Can I Infringe on a Patent Application That Is Currently Pending?

Clients often present to me some ‘patents’ they found through Google and ask me if they infringe the subject matter of the patent. This is a very loaded question and difficult to answer. But before even getting to the answer, it’s important to understand what the “patent” document cited by the client actually is.

First, it is important to distinguish a granted patent from a patent application publication. A granted patent entitles the patent owner 20 years of rights to exclude others from making, using, and selling the patent invention (as listed in the patent claims portion of the publication). A patent application publication (which is what you listed) only discloses to the public that the patent applicant has applied for a patent. It does not mean that a patent has been granted.

Both patent applications and granted patents are published. This means that a single patent filing will publish twice if it passes examination: first prior to commencement of the patent examination and again after examination has determined that the patent application is to be a granted patent. The first publication is mean to put the public on notice of a patent-pending examination, while the second publication is meant to put the public on notice of an actual granted patent.

Almost every non-provisional patent application that is filed to the USPTO gets published 18 months after its earliest filing date (whether the filing date of a related provisional or the filing date of the non-provisional patent filing itself). Sometimes, and for strategic reasons, the patent application may request that the patent application remain unpublished unless a patent is granted (in which case publication occurs post patent-grant).

Until a patent is granted, it is hard to determine what activity would constitute an infringement – simply because we do not know 1) whether the patent application will be issued as a patent by the patent examiner; and 2) what scope of patent protection will ultimately be granted to the patent application. This is an important distinction as the subject matter a patent applicant hopes to obtain patent (and as applied for in the published patent application) usually differs from the subject matter that is actually granted patent (due to patent examination requirements).

So, if you are trying to determine if you would be potentially infringing a patent application – It is important you monitor this application, and any other related application, to see what might issue to patent. Until then, you may act at your own discretion, knowing that there is a risk of patent infringement if the patent is to be granted. Until a patent is granted, infringement cannot occur.

If you are interested in more detail related to your situation it is best to speak with an attorney.

Yuri Eliezer heads the intellectual property practice group at Founders Legal. As an entrepreneur who saw the importance of early-stage patent protection, Yuri founded SmartUp®. Clients he has served include Microsoft, Cisco, Cox, AT&T, General Electric, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Coca-Cola.

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Source: Smartup Legal