Date Posted: October 9, 2012 7:00p.m.
On September 15, 2012, a software coding error in the USPTO's Private Patent Application Information Retrieval system (Private PAIR) inadvertently made certain limited information from unpublished patent applications available to certain registered users of the Private PAIR system. A USPTO review has confirmed that there was no exposure of any patent claims or specifications, nor was any sensitive personal information (such as Social Security numbers or financial information) or any classified information related to applications under a federal Secrecy Order exposed. The category of information exposed was almost entirely limited to factual "Bibliographic" information from applications, such as the application number, name of the first inventor and the examiner, title of the invention, and application transaction history. In only three cases (0.01% of the affected applications) were certain application attachments, such as drawings and sequence listings also viewed. The USPTO has contacted these three users, who have confirmed that they have destroyed the unauthorized information in their possession and made no further use of it.
The USPTO fixed the software error immediately upon detecting it on September 19. The USPTO's review has further determined the number of applications affected and by whom in all cases. Specifically, while a total of 365 registered users of the Private PAIR system could have accessed this limited information from a total of 21,406 unpublished patent applications, two registered users who were using automated search software accounted for 95% (20,369) of the accesses. These two users have both confirmed that they were unaware their software had accessed non-public information and are cooperating with the USPTO. Both have destroyed all unauthorized documents in their possession, and have certified that they have not and will not share the information with any third parties or make any use of the accessed information. The other 363 registered users who could have accessed application information have also been contacted and instructed to take similar actions. USPTO is also notifying the applicants whose information could have been accessed and will work to ensure that all of these applicants understand the extent of any exposure and how, if at all, they may be affected.
No U.S. legal rights of patent applicants have been affected by this inadvertent exposure. The USPTO will assist any applicants who have questions about foreign filing rights by confirming that the exposure was erroneous and inadvertent.
As with past instances of inadvertent premature release of some patent application information (such as two occasions, in 2005 and 2010), the USPTO immediately took steps to fix the problem, identify and address its root cause, and notify the affected applicants.
Applicants who would like to know immediately whether their application is affected may do so via the following page on the USPTO website: www.uspto.gov/patentinfo. Applicants may also call a dedicated USPTO help line at 855-754-3305 with any specific questions about their pending applications.