A patent will be denied if an invention was in public use or on sale more than one year prior to the date of application. However, there is an exception to this rule known as “experimental use.” The “experimental use” exception permits some public use of the product by an inventor in order to enable him or her to perfect the invention before applying for a patent. The exception does not apply to situations where the use or sale of the device is mainly for profit and commercial purposes and the experimentation is merely incidental. For example, market acceptance testing is not considered to be an experimental use.
Any public experimentation should be no more extensive than reasonably necessary for the perfection of the invention. It is up to the Examiner to determine whether the scope and length of the experimental activity is reasonable in terms of the intended purpose of the tests and the nature of the subject matter involved.
The words “patent pending” can be placed on an invention once the inventor has filed a patent application. After a patent issues, the patent number should be placed on the invention. Failure to mark the product with the patent number can lead to reduced damages when enforcing the patent. Accordingly, marking is strongly encouraged.
In some ways, the words “patent pending” can be a more powerful deterrent to a competitor than the actual patent which later issues.
When a competitor sees the words “patent pending” on a product, it has no idea what feature or features of the invention are being claimed in the pending patent application. Suppose for example, that the applicant places the words “patent pending” on a vacuum cleaner. The patent application may contain claims directed to a certain type of switch mechanism. However, a competitor would have no way of knowing this until the application publishes or the application issues as a patent in the case of a non-published application. The competitor might think that the applicant’s invention relates to the brush mechanism, the type of motor, or the hose assembly, and therefore, avoid copying any of these features.
Once the application publishes or the patent issues, however, the competitor will be able to obtain a copy of the application or patent almost immediately. It can then determine exactly what the inventor has claimed as the invention. Once the competitor discovers that the application or patent applies only to the switch mechanism, for example, the competitor can freely copy the other features of the vacuum cleaner without worrying about possible infringement. Keep in mind that an inventor cannot prevent “infringement” of his or her invention until a patent issues.
However, note that the provisional rights described above may apply in this situation under the new laws — thereby increasing the risk to the competitor.