What does it mean?
Many companies begin manufacturing and selling their new product (a.k.a. their invention) to the marketplace before the patent is even officially granted. They use the term “patent pending” to indicate that the product is proprietary and a patent is (just like the term states), pending.
The only way you (or any company) can ever legally use the term “patent pending” is when a patent application has been filed to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Any person or company who falsely uses this term can be fined. So take care to only use it when it is true.
During this patent pending time period, the USPTO will keep the application under wraps. No one outside the Patent Office’s walls will have access to it.
The Patent Office does, however, publish most applications 18 months after the application filing date. Any member of the public may request a copy of the application once it’s been published. But, take note, if your application is granted, your invention will have been protected ever since the date you filed your application.
As you can see, the patent system is set-up so that you can actually begin manufacturing and marketing your invention immediately after you file your application.
Many companies spend massive amounts of money developing their new products. So it makes sense for them to apply for their patent as soon as possible and begin marketing their product immediately. In this manner, they can milk their patent monopoly for the longest amount of time possible. A utility patent usually only lasts 17 years from the date the patent application was filed, so there’s really no use letting that time go to waste.
You may or may not need to use the term “patent pending”. If you are waiting until your patent is actually granted, then you would forego the term “patent pending” and just write your official patent number along with your product or any information related to it.