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Monday, 11 July 2005


The FAS is the Federation of American Scientists. The IPKat found this today on the FAS website:

The Invention Secrecy Act 1951 requires the US government to impose secrecy orders on certain patent applications that contain sensitive information, thereby restricting disclosure of the invention and withholding the grant of a patent. Remarkably, this requirement can be imposed even when the application is generated and entirely owned by a private individual or company.

There are several types of secrecy order which range in severity from simple prohibitions on export (but allowing other disclosure for legitimate business purposes) up to classification, requiring secure storage of the application and prohibition of all disclosure.

At the end of fiscal year 2004, there were 4,885 secrecy orders in effect.

The IPKat notes that equivalent provisions exist under the United Kingdom's Patents Act 1977, but that many other countries seem to manage quite well without them. Is it dangerous or irresponsible to publish specifications in some countries but not in others, he ponders. But Merpel asks, isn't a secret patent a contradiction in terms?

Best-kept secret here
Worst-kept secret here
Military secrets here


keyrawn said...


Check the Patents Act 2004. The proviSIons of the 1977 Act have been modified. The burden is now on a patent applicant to decide whether security section should vet his/her application. This change was to enable e-filing by UK applicants to take place at the European Patent Office and simlar sites such at the International Bureau at Geneva.
Also see article on patent secrecy in current issue of THE New ScientisT.
In 1974 two UK patents were published, 1346409/410 but were withdrawn 10 months later. The numbers reveal no patent in the UK Patent Office Register database but provide two documents if entered into the Esp@cenet database. They cover VX gas manufacture.
A 1954 US Patent in the name of a US government organisation gives a detailed but simple procedure for preparing warfare grade ricin from castor oil seeds. It can be downloaded from the USPTO site.
For a real US patent horror story contact the cryptographer Dr Adi Shamur in Isreal.

Jeremy said...

Are you sure? Admittedly, section 23 (which criminalises first filings by UK residents outside the UK) has been softened. But section 22 of the consolidated version of the Patents Act 1977, as amended to 2004, still appears to give the comptroller power to prohibit or restrict the publication of information "the publication of which might be prejudicial to national security".

Anonymous said...

I can't think of a single country that doesn't have such security provisions. Even if there are countries with such provisions, it would certainly not be permitted for a Brit to file a patent there.

Merpel might wish to note that what usually happens is that the patent is not published: however, governments (usually the only legitimate markets for the inventions concerned)will pay a royalty fee should they wish to use the invention.

Anonymous said...

Both Keyrawn and Jeremy are right: an inventor can now first-file abroad if he is prepared to self-vet his invention, but the Comptroller has retained the power to pull inventions that are first-filed at the Patent Office. The Patent Office has published some information (Guideline 3) here:

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, these gambles pay off, but there are occasions when they fail miserably,

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