The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) receives over 300,000 patent applications each year. Before the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999, USPTO was required by law to keep the information on patent applications confidential until a patent was granted. The act modified this requirement and mandated that USPTO publish most patent applications 18 months after filing. One exception to this requirement is available to patent applicants filing only in the United States. These applicants can request that their application not be published. The act required GAO to provide information on how patent applications have been affected by the 18-month publication provisions. GAO was required to determine (1) the number of patent applications filed only in the United States, and (2) whether certain differences exist between published and unpublished patent applications. Specifically, GAO examined differences relating to whether the applicant was a large or small entity, the percentage of patents issued by USPTO and applications abandoned by the applicants, and the length of time between filing an application and when USPTO issued a patent or the application was abandoned.
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