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How Can I Prevent a Customer Patenting Our Product?

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 24 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Patent Pending Application Product

Q.

I was hoping someone would be able to tell me if 'Patent pending' applications are available for the public to access in any way? I think that an end user which my company has supplied instrumentation to, is trying patent one of our products.

(S.C, 1 April 2009)

A.

Access to applications

The public can access and comment on patent pending applications. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO), which replaced the UK Patent Office a little while ago, offers guidance on this topic.

The IPO, in fact, encourages the public to make observations about products that have a patent pending. The general term for this process is Section 21 observations. Section 21 refers to the Patents Act 1977.

Specifically, the IPO wants to be sure that a patent pending application is genuine. It therefore welcomes any challenges to an invention, preferably supported by evidence. If these challenges fail, the IPO can award a full patent with confidence.

The point here is that the public has access to patent pending applications. The IPO publishes these online. Any member of the public – not just business people – can view the patent pending applications. There is no fee.

The viewing process is simple. An IPO website visitor clicks through to the “search patents” page where there are four options: search by patent number; by publication; by using the European Patent Office (EPO) database; or by a Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) number.

A visitor then chooses the option, enters the appropriate number for the product, and views the details. For European patents, the procedure is virtually the same. Hence the European link on the IPO website.

Legal protection

The questioner’s main concern, however, is that someone is trying to patent a product that has a pending patent application.

When “patent pending” appears on a product it acts as a legal warning. It makes clear to everyone that the inventor has filed a patent application with the IPO. This means that anyone who copies the invention could be liable for damages and backdated royalties, and subject to an injunction preventing further copies coming on to the market.

“Patent pending” doesn’t necessarily prevent copies until such an injunction takes effect; but it does give an inventor legal support for the intellectual property rights of his or her product.

Action

If there’s evidence that someone intends to steal an idea for a product, the best recourse is the law. A specialist patents solicitor can draw up and send a letter to the suspect. This letter need not accuse anyone of theft; but it can remind the suspect of the legal protection a patent pending application has.

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