How to Cite a Patent Application

By Byron Berger

The United States Patent and Trademark Office grants patents for inventions. The inventor receives a property right that is generally valid for 20 years from the date the inventor filed the patent application with the USPTO. The first step to obtaining a patent is to apply for one. During the patent examination or later litigation, it may be necessary to reference the patent application. Ideally, you would cite a patent application in the format prescribed by "The Bluebook", which is the citation guidance document for lawyers. However, "The Bluebook" does not provide a citation format for patent applications. Therefore, cite your patent application using the information required by the USPTO, but in a format analogous to how "The Bluebook" requires patents to be cited.

Published Patent Application

Determine whether your patent application is published or unpublished. If you applied for a utility patent or plant application (as opposed to a design patent) 18 months ago or more, and you have not requested that it not be published, the USPTO has probably published it. If you are unsure, ask the USPTO or your patent agent or attorney.

Gather the information listed in the USPTO's Manual of Patent Examining Procedure, Rule 707.05(d)(1), which states that its examiners should cite domestic patent applications using the "publication number, publication date, and the names of the applicants."

Cite by analogy to "The Bluebook," which provides this example for a patent:

"U.S. Patent No. 4,405,829 (issued Sept. 20, 1983)."

Assuming your name is John Smith; your application number is 07/123,456; your publication number is 20091231234; and the publication date is March 1, 2009, cite the application this way:

"U.S. Patent Application No. 07/123,456, Publication No. 20091231234 (published Mar. 1, 2009)(John Smith, applicant)."

Unpublished Patent Application

For unpublished patent applications, you need the application number and the "filing date assigned to that application" by the USPTO.

Obtain the application number and filing date from the filing receipt that the USPTO sent you.

Cite by analogy to "The Bluebook". Assuming your name is John Smith; your application number is 037/123,456; and the filing date is March 1, 2009, cite the application this way:

"U.S. Patent Application No. 037/123,456, Unpublished (filing date Mar. 1, 2009) (John Smith, applicant)."

About the Author

Byron Berger is a licensed attorney and registered civil engineer. Since 1998, he has contributed articles to legal and engineering periodicals, including "ADC Comment" and "Philosophical Magazine." Berger holds a B.S. in materials engineering from Michigan Technological University, as well as a J.D. from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law.

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