Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Find a Lawyer

More Options

When Is It Too Late to File for a Copyright or Patent?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

If you've got a great idea, you want to make sure no one else has already come up with it, and that no one will steal it later. There are a series of statutes, rules, and regulations that can protect your intellectual property rights, and they can work in different ways.

For instance, your invention may not be eligible for patent protection if someone else, unbeknownst to you, already filed a similar patent. But you may not even need to file your copyright in order to receive legal protection. Here's a closer look at the timelines for copyright and patent filings.

Patent Protections

Patents protect you -- and your invention -- from others from making, selling, or using the invention for a period of time. Patent protection can cover anything from machines and manufactured objects to chemicals, processes, and even the invention and reproduction of new and distinct plant varieties. To qualify for a patent, the invention must be "novel," "non-obvious," and "useful."

Additionally, you must apply for a patent within one year of publicly disclosing the invention, and you may not be eligible for a patent if someone else has already patented a substantially similar product. So, you (and your lawyer) will need to conduct a preliminary patent search with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before applying for a patent.

It may take two years or more for the patent office to rule on the application, and most design patents last for 14 years. So you should apply for a patent as soon as possible.

Copyrights, on the other hand, don't always require the same procedure to protect authors, artists, and other creators of original works from someone else copying and profiting from their work. Under the current U.S. copyright laws, a creative work receives copyright protection as soon as it is fixed into a tangible form. And while copyright registration and notice of copyright are not conditions to legal protection, the process can offer a variety of advantages:

  • Registering with the U.S. Copyright Office is necessary before you can file an infringement lawsuit in court;
  • If a copyright is registered within five years of publishing the work, it will establish the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the copyright certificate; and
  • If a copyright is registered within three months of publishing the work or prior to an infringement of the work, you can seek attorneys' fees and statutory damages in court.

Also, copyright registration may be essential if you're interested in licensing your work to someone else.

Don't wait too late to file for a patent or copyright protection -- talk to an experienced intellectual property attorney today.

Related Resources:

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:
Copied to clipboard