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What does Patent Pending Mean?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 17, 2024
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Many inventors and manufacturers apply for official patents through the United States Patents and Trade Office (USPTO), but the approval process can take at least 18 months. In order to establish ownership of a product idea, inventors and manufacturers often place the words "Patent Pending" (abbreviated Pat. Pend.) directly on the products until the official patent is issued. This term lets other inventors and marketers know that the USPTO application process has already begun and it's only a matter of time before a 20 year patent is granted, at least in the case of products.

There are certain conditions under which the "Patent Pending" designation can be used. The most important condition is to actually have a patent awaiting approval in the USPTO or foreign equivalent. Unscrupulous manufacturers cannot legally place the words "Patent Pending" on a product without a patent. Once the actual application has started, only the inventor or manufacturer can use the term for intellectual property protection. Once a patent is issued, the official patent number should replace any other stopgap designations.

The use of "Patent Pending", surprisingly enough, does not fully protect the inventor or manufacturer from competitors. Until the USPTO patent application is completely approved, any other manufacturer can legally use the basic concepts behind any product or technology. What the Patent Pending designation does is let all other competitors know that, in a relatively short amount of time, the product (along with the design and manufacturing ideas) will be the exclusive property of the patent holder. Other companies can continue to produce similar products right up until the official patent is issued and the markings on the patented product are changed.

Using the term "Patent Pending" knowing an application has not been made is considered a federal crime and can mean major financial fines and/or prison time. It can be tempting as an independent inventor with little investment capital to create a false "Patent Pending" designation, but this could lead to a serious charge of trademark or patent infringement. Many larger corporations with research and development departments routinely apply for patent protection on ideas which may never see the light of day. It is up to would-be entrepreneurs and inventors to investigate the USPTO's archives of patented or patent pending products before investing time and money in a similar concept.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon354030 — On Nov 04, 2013

I work for the patent office as an examiner. The biggest thing I can suggest is to absolutely hire a trained professional for patent protection. I think what most people don't realize is that there are a lot of legal issues to deal with that inventors don't understand (e.g., "my invention isn't on the market, so why do I need a patent?"). The biggest issue I deal with in my conversations with pro se inventors is the obviousness issue, which is really hard to explain to someone not versed in the patent process.

By anon154357 — On Feb 20, 2011

P.s. to my suggestions for doing your own patent searches:

I have done the searches for my two successful patents and I have no doubt I did it as thoroughly as an hired professional would have. The patent examiner offered a couple more prior patents when my applications were submitted, but they were so obviously crazy reaches.

Reading all those other patents helped me to see how to frame my own application.

I did hire a patent attorney to write the claims and to polish up the text. But I did take a whack at writing the whole thing and that saved my attorney a bunch of time (at $250/hour). Part of a patent application is naming earlier patents and then distinguishing mine from them, one by one. I knew so much more than my attorney about these areas, it was easier if I wrote those sections up.

Also, seeing earlier inventions makes me appreciate the geniuses who went before, and there are sometimes ideas in expired patents which it's open season to incorporate into one's resent invention. Obviously you can't patent them again as they appeared originally, but they possibly be part of one's new patent.

I believe patent examiners nearly always reject an initial application. "Why?" is open to conjecture, but one should be prepared for an initial rejection, maybe even two. It's just the nature of the beast.

By anon154355 — On Feb 20, 2011

To do a patent search yourself, go online or search on uspto.

There are several ways to do searches and you need to try them out and read the patent office's helpful information.

One problem is that patents often have bizarre titles that make searching them difficult. I find that when I make a list of words which must be in the text and search on those I am more successful.

Another thing to try is to locate one patented invention and then follow the links in that patent where they list earlier inventions (in order to show how they are different). Each of those inventions will also have referenced patents one can use to investigate prior patents. Additionally, if you look at the classification numbers of these various patents, you can get an idea of how to search via classifications.

Hope this helps. I find patent searching ti be rather gut-wrenching, as I want to know if my "invention" has already been done (so I can move on having spent as little time, energy and money as possible), but I really want it to be new so finding anything even vaguely similar can be depressing. I have sometimes initially thought "Oh, this guy already did it" but when I read the actual patent text I could see he missed it. It's an emotional rollercoaster ride.

By anon8118 — On Feb 08, 2008

Patent searches are best performed by professionals, including patent attorneys, patent agents, and professional patent searchers.

none will guarantee that the best "prior art" was located during execution of a search, nor should you believe anyone that does. A good (patent) validity search (often performed to invalidate or strengthen investors confidence in a patents' validity) will cost thousands of dollars.

ALWAYS start the searching yourself, then hire a professional to continue searching before spending any more money on intellectual property protection.

By dachance — On Oct 17, 2007

If I wanted some information about an idea that I have and want to make sure it does not yet exist, is there anyway I can do a search for this?

By hello — On Apr 24, 2007

What is the best way to do a patent search? Is it through a patent attorney? Will they guarantee, when they do the search and give you the results that there are no patents or patents pending for a particular idea or product?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
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