Why should a patent application be treated as confidential information?

The contents of a patent application can be confidential information, if they have not yet become public knowledge.

It will become public knowledge when the patent application is published, which is a mandatory step in the patent application process. (Refer to New products, processes and inventions (patents).)

However, that step will not occur until approximately 18 months after the patent application is filed.

For the following reasons, you should treat a patent application as confidential until it is published:

  1. Your provisional application may lapse
    • You may file a provisional application.
    • You might decide to let that provisional application lapse, so that you can file another, more detailed provisional application.
    • Keep in mind that if you have made the contents of the first provisional application public, you will be precluded from proceeding with this option.
    • The effect of making the first provisional application public is that the later application will concern known public information. A patent cannot be granted for that.
  2. Confidentiality protects you against competitors
    • By making the patent application public, you may be prematurely making your competitors aware of your innovation.
    • The earlier they obtain that information, the earlier they may be able to reverse engineer your innovation, or even develop a 'work around', that is, a way of exploiting your innovation outside the scope of claims in the patent, and therefore without infringing your patent.
    • The later the patent application is published, the less inclined your competitors may be to take those steps, and the better your position will be to resist, deter, or prevent those steps.