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How long does a U.S. patent or trademark application take to issue?

There's no easy answer to the question, ''how long does it take to get a patent or trademark?'' Patents and trademarks are governed by different laws with varying timelines and procedures. Searching for an answer can quickly become frustrating as there appears to be a new patent act or trademark act every other day.

The short answer is that trademarks take about a year on average from start to finish (a), while patents take about two years (b). Despite the time it takes to process, recent data from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) indicates that the number of patent and trademark applications have been steadily on the rise.

According to the FY2020 Performance and Accountability Report released by the USPTO at the end of December 2020, the number of provisional patent applications increased by about 3% to an all-time high of 174,464, but the number of nonprovisional patent applications filed dropped by about 2%, to 653,311. With an all-time high of 665,231 patents issued in 2020, the allowance rate increased to 61.7%. So, you ask, “How long does it take a U.S. patent or trademark to issue?”

For patents, while the wait times varied depending on which Technology Center of the USPTO reviewed the application, the average time from filing to grant (or abandonment) was 23.3 months. The analysis of the different technologies gives us the following information:

  • semiconductors, electrical systems and optical systems (USPTO Technology Center 2700) had an average wait time of 13.1 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 21.1 months;
  • biotechnology and organic chemistry (USPTO Technology Center 1600) had an average wait time of 13.3 months to first action and an average total pendency of 22.6 months;
  • networks, multiplexing, cable, and security (USPTO Technology Center 2400) generally waited 12.9 months to the first action, and have an average total pendency of 23.1 months;
  • transportation, construction, agriculture, and e-commerce technologies (USPTO Technology Center 3600) had an average wait time of 16.7 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 26.4 months;
  • computer architecture, software, and information security (USPTO Technology Center 2100) had an average wait time of 16.0 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 26.5 months;
  • chemical and materials engineering (USPTO Technology Center 1700) had an average wait time of 16.8 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 26.9 months;
  • mechanical engineering and manufacturing technologies (USPTO Technology Center 3700) had an average wait time of 17.7 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 28.0 months, and;
  • communications technologies (USPTO Technology Center 2600) had the shortest average wait times of 11.4 months to first action, but a longer average total pendency of 29.2 months.

For trademarks, the average time in 2020 from filing to first Office Action in an application was 3 months. Average total pendency was 9.5 months for applications that were not opposed or suspended during prosecution. During 2020, when numerous brand holders consolidated or dropped brands, the number of trademark applications filed increased by almost 10% to 738,112. The number of active certificates of trademark registration increased by 5.7% to over 2.6 million despite the pandemic.

U.S. Patent Application Process

The following are the basic steps involved in the U.S. patent application process, which can be expedited with the help of an experienced intellectual property firm.

  1. Patent search and analysis: This is done to see what other similar patents exist or whether yours may infringe on someone else’s patent.
  2. Patent application: Once the patent search reveals that yours is a novel invention, the application is drafted. How long this takes depends on the complexity of the invention and any revisions needed to polish the application.
  3. Office action: This is essentially a rejection of a patent application once the USPTO examiner finds your patent not novel or clearly comparable to previous inventions. This is an opportunity to clarify the details of your invention and submit a fresh application.
  4. Abandonment or allowance: After a few rounds of applications and office actions, it is possible to abandon the patent application altogether. However, a patent can also get approved or allowed, so you can proceed with the next step.
  5. Patent maintenance: If the USPTO issues your patent, you will be charged maintenance fees to keep the patent active. The fees are charged at intervals, 3.5 years, 7.5 years and 11.5 years after the patent issues. This allows patents to prove their usefulness over time, and allows for the abandonment of outdated patents.

U.S. Trademark Application Process

Here are the basic steps of the US trademark application process:

  1. Trademark application: Your IP attorney submits a trademark application to the USPTO for review. The trademark review attorney checks the application for accuracy and potential conflicts with existing trademarks.
  2. Office action: The USPTO may request clarification or corrections to the application to avoid potential overlaps with other trademarks.
  3. Publication: Once approved, the application goes to a 30-day publication stage to announce your pending mark and allow for objection from other similar applicants, if any.
  4. Disputes: If any objections are raised against the trademark application, the USPTO will examine the legitimacy of the claims and deliver a verdict, where either another office action may be taken or the trademark denied.
  5. Trademark issuance: If there is no contest to the trademark, the USPTO officially issues the trademark within three months after publication. However, if the trademark application indicated “intent to use”, the applicant must file a follow-up application that proves that the mark is used in commerce before it is officially issued.

Patent and Trademark Applications as Investments

For inventors who may find the trademark and patent applications slow, expensive and filled with uncertainty, it is helpful to think of these intangible assets as an investment. Since every investment has an element of risk involved, consult an experienced intellectual property firm to assess the potential for approval for your inventions.

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