This post is part of a series of posts entitled A Guide To Intellectual Property Protection. For a comprehensive list of articles contained in this series, click here.
Under current and former Patent laws, an inventor has a grace period of one year (in the United States) in which to file a patent application. During that one year period, an inventor may place his or her invention in public use or on sale without losing his or her right to apply for U.S. patent protection.
Under current U.S. Patent Laws, however, this one year grace period has become somewhat more limited. Under prior U.S. Patent Laws, a prior disclosure would not operate as prior art to the inventor if within a year of patent filing. However, under current laws, the prior art effect of such disclosures has changed. For example, an early disclosure can prevent others from directly copying an invention, since that early disclosure would be prior art or otherwise enforceable in a derivation proceeding. However, such earlier disclosures may now also preclude the inventor from subsequently obtaining patents themselves on variants of that original disclosure, since it may act in some cases as prior art to those variants. As such, early disclosure should be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis, and avoided where possible.
Furthermore, many foreign countries require that a patent application be filed before there is any public disclosure. Therefore, if foreign protection is desired, any existing U.S. grace period, even limited, may not be available. This is a very complex area of the law and so you should discuss this issue before any public disclosure occurs.