In the journey from idea to market, inventors face many critical decisions—one of the most pivotal being when and how to reveal their invention to the world. Public disclosure of an invention, whether through a presentation, publication, or prototype demonstration, can have profound implications on the ability to secure patent protection. Understanding the nuances of public disclosure is essential for any inventor looking to navigate the patent process successfully.

What Constitutes Public Disclosure?

Public disclosure refers to any non-confidential communication or action that makes the details of an invention available to the public. This can include:

  • Publishing details of the invention in a journal article, blog post, or on a website.
  • Presenting the invention at a conference, trade show, or public meeting.
  • Selling or offering to sell the invention.
  • Any public use or demonstration of the invention.  This rule was codified into law when the girlfriend of the inventor of a spring for a corset wore the corset in public.  The spring was not visible in any way, but the judge still deemed the use of the corset to be public.  The theory is that this ruling was made by the judge because the inventor was living with an unwed woman, very immoral in the 1800s.
  • Essentially, if the invention is revealed in a way that allows others to access or replicate it, it’s considered publicly disclosed. 

The Consequences of Public Disclosure

  • Loss of Novelty:  In most countries, including those operating under the “first-to-file” system, an invention must be novel to be patentable. If an invention is disclosed publicly before a patent application is filed, it may be considered part of the prior art, potentially rendering the invention unpatentable due to a lack of novelty.
  • Grace Period Variations: The United States, among a few other countries, offers a grace period—a window of time after public disclosure during which an inventor can still file for a patent without losing the novelty of their invention. In the U.S., this grace period is 12 months. However, most countries do not offer such leniency, and public disclosure before filing a patent application can immediately disqualify an invention from being patented in those jurisdictions.

Strategies to Protect Your Invention Pre-Patent

  • Confidentiality Agreements:  Before disclosing your invention to potential partners, investors, or even employees, ensure that confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are in place. These agreements legally bind the parties to keep the information confidential, thereby preserving the invention’s patentability.
  • Provisional Patent Applications:  Filing a provisional patent application can serve as a placeholder, giving inventors a 12-month window to refine their invention, seek funding, or gauge market interest. Importantly, it establishes an early filing date, protecting the invention against public disclosure during this period.
  • Careful Consideration of Public Disclosures:  If public disclosure is necessary, for example, to attract investors or partners, carefully consider what information is disclosed. Disclosing enough information to pique interest without revealing the core details of your invention can be a delicate but necessary balance.

Conclusion

The decision to disclose an invention publicly is fraught with potential risks and should not be taken lightly. The implications of public disclosure on patentability are significant and can vary widely between jurisdictions. By understanding these implications, employing strategic protections like NDAs and provisional patent applications, and carefully considering the scope of any public disclosures, inventors can safeguard their innovations. Remember, in the world of patents, secrecy is not just a virtue—it’s a necessity, at least until the patent application is safely filed.

My practice specializes in all aspects of intellectual property, including patent, trademark, and copyright law.

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Michael Jones Michael Jones is the founder and managing member of Jones Intellectual Property, whose mission is to provide his clients with personalized, effective legal solutions. Michael has focused on creating, protecting, and advocating for his clients’ intellectual property rights throughout his career. View Bio