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Protecting intellectual property is an important practice for business owners and inventors who have discovered or developed a new process or product design. The United States Patent and Trademark Office governs intellectual property in the United States by approving applications and protecting the design or process for the duration of exclusivity. The World Intellectual Property Organization, located in Geneva, Switzerland, provides a unified application process for international patent applications through the Patent Cooperation Treaty. Duration of Patents Before June 8, 1995 Legal patent protection has its roots in Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution: “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” For applications filed and granted before June 8, 1995, the limited time of protection equaled 17 years for most types of patents issued. Patent applications filed before June 8, 1995 but not approved until after June 8, 1995 endure for the greater of 20 years from filing or 17 years from the patent grant. Duration of Patents After June 8, 1995 In 1995, the World Trade Organization was founded. One of the results of this formation was to provide parity between patents issued in the United States and those originating in other countries. Utility and plant patent applications filed on or after June 8, 1995 have a duration of 20 years from the time of application and enforceable from the date the patent is granted. Design patents endure for 14 years. Patent Maintenance Payments and Duration Utility and plant patents require three maintenance fee payments through the duration of protection. These payments are due after the patent is granted at intervals of 3 1/2 years, 7 1/2 years and 11 1/2 years and are necessary to continue legal protection. Design patents do not require maintenance payments. When a maintenance payment is not made, a six-month grace period begins. If a payment is not made within that time, legal protection of the patent ends. Patent Term Extensions Patent term extensions are available but limited. The Hatch-Waxman Act governs extensions on patents granted for pharmaceutical drugs or medical devices. The extension generally equals the period of time that the drug or device is undergoing FDA approval and cannot yet be sold to the public. Additional extensions may be provided by product or process regulations passed by the United States Congress. International Patents Patents granted in the United States are not automatically enforced in other countries. To gain international protection for a design or process, an inventor or business can file an international application through the World Intellectual Property Organization. This organization, an arm of the United Nations, represents more than 90 percent of the countries in the world. Patent applications are processed in member countries through the Patent Cooperation Treaty. Applicants in the United States file through the United States Patent and Trademark Office. International patent durations are equal to the duration of national patents in the United States.