It is easy to lose patents and trademarks by forgetting to pay their annuity (maintenance) fees. Set up your automatic reminder systems today.
You have just received your US utility patent or trademark, congratulations! But remember that unless you pay annuity fees (maintenance fees) during certain future time windows, your patent or trademark will expire early. No, you can’t pay these fees early. You must wait until the time window opens to pay.
Why do we have this system? IP (Intellectual Property) laws are intended to balance both public and private rights. The underlying idea is that if the IP is really important to you, then you will keep track of the payment windows. If it is not important to you (as evidenced by your forgetting to pay), then the public rights part of the policy kicks in. The IP rights get transferred back to the public.
Utility patents (the most common type of patent) will often have about a 17-20 year term (your mileage may vary), with maintenance fees due during specific time windows at 3-4, 7-8, and 11-12 years after issue. There is no requirement that patents actually have to be used to keep them in effect. So during these time windows, the USPTO will just ask you to affirm that you are authorized to pay, and take your money.
Trademarks have to be renewed during specific time windows at 5-6 and then every 9-10 years (forever) after issue. Unlike patents, trademarks are a “use it or lose it” type of IP. The USPTO, in addition to charging fees, also requires proof of actual use in commerce. They will deny renewal if this proof is absent or unconvincing.
The responsibility for ensuring that these annuity fees are paid ultimately rests with the IP owner. Although some law firms may occasionally send out courtesy reminder notices, such courtesy reminders should not be relied upon.
Instead, consider setting up your own reminder system. At a minimum, enter the dates into at least one (preferably two) long-term electronic calendars or other automatic reminder (docketing) systems, and keep these systems going.
Additionally, consider engaging a professional annuity service. A number of such annuity services exist. Without making any particular recommendations, some of these annuity services include: Computer Patent Annuities Global, Computer Packages Inc., Dennemeyer & Company, and Maxval.