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Various types of patent documents can be found in patent databases, the two most common relating to patent applications and issued patents. Patent applications are published 18 months after first filing date and depending on what stage in the application process they are they will have different legal status. This is also the case for the patents found here on the Sea of Inventions website. Below is an attempt to clarify the differences. If in doubt, please contact Sea of Inventions at PRV.
1. Expired patents
As patent protection can only be upheld for 20 years, patents older than that are no longer in force (the exception is some pharmaceutical patents with a maximum five year supplementary protection certificate). Time is counted from the filing date.
2. Abandoned patents
In some countries, after a patent is granted, the patent holder/proprietor has to pay an annual fee maintenence to keep the patent in force. If the holder for some reason chooses not to pay these fees, the patent expires. To check whether this is the case it is advisable to contact the patent office where the patent was issued.
3. Patents in force
A valid patent protects an invention in the territory for which the patent application was granted. Patents granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) under the European Patent Conventions (EPC) can later be validated in any EPC contracting state, thus allowing validity in as many as 38 countries. Here too, the national patent offices will be able to provide information on the legal status. To see if an invention enjoys patent protection in more than one country, one way is to examine the patent family. The patent family includes all patent applications that have claimed priority from the first application filed for that invention.
4. Applications not granted
These documents fall under two different categories: a) refused patent applications and b) pending applications. The former category refers to applications for inventions that the patent office has deemed not being patentable. In these cases the invention is not subject to any patent protection whatsoever. The latter category, however, refers to applications were the decision by the patent office on whether to grant or not still is to be taken. In these cases no officially recognised protection exists, but the mere filing of the patent application constitutes latent protection to the effect that the patent once later granted will have retroactive force as from from the filing date, i.e. also during the application process. In the United States these are labelled "patent pending". To enquire about the application status, contact the patent office in question.