The Short and Long Answers on Patent Applications

How long do patent applications take? Consider what you're filing for, and the strength of your proposal.

How Long Does It Take to Obtain a Patent?

John Powers

August 8, 2018 09:00 AM

If you’re wondering how long it takes to obtain a patent, there’s a short answer and a long answer. The short answer for a design patent is between one and two years from the filing date. The short answer for a utility patent is between one and five years from the filing date. But these answers will not give you the full story.

Long Answer: There are no guarantees of success in obtaining patent protection with United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the European Patent Office, or any other patent office around the world, regardless of the invention for which patent protection is being sought. In the United States, the average time to receive a decision about a patent application varies significantly depending on several factors, including the type of patent being sought, the breadth of protection being sought, the quality of the patent application, and the type of technology.

The most common types of patents inventors usually seek are design patents and utility patents. A design patent protects the appearance of an article. This may include its shape or surface ornamentation or other aspects of how it looks. A utility patent protects the function of an article. This may include how it is used or how it works.

Generally, design patent applications experience shorter wait times than utility patent applications. It is not uncommon for a design patent application that is judged worthy of patent protection to receive a notice of allowance from the USPTO in one to two years from the date the application is filed. However, notices of allowance for utility patent applications that are approved can be mailed anywhere from one to five or more years from the date the application is filed.

While it’s generally preferable to obtain broad patent protection when seeking design and utility patents, greater breadth generally requires longer wait times than more limited patent protection. Patent applications that seek broad coverage generally define invented concepts that are closer, in terms of scope of coverage, to known subject matter (i.e., prior art) than more limited patent applications. Patent examiners often disagree that broadly drafted claims meet the patentability requirements of the law. As a result, it frequently takes repeated communication with patent examiners, and even appeals to the USPTO Patent Trial and Appeal Board and/or the courts to obtain patent protection on broadly drafted claims. This process can add anywhere from a few months to five or more years to the process. On the other hand, narrowly drafted claims, which result in a more limited scope of protection, are often met with less opposition, thereby significantly shortening the wait time.

The quality of the patent application affects approval time as well. Patent applications that are more poorly drafted typically take longer to mature into issued patents than well drafted applications. Patent law requires that patent applications comply with certain formal requirements. For example, one specific patent statute, or law, Section 112 of Title 35 of the United States Code, requires that the text of the application be presented in “full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains…to make and use the same…[and] shall conclude with one or more claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the inventor or a joint inventor regards as the invention.” Patent examiners will often require poorly drafted applications to be corrected to comply with these strict formal requirements, thereby further lengthening the process.

Finally, different units at the USPTO called Art Units, which are groups of patent examiners that examine applications based on common technologies, process patent applications at different rates.

Extensive information on the patent application and approval process is available through the USPTO.


An experienced patent attorney, John P. Powers has a solid track record of success with technology companies in acquiring patent rights for their inventions and, when needed, provides litigation support. His practice at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott covers a wide variety of technologies including electrical switching apparatuses, medical devices such as respiratory therapy devices and therapeutic ultrasound technology, pharmaceutical packaging, machine tooling and related systems, and toys. Powers earned his B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan and his J.D. from the University of Toledo College of Law.

Related Articles

What Entrepreneurs Should Know About Intellectual Property

by Todd Fichtenberg

With the growing rates of entrepreneurs and startups during 2020, applications for EINs and intellectual property protections should grow proportionately.

Business Owners And Intellectual Property

After 30 Years, Kevin R. Casey Looks Back on IP Law

by Best Lawyers

Kevin R. Casey, the 2019 "Lawyer of the Year" winner for IP Law in Philadelphia talks about his practice and career.

Kevin R. Casey 2019 "Lawyer of the Year"

The Argument Against Self-Representation in Patent Cases

by John Powers

A look back at the 1983 Nilssen case, and what it means for patent law today.

Do I Need a Lawyer to File a Patent?

Victory for The Slants and Redskins

by Carol Steinour Young and Emily Hart

On June 19, 2017, the United States Supreme Court settled the issue of whether an offensive name—in this case, an Asian-American rock band called “The Slants”—can properly be registered as a trademark.

The Slants Legal Case Decoded

Trending Articles

A Celebration of Excellence: The Best Lawyers in Canada 2024 Awards

by Best Lawyers

As we embark on the 18th edition of The Best Lawyers in Canada™, we are excited to highlight excellence and top legal talent across the country.

Abstract image of red and white Canada flag in triangles

The Long, Short, Thick and Thin of It

by Avrohom Gefen

“Appearance discrimination” based on employees’ height and weight is the latest hot-button issue in employment law. Here’s a guide to avoid discrimination.

Woman stands in front of mirror holding suit jacket

Trailblazing Titans of the Industry: Announcing the 4th Edition Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch® in America

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers honor and celebrate these talented, innovative newer lawyers who are trailblazing their way to victories in courtrooms across the country.

Connected web above map of the U.S.

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in America Honorees

by Best Lawyers

Only the top 5.3% of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America®.

Gold strings and dots connecting to form US map

Pearls of Wisdom: Celebrating 30 Editions of Best Lawyers’ Rankings

by Best Lawyers

In celebration of our landmark 30th edition, Best Lawyers’ leadership explains how the world’s original and most trusted legal awards maintain their esteem, integrity and reputation for excellence among the top legal entities and their clients.

Best Lawyers logo for 30th edition release with gold glitter in background

Vanguards of Victory: Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Canada 2024

by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Canada™ has been announced, and the lawyers showcased by these awards are rising to the challenge each day as advocates for clients all across the country.

Blue and black background with small squares connected by lines

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2023

by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ highlights the legal talent of lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Three arrows made of lines and dots on blue background

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in Canada Honorees

by Best Lawyers

The Best Lawyers in Canada™ is entering its 17th edition for 2023. We highlight the elite lawyers awarded this year.

Red map of Canada with white lines and dots


Thomson Rogers: Toronto Personal Injury Lawyers

by Thomson Rogers

Since establishment in 1935, Toronto-based firm Thomson Rogers has consistently delivered results for their clients struggling through complex litigation.

Top of a Staircase Featuring Two Large Black Doors with Bookshelves and Chairs on Each Side

The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers proudly announces lawyers recognized in South Africa for 2023.

South African flag


How Long Does a Felony Stay On Your Record in California

by Peter Blair

A felony can remain on your record for life in California. Some felonies qualify for expungement. Learn how to remove a felony conviction from your record in California.

Hand setting bird free out of a guarded fence

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom

by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?

Incendiary Behavior

by Lyssa A. Roberts and Rahul Ravipudi

California’s future will see more frequent wildfires caused by faulty equipment. Litigation tied to recent Golden State infernos shows the way forward.

Mountain range with glow of wildfires behind it

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers® in the United States

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers listed in the 28th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and in the 2nd Edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2022.

2022 Best Lawyers Listings for United States

The Upcycle Conundrum

by Karen Kreider Gaunt

Laudable or litigious? What you need to know about potential copyright and trademark infringement when repurposing products.

Repurposed Products and Copyright Infringemen

Famous Songs Unprotected by Copyright Could Mean Royalties for Some

by Michael B. Fein

A guide to navigating copyright claims on famous songs.

Can I Sing "Happy Birthday" in Public?