Are Old Patents Still Worth Something?

In the world of intellectual property, patents are often considered valuable assets. They provide inventors and companies with exclusive rights to their inventions, preventing others from making, using, or selling their patented technologies without permission. 

Originally posted on July 1, 2023 @ 8:00 am

In the world of intellectual property, patents are often considered valuable assets. They provide inventors and companies with exclusive rights to their inventions, preventing others from making, using, or selling their patented technologies without permission. 

However, as patents have finite lifespans, are old patents still worth something? To understand the answer, we must delve into the intricacies of patent valuation, the lifespan of patents, and the various factors that determine their worth. But first, let’s clarify what a patent is.

What is a Patent?

A patent is a form of legal protection granted by a government to an inventor or assignee, giving them the exclusive right to their invention for a limited period. It ensures that others cannot use, make, or sell the patented invention without permission from the patent holder providing inventors with a competitive advantage.

The 10 Factors that Determine the Value of a Patent

Here is a breakdown of the factors that make a patent more or less valuable so you can have a better understanding of how much your patent could be worth. 

Factor that Determines the Value of a PatentHow it Affects the Value 
The Uniqueness and UsefulnessHighly innovative and commercially viable inventions tend to have higher value, as they have the potential to generate profits and hold a competitive advantage in the market.
Market DemandIf the invention addresses a pressing or future need or solves a significant problem in the industry, its value increases.
The Breadth and StrengthPatents with broad, well-defined claims that cover various aspects of the invention tend to have higher value.
The Geographic ScopeA patent with broad, international coverage may hold more value than one limited to a specific region or country.
The Potential for Licensing or MonetizationPatents that can be licensed to third parties or used to develop and market products can generate substantial revenue streams, making them more valuable.
The Duration of its ProtectionIn most countries, patents are granted for a fixed period. As the expiration date approaches, the value of the patent may decrease.
The Reputation and Credibility of the Patent HolderA well-known and respected inventor or assignee may enhance the perceived value of the patent, as it brings credibility and trust to the invention.
The Level of CompetitionIf there are many similar inventions the value of a patent may decrease due to the increased options for potential users or buyers.
The Economic Conditions and TrendsThe value of patents generally increases as companies actively seek innovative solutions to gain a competitive edge.
The Potential for Future ImprovementsIf the invention has the potential for further development or enhancement, it may attract more interest and value in the market,

These ten factors could mean the difference between millions and hundreds. But the main factor that impacts the worth of a patent, is its lifespan. So let’s get into further detail on the lifespan of a patent. 

The Lifespan of a Patent

Understanding the duration of patent protection is crucial in assessing the worth of old patents. The lifespan of a patent generally depends on the type of patent granted. 

Type of PatentWhat It CoversHow Long it Lasts
Utility PatentsThey provide protection for inventions of new processes, machines, compositions, or improvements thereof.20 years from the submission date
Design PatentsThey cover new, original and ornamental designs.15 years from the date of the grant.

It’s important to note that patent durations vary across countries, and certain patents may be eligible for extensions under specific circumstances. Therefore, it is essential to consider the specific jurisdictions in which a patent is granted. You may be thinking, what happens once the expiration date is here? 

What Happens When a Patent Expires?

Once a patent expires, the exclusive rights granted to the patent holder cease to exist. The patented technology becomes part of the public domain, allowing anyone to use, make, or sell it without infringing upon any rights. 

While this may reduce the direct value of the patent, other factors come into play when assessing the worth of old patents. For example, even after a patent expires, the knowledge and expertise gained from its development and commercialization can still hold value. 

The 3 Factors that Determine The Worth of Old Patents

Despite their loss of exclusivity, old patents can still hold substantial value. There are several factors that affect this: 

Factors that Determine the Worth of an Old PatentHow They Affect the Worth 
The relevance and potential useTechnological advancements and changing market demands can create new opportunities for inventions that were once deemed obsolete.
The availability of complementary technologiesPatents that fit well with existing innovations or can be combined to create new and marketable inventions may attract interest and potential buyers.
The availability and costIf a patent can be acquired or licensed at a reasonable cost, entrepreneurs or companies may find it economically viable to invest in the patent and exploit its potential.

If any of these factors apply to your patent, you may be able to sell it for a tidy profit. So, how can you monetize old patents? Let’s get into further detail. 

The 4 Main Ways to Monetize Aged Patents

There are multiple ways you could possibly monetize from your patent, here are a few: 

1) License your Patent 

One effective way to monetize old patents is through licensing. By granting permission to others to use the patented technology, patent holders can generate licensing fees or royalties. This approach allows inventors to maintain ownership while still benefiting financially from their inventions.

2) Sell your Patent

On the other hand, selling patents outright is another option for inventors who wish to cash in on their intellectual property. However, it is crucial to carefully consider this option as it involves relinquishing all rights to the invention.

3) Look for a Patent Troll

Furthermore, there are entities commonly referred to as patent trolls which specialize in buying old patents solely for the purpose of initiating patent infringement lawsuits. While these practices have drawn criticism for their exploitative nature, they shed light on the fact that even expired patents can be leveraged by opportunistic individuals seeking legal compensation.

4) Take Legal Action Against Infringements 

For patent holders who believe their old patents are being infringed upon, pursuing legal action can be a potential avenue for monetization. If infringement is proven, patent holders may be entitled to significant compensation.

While the value of old patents may vary, there are still opportunities to monetize them. Whether through licensing, selling, or pursuing legal action, inventors and companies can explore different avenues to make the most of their intellectual property.

The Future of Old Patents

The worth of old patents extends beyond their immediate monetary value. They play a pivotal role in innovation and technological development. But what exactly is the role of old patents in fostering innovation? And how do technological advancements impact their worth?

Old patents provide a foundation for future inventors and entrepreneurs. Imagine a world where every inventor had to start from scratch without the knowledge and insights gained from previous patents. It would significantly slow down the pace of innovation and hinder progress.

Additionally, expired patents facilitate collaboration and foster competition. When patents enter the public domain, they become accessible to everyone. This promotes innovation by enabling diverse parties to access and improve upon previously patented technologies, leading to further advancements and breakthroughs.

How Technological Advancements Can Affect the Worth of Old Patents

The evolving landscape of technology can have a significant impact on the value of old patents. Advancements that render certain patented technologies obsolete may diminish their immediate value. For example, the introduction of digital cameras made traditional film-based photography less relevant in the modern era.

However, technological advancements can also breathe new life into old patents. Emerging technologies can increase the relevance and utility of old patents in new applications and industries. 

Furthermore, as technology continues to advance, new discoveries and breakthroughs can shed light on previously untapped potential within old patents. Innovators may uncover alternative uses or improvements for technologies that were initially overlooked or underutilized. 

Old patents are not just relics of the past. They hold immense value in driving innovation and technological progress. By building upon existing knowledge inventors can harness the potential of old patents to create groundbreaking inventions that shape the future.

Are Old Patents a Hidden Treasure?

Old patents can possess inherent value even after their exclusivity expires. They embody the progress and innovation of the past, providing invaluable knowledge and inspiration for present and future inventors. Therefore, it is prudent to recognize the potential hidden treasures that lie within the vast sea of expired patents, preserving their legacy and enriching our collective intellectual capital.

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