Persons or entities who have applied to for patent protection through their government’s patent authority are typically entitled to identify covered goods as “patent pending” or “patent applied for” until an ultimate decision is made. In practice, there is no difference between the two phrases. The term “patent pending” indicates that a patent has been applied for, but not yet granted: “patent applied for” means exactly the same thing. Patent applicants in most countries can choose between the two interchangeably, though neither is ever required.
Patents are among the most complex intellectual property rights. They cover the mechanics of how something is made, and apply to the method of creating or formulating something. Patent protection is very important to inventors, but it can take a long time to formalize patent rights. For this reason, most countries allow inventors who are awaiting a patent decision to put others on notice that patent rights have at least been applied for.
When a product’s label or marketing material says “patent applied for” or “patent pending” — which is sometimes shortened to “pat. pend.” — consumers and competitors are informed that the creator is seeking legal protections. The patent granting process, aside from being timely, is also largely hierarchical. Usually, the first one to claim a patent for a certain method or process usually has seniority. In most cases, the seniority attaches the moment a patent application is filed—not necessarily the moment it is granted. Knowledge that a patent has been applied for can discourage competing patent applications as well as the creation of infringing products.
Both the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO, and the United Kingdom’s Intellectual Property Office, or IPO, specifically encourage patent applicants to advertise products as patent pending once a patent application has been filed. “Patent pending” notices give inventors a way to alert the consuming public that the rights underlying the product and its manufacturing are not up for grabs. Affixing a notice also lets the patent agency know that the applicant is serious about protecting the rights.
Notice can be on the product itself, in marketing or advertising material, on product websites, or anywhere that the product is mentioned or discussed. Severe penalties attach in most countries for the misuse of “patent pending” or “patent applied for” labels, however. An applicant whose patent application has been rejected must remove a “patent pending” designation from all products, as the patent is, in fact, no longer pending. The same is true if a patent is granted: an inventor can indicate that the product is protected by patent, but cannot say “patent pending” if the patent is actually in force. If the pending patent is foreign in nature, many countries also require that a "patent pending" notice make the geographical limitations clear.