One important change in U.S. patent law resulting from GATT is the duration of U.S. patents. Patents were originally given 14-year terms from the date of issue, until that was changed in 1861. From 1861 until the implementation of GATT, the term of a patent was 17 years from the date of issue. Under GATT, all patents issued after June 7, 1995, have a term of 20 years from the effective filing date. GATT contained a retroactive component which provided that all patents that had been issued, but not yet expired, as of June 7, 1995, would have a term that is the longer of 20 years from its effective filing date or 17 years from the date of issue. The effective filing date is the date on which the earliest U.S. application is filed under which priority is claimed. In the United States, patent rights begin when the patent is issued.
Upon expiration of the term, the invention becomes public property and is freely available for use, reproduction, or sale. Patents can be extended for up to five years under limited circumstances, including interference proceedings (proceedings to determine the priority of an invention), secrecy orders, and appellate review.
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