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Surprise Attack

Inventors beware: Submarine patents could surface when you least expect it.

This story appears in the November 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Lately, Congress has paid quite a bit of attention to improving current patent laws. That's good news for inventors: One of the main issues driving this reform is a phenomenon known as the "submarine patent."

To help you understand the concept of a submarine patent, let me share with you some patent history. Prior to the 1995 patent reform that resulted from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), you would fill out a patent application for your great idea, then file it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). Once received by the PTO, your application was date-stamped, and that date was known as your patent filing date.

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