Did you know that IP protections are not permanent? They have to be re-filed with their associated office every few years, and even then, there are ways for them to become a part of the public domain. Intellectual property law is extensive, and impermanence has been an issue since the concept of IP was developed several hundred years ago. 

If you’re not careful, you can lose your IP protection and someone else can try to file ownership of it. This can lead to a slew of IP infringement cases to get the IP protection back and defend your ownership. For more information, contact the intellectual property attorneys at Emerson Thomson Bennett.

How Long Does Each Type of IP Protection Last?

Currently, there are four types of IP protection: copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets. They each have their own federal office that they need to be filed with, and even then, they don’t last forever. Each type lasts a specific amount of time, some last far longer than others, and if one were to let their IP protection lapse, a few things can happen. 

Copyright Protections

Compared to the other types of IP protections, copyrights tend to last the longest. No matter what type of work is being copyrighted, copyrights for creative works created after January 1st, 1978, last the author’s lifetime, plus an additional 70 years. Before then, copyrights worked differently from work to work. There wasn’t a standardized way to track and file copyrights back then, so there’s a lot of legal work to be done to establish when the copyright expires.

For creative works made by anonymous authors or work for hires, the copyright lasts 95 years after its first publication or 120 years after its creation, whichever comes first. For example, the original Batman comics were created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger for DC Comics as work for hire. Since Batman was a character created as a work for hire, the copyright for his first story, and the version of the character in it, will last 95 years, or until May 1st, 2034. 

Once the copyright expires, the creative work enters what is known as the public domain, and can be used by any entity. If the copyright is connected to a trademark, certain symbols would have to be excluded from other works even though it’s in the public domain.

Trademark Protections

Unlike copyrights and patents, trademarks don’t have a set expiration date. They could conceivably go on forever and only expire if certain conditions are met. The only thing that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) requires for trademark owners is that they continue to use the trademark. 

This isn’t a simple task, though. Companies and businesses must show that they are still actively using a trademark every five years. This means a trademark will last as long as the business that uses it. What does happen is that companies will find that it costs less money to let a trademark filing lapse rather than pay the fees and work that goes into keeping it.

For example, Sony Computer Entertainment lost the trademark to one of its products, the Playstation Vita, after it couldn’t prove they were actively using it. They were no longer producing Playstation Vitas, nor producing products associated with them, so they lost the trademark. This is how many businesses lose their trademark.

While most don’t want to try and control unused trademarks, lost trademarks can be taken up by other entities.

Patent Protections

Patents have the shortest-lasting IP protection. In the U.S., patents only last for 20 years from the date the patent application was filed. Once the patent expires, it will go into the public domain and become available for anyone to use.

To dissuade people from using your patent or keep gaining income from it, you can create upgrades and extensions that significantly improve upon the original patent. These upgrades are their own separate patent that also lasts 20 years from when the upgrade was filed. This way, you make products from your original patent obsolete so no one wants to use them, but they do want to use the upgraded versions that you can still profit from.

Trade Secret Protections

Trade secrets can potentially last forever. They last as long as the owner can keep them secret without revealing them to the public. Once it’s revealed to the public, the protection is gone, but you can file a lawsuit against whoever revealed the information if they signed an NDA or accessed the information without permission. 

This is how companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi have been able to keep their formulas secret for such a long time.

Contact the IP Protection Attorneys at ETB for Help

While you can’t extend copyrights and patents, you can still defend them and create ways to artificially extend them and your profit. With the help of a knowledgeable IP protection attorney, you can also maintain your control over your trademarks and hide your trade secrets. 

Without legal help, it’s easy to make a mistake that costs you your control over your IP. Don’t take risks with IP that helps your company succeed. Contact our attorneys today.



We provide complete intellectual property representation to business owners, inventors and artists in all matters related to the establishment and protection of domestic and international patents, trademarks and copyrights. Attorneys at our firm also serve as in-house IP counsel for companies whose needs do not call for a full-time internal position.






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