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Just Do It

Putting off applying for that patent? You may regret it later.

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This story appears in the July 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

A 1999 Supreme Court ruling (Pfaff v. Wells Electronics Inc.) is expected to have a huge impact on how quickly inventors apply for a patent. In this case, inventor Wayne E. Pfaff's patent was declared invalid because the product had been on sale more than one year before Pfaff applied for his patent.

U.S. patent law allows an inventor one year to file for a patent after the product is placed on sale or publicly used in the United States or described in a printed publication. However, confusion has stemmed from the definition of "one year": Some inventors have taken this to mean that they can research their invention in the market before deciding whether to patent the idea.

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