Differences Between Granted Patents and Published Applications

Patent publications are listings of applications for patents, rather than an actual patent itself. The old practice at the USPTO was for the patent application to remain private until the patent was actually issued.

However, since 2000, most patents are now published within 18 months of their application. The result is that most patents filed in the United States are published less than a year after application.The eighteen months are set to begin from the earliest date of filing, which ends up being the patent's priority date.

For those patents that are filed up to a year after they are put into the market, their timer begins upon their market sale. This means that these patent applications may even be published just half a year after submission.

Before the patent is published officially, it still remains private to the public.

The published applications actually look quite the same as regular official patents. If you don't look carefully, you might accidentally mistake a patent application that's been published for a patent that's been officially issued.

There will be a label saying that the document is a publication of an application on the cover sheet. If the patent number includes an "A" in the suffix, that means it is an application. In contrast, if the patent number includes a "B," that means it's been officially granted. When a patent is published, that is when the public can access it and is considered "prior" drawings for other applications.

However, the publication lacks enforceability for infringement, meaning it is not effective yet in protecting the invention. Often an inventor will, upon publication of the application, be able to begin licensing the patent to some degree.

Many applications do not result in patents being granted. Just because the application has been submitted doesn't mean it will be approved.

If you need additional certainty for if you are looking at a granted patent or an application, it will usually say in the top left part of the page if it is a regular patent or an application. Also, remember the patent number will be formatted differently for applications.

An application publication will usually have a year followed by a slash mark, and then the application number. An actual granted patent will instead have commas that designate its serial code.

There are almost countless millions of patents in the United States, with patents only increasing in use. Compare the utility patents granted per year:

  • 1790: 3
  • 1800: 41
  • 1850: 884
  • 1900: 24,656
  • 1930: 45,226
  • 1975: 72,000
  • 2000: 157,494
  • 2015: 298,407

For an official patent, there will also be a date for the patent's issuance listed underneath its serial number. Publications will instead include a clearly written publication date. Patent numbers are also listed in groups of five that are between the initial and subsequent columns of each patent page. In contrast, for patent publications there are no line numbers, but rather only paragraph numbers.

Exceptions to the 18-Month Rule

Often an inventor will request that the publication is made as soon as possible, as often they will be allowed to begin licensing the patent for royalty payments if it is published. If the application is provisional, it will not be published and thus, will remain confidential.

Certain modified patent applications, such as divisional and continuation-in-part, are additions to older applications. These can be published quite quickly.

Reasons to Publish Your Patent Application

Usually a company will want to publish its patent application. However, sometimes companies will refrain from doing so for various reasons.

If the applicant wants to apply for an international patent or foreign patent as well, the applicant is required to publish the U.S. patent application.

However, if the patent product is not going to be applied for in another country or for an international agreement patent, then the applicant will be able to decide if they want it published or not.

The publication of a patent grants "provisional" rights to the patent, which means they can begin moderate licensing and royalty use of it.

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