO invalidates the patent. Others have patent term extensions. Twenty years (20) is a rule of thumb to use to estimate the enforceability of a patent.

the details

2033
Granted patents with file dates in 2013 will expire in 2033. See fuzzy language disclaimer and 1991 below.
2013
March 16, 2013 the US patent system switches from first-to-invent to first-to-file. In a first-to-file system, the right to the grant of a patent for a given invention lies with the first person to file a patent application for protection of that invention, regardless of the date of actual invention. It remains to be seen how this will work out as many expect constitutional challenges. Constitutionalists are believe that the Constitution (1789 below) states that first to invent is entitled to patent protection, not the first to get the application in to USPTO. Stay tuned.
2012
An inventor is not entitled to a patent if the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of the application for patent in the United States. This means that for a patent application filed in 2011, the earliest prior art date that will impact patentability is art dated in 2010. Prior art is all the information that has been made available to the public in any form before a given date that is relevant to a patent's claim of originality. Prior art is the state of the art before the inventors new patent application is filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

One year before the filing date on a patent is the Priority Date. This is the date used to determine which prior art will impact a patent application.

Prior art can be other US patents, published US patent applications, foreign patents and published patent applications, and published academic, technical, and scientific material relevant to the invention.
2001
On March 15, 2001 the US Patent and Trademark Office began publishing US patent applications. Patent applications received at the US patent office on or after November 29, 2000 are published. Patent applications are published 18 months after they are filed at the patent office unless the inventor expressly requests that the application not be published by attesting that the inventor has not and will not file for a patent in a foreign country.

Published patent applications can be an important asset for new companies seeking to raise capital. Inventors may request that the patent office publish application earlier than 18 months, a procedure that offers inventors provisional rights at an earlier stage.
1997
Design patents issued in 1998 are still valid and enforceable. Design patents are valid for 14 years from the date they are granted by the USPTO. USPTO sometimes extends the term of a patent when certain conditions arise such as delays in prosecuting the patent application. Always check the patent for the actual expiration dates.
1991
Patent applications granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office are valid for 20 years from the filing date. Utility patents, the most common type of US patent, will expire before 20 years if the inventor doesn't pay the required maintenance fees. Then the patent is considered abandoned and can no longer be enforced by the inventor. USPTO sometimes extends the term of a patent when certain conditions arise such as delays in prosecuting the patent application. Always check the patent for the actual expiration dates.There are terminal disclaimers and other adjustments to patent terms. There are some tricky patent length rules.

Utility Patent Length — Utility Patents and Plant Patents based on applications filed after June 8, 1995, (actual filing date, not priority date), have a term of 20 years from the US filing date of the earliest non-provisional application upon which the patent is based. Utility Patents and Plant Patents based on applications which were pending on June 8, 1995 (actual filing date, not priority date), and any Utility or Plant Patent which was issued and not expired as of June 8, 1995, have a term measured by the longer of 17 years from the date of issue or 20 years from the date of US filing of the earliest non-provisional application in its chain of parentage.

Short Cut to Figuring Out if a Patent May Still be Enforced — If the patent is an original-issue Utility Patent or a Reissue of a Utility Patent and the patent number is 4,999,999 or less all such patents all expired on or before August 31, 2010.  You need to check the expiration dates on the rest.
1976
The US Patent and Trademark has created a searchable full text data base along with image copies of US patents for use by researchers looking for patent information and searching for prior art to support new patent applications. Both the full text data and the images are available for patents granted as of 1976. For older patents issued from 1836 to 1975 only the images are available.
1931
Plant patents are granted by the Government to an inventor who has invented or discovered and asexually reproduced a distinct and new variety of plant, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state. If you've had a pluot, a plum/apricot hybid, you've had the fruit an asexually reproduced variety of a plant.
1843
The first design patent was granted in 1843. The first two design patents D1 and D2 have no drawings. D3, the third design patent, was granted for the design for a girandole.

girandole on design patent d3

A Girandole is a branched support for candles or other lights, which either stands on a surface or projects from a wall.
1838
The first reissue patent was granted in 1838. Let the fun begin.
1836
Patent number 1 was issued. The current patent numbering system began with a patent issued on July 13, 1836. This patent covered a locomotive steam engine. Prior to that date, 9,957 patents had been issued by the United States.
1790
On July 31, 1790 Samuel Hopkins was issued the first patent for a process of making potash, an ingredient used in fertilizer. The patent was signed by President George Washington. Hopkins was born in Vermont, but was living in Philadelphia, PA when the patent was granted.
1789
The US Constitution was signed and included the following clause:

"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive right to their respective Writings and Discoveries"
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