Patent Protection Myth: If I sent myself a letter proving I thought of it first, do I have patent protection for my invention?

Short answer: No! You must file for patent protection to secure patent pending status and possible patent protection, if the patent office grants a patent.

Many inventors follow this procedure: describe their invention in a letter, mail the description to themselves for an official date evidence by the postal service, and keep the unopened envelope as proof of the date of invention.

At initial consultation, these inventors believe they have secured proof of being the first to discover their invention. Whether or not this is true, this method provides no patent protection under the current law. However, this myth has become entrenched in “common knowledge” through years of misinterpretation of old law.

In fact, the U.S. patent system used to be a “first to invent” system in which a person could use extrinsic evidence, such as dated lab notebooks, dated letter, etc., to help prove their inventorship status, even if another person had filed a patent application previously. Under this standard, a person could create an invention and the date of “reduction to practice” (e.g. when it was capable of being made and used) was the protection date if all diligence was followed to file a patent application within the proper time period.

Many large companies file in the U.S. and also internationally. Most foreign countries have “first to file” rather than a “first to invent” patent systems. Furthermore, many countries try to work together to accord rights to inventors according to the inventor’s home country when filing in the foreign country. One method for foreign filing is through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) procedure. However, reconciling patent rights between “first to file” and “first to invent” countries can be difficult and may cause an uneven playing field.

As a result, the U.S. became a “first to file” system on March 16, 2013. Since then, generally the first inventor to file a patent application secures rights in the invention against later filers. Therefore, no amount of proof of the date of invention, including a self-addressed mailed letter describing the invention, will protect an inventor against someone that files their patent application first.

If you need help with your patents, trademarks, copyright, or trade secrets, please contact us.

Jeremy I. Maynard
Registered U.S. Patent Attorney
Troutman & Napier, PLLC
4740 Firebrook Blvd.
Lexington, KY 40513
Tel: 859-253-0991
Web: Troutman & Napier, PLLC
Originally Published at: Maynard.Law
Originally Published by: Maynard.Law

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