Would A Patent's Title Be Classified?

from the just-wondering... dept

Ira writes in to point us to a patent application on a sort of weapons device, where the title of the patent is listed solely as “Classified.” It would be interesting if some patent attorneys in the crowd could weigh in on this. If the purpose of the patent system is to distribute knowledge, then you would think a classified patent doesn’t make much sense — but this is even odder, in that it’s the title, not the patent itself (which is for some sort of weapon), that is “classified.” It could be that the inventor himself (Peter Lockhart) set the title as “classified” but that doesn’t make much sense either. Anyone know what’s going on here?

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Comments on “Would A Patent's Title Be Classified?”

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Willton says:

Well, for one, it's not actually "classified"

While the name says “Classified,” the application is clearly not classified now, as you and I can access its information. The invention disclosure is clearly public, even if the inventor does not want to give it a name.

However, the fact that it has taken over 4 years for this application to publish was curious to me, so I checked its file wrapper on PAIR. It appears that the U.S. Army had originally placed a secrecy order on this application. That secrecy order was lifted on September 19, 2007, likely as a consequence of the PTO issuing a notice of allowance only a few weeks earlier.

Anonymous Coward says:

If a patent application gets classified, it’s as good as gone. They give the inventor no warning and no further work can be done on processing the application. An application I worked on years ago was almost classified by the DoD, but the inventor suspected it was coming when the DoD abruptly withdrew an offer to further develop the technology, so he published his research in an MIT journal. Lucky for him, he got to keep his application. Unfortunately, the examiner has no clue what his invention does because it’s rather arcane nanotechnology and the examiner’s from India with poor English skills. :-

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Anyone know what’s going on here?

Here’s my guess. Back in the 60’s there was a country folk rock band called the Byrds. They released an album called “Untitled.” Why was it released with that name? Because of a mistake. The label asked what the title of the new album was and the answer was that it was still untitled, which is exactly what the nimrod from the label wrote down.

Fast forward to 1972 and the label asked the band the Electric Light Orchestra for the name of the new album and received no answer. So that’s what the nimrod from the label wrote down. Some other nimrod actually thought that “No Answer” was the name of the album, so that’s how it was released.

In other words, I think the name of this patent was a mistake. I think initially and internally it was classified but the word was mistakenly not taken out when it was filed with the patent office. And via other nimrods the name stuck.

Anonymous Coward says:

Very likely a mistake for the title due to clerical error either in GB (where an application was first filed) or the US. It is not uncommon for a patent application to be placed under “secrecy order” due to national security concerns (I have worked with many such applications and the secrecy order process), but this is as the result of what is contained in the specification…the part of an application that describes the invention in detail.

Presumably this mistake will be rectified if the application ever issues as a patent. Until then the mistake is a somewhat humorous anamoly.

Mike Brown (user link) says:

Title of Application

It wasn’t an error in the UK. The “Classified” title appears to have been used on the Application Data Sheet and other paperwork because the case was classified originally by the British government. Apparently, one condition of waiving the classification for filing in the USA is maintenance of secrecy about the invention. Hence, the “classified” title, so that the entry in the USPTO’s indexing system wouldn’t reveal the actual title.

It was eventually declassified and published as US2008/0047450, but patent applications are published as filed, so the title remained “Classified” in the published application.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Title of Application

There are several provisions for the filing of applications containing classified subject matter, but in such instances the applications include a cover sheet denoting the security classification, and depending upon the classification (typically SECRET and above), each page of the document is likewise marked with a stamp denoting the security classification. Nowhere, however, is there anything that even remotely suggests that a title must be identified as classified. Otherwise it is virtually impossible to later try and find the specific document.

Jeff Rife says:

Re: Classified Patent Applications

It’s fairly well known that part of the reason there are so many “bad” patents is that there aren’t nearly enough examiners to keep up with the incoming patents.

But, in order to know if a patent is of “classified” work, there not only have to be enough people to examine patents, but also enough people who know everything that is classified who do nothing but examine patents.

This doesn’t sound like it can be true.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Classified Patent Applications

The Patent and Trademark Office has a specific group that deals solely with these issues. This group has counterparts in all the federal government agencies that deal with subject matter potentially subject to classification(primarily the DOD, NASA and the DOE). The group also has counterparts with the Patent Offices maintained by our allies and liaisons with them on a regular basis.

gene_cavanaugh (user link) says:

Patent labeled "Classified"

The military has the right take a patent out of distribution and simply note that it is “Classified”. This, IMHO, leads to more abuse than harm. The intent is to prevent the free dissemination of knowledge to terrorists, etc. (imagine a pocket sized, undetectable nuclear weapon); but since there are no checks and balances, the real reason for doing this can be almost anything. I know of at least one case where it was used for purely political reasons, no threat existed. Yet I can’t even tell you why it happened!
I think it might be good if we had some sort of checks and balances (this is a democracy, isn’t it? I sometimes wonder).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Patent labeled "Classified"

Patent applications can easily be filed for an invention that comprises classified subject matter. Special rules appear in the regulations (37 CFR) for facilitating the filing of such applications. Of course, because the subject matter is classified a secrecy order will issue immediately and the application will remain pending before the USPTO until such time as the secrecy order is lifted.

It is not at all unusual for a secrecy order to remain in place for many years, with the longest I have seen being about 30 or so. However, secrecy orders by law do have to be renewed by the USG every year, and failing to do so an applicant is entitled to have his/her application proceed to issue. It is also noteworthy that applications under secrecy order can also be filed in foreign patent offices that have reciprocal agreements established with the USG.

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