Ninth Edition of the MPEP, Revision 10.2019, Last Revised in June 2020
120 Secrecy Orders [R-07.2015]
37 C.F.R. 5.1 Correspondence.
- (a) All correspondence in connection with this part, including petitions, should be addressed to: Mail Stop L&R, Commissioner for Patents, P.O. Box 1450, Alexandria, Virginia 22313-1450.
- (b) Definitions.
- (1) Application as used in this part includes provisional applications (§ 1.9(a)(2) of this chapter), nonprovisional applications (§ 1.9(a)(3) ), international applications (§ 1.9(b) ), or international design applications (§ 1.9(n) ).
- (2) Foreign application as used in this part includes, for filing in a foreign country, foreign patent office, foreign patent agency, or international agency (other than the United States Patent and Trademark Office acting as a Receiving Office for international applications (35 U.S.C. 361, § 1.412 ) or as an office of indirect filing for international design applications (35 U.S.C. 382, § 1.1002 )) any of the following: An application for patent, international application, international design application, or application for the registration of a utility model, industrial design, or model.
- (c) Patent applications and documents relating thereto that are national security classified (see § 1.9(i) of this chapter) and contain authorized national security markings (e.g., "Confidential," "Secret" or "Top Secret") are accepted by the Office. National security classified documents filed in the Office must be either hand-carried to Licensing and Review or mailed to the Office in compliance with paragraph (a) of this section.
- (d) The applicant in a national security classified patent application must obtain a secrecy order pursuant to § 5.2(a). If a national security classified patent application is filed without a notification pursuant to § 5.2(a), the Office will set a time period within which either the application must be declassified, or the application must be placed under a secrecy order pursuant to § 5.2(a), or the applicant must submit evidence of a good faith effort to obtain a secrecy order pursuant to § 5.2(a) from the relevant department or agency in order to prevent abandonment of the application. If evidence of a good faith effort to obtain a secrecy order pursuant to § 5.2(a) from the relevant department or agency is submitted by the applicant within the time period set by the Office, but the application has not been declassified or placed under a secrecy order pursuant to § 5.2(a), the Office will again set a time period within which either the application must be declassified, or the application must be placed under a secrecy order pursuant to § 5.2(a), or the applicant must submit evidence of a good faith effort to again obtain a secrecy order pursuant to § 5.2(a) from the relevant department or agency in order to prevent abandonment of the application.
- (e) An application will not be published under § 1.211 of this chapter or allowed under § 1.311 of this chapter if publication or disclosure of the application would be detrimental to national security. An application under national security review will not be published at least until six months from its filing date or three months from the date the application was referred to a defense agency, whichever is later. A national security classified patent application will not be published under § 1.211 of this chapter or allowed under § 1.311 of this chapter until the application is declassified and any secrecy order under § 5.2(a) has been rescinded.
- (f) Applications on inventions made outside the United States and on inventions in which a U.S. Government defense agency has a property interest will not be made available to defense agencies.
37 C.F.R. 5.2 Secrecy order.
- (a) When notified by the chief officer of a defense agency that publication or disclosure of the invention by the granting of a patent would be detrimental to the national security, an order that the invention be kept secret will be issued by the Commissioner for Patents.
- (b) Any request for compensation as provided in 35 U.S.C. 183 must not be made to the Patent and Trademark Office, but directly to the department or agency which caused the secrecy order to be issued.
- (c) An application disclosing any significant part of the subject matter of an application under a secrecy order pursuant to paragraph (a) of this section also falls within the scope of such secrecy order. Any such application that is pending before the Office must be promptly brought to the attention of Licensing and Review, unless such application is itself under a secrecy order pursuant to paragraph (a) of this section. Any subsequently filed application containing any significant part of the subject matter of an application under a secrecy order pursuant to paragraph (a) of this section must either be hand-carried to Licensing and Review or mailed to the Office in compliance with § 5.1(a).
37 C.F.R. 5.3 Prosecution of application under secrecy orders; withholding patent.
Unless specifically ordered otherwise, action on the application by the Office and prosecution by the applicant will proceed during the time an application is under secrecy order to the point indicated in this section:
- (a) National applications under secrecy order which come to a final rejection must be appealed or otherwise prosecuted to avoid abandonment. Appeals in such cases must be completed by the applicant but unless otherwise specifically ordered by the Commissioner for Patents will not be set for hearing until the secrecy order is removed.
- (b) An interference or derivation will not be instituted involving a national application under secrecy order. An applicant whose application is under secrecy order may suggest an interference (§ 41.202(a) of this title), but the Office will not act on the request while the application remains under a secrecy order.
- (c) When the national application is found to be in condition for allowance except for the secrecy order the applicant and the agency which caused the secrecy order to be issued will be notified. This notice (which is not a notice of allowance under § 1.311 of this chapter) does not require reply by the applicant and places the national application in a condition of suspension until the secrecy order is removed. When the secrecy order is removed the Patent and Trademark Office will issue a notice of allowance under § 1.311 of this chapter, or take such other action as may then be warranted.
- (d) International applications and international design applications under secrecy order will not be mailed, delivered, or otherwise transmitted to the international authorities or the applicant. International applications under secrecy order will be processed up to the point where, if it were not for the secrecy order, record and search copies would be transmitted to the international authorities or the applicant.
37 C.F.R. 5.4 Petition for rescission of secrecy order.
- (a) A petition for rescission or removal of a secrecy order may be filed by, or on behalf of, any principal affected thereby. Such petition may be in letter form, and it must be in duplicate.
- (b) The petition must recite any and all facts that purport to render the order ineffectual or futile if this is the basis of the petition. When prior publications or patents are alleged the petition must give complete data as to such publications or patents and should be accompanied by copies thereof.
- (c) The petition must identify any contract between the Government and any of the principals under which the subject matter of the application or any significant part thereof was developed or to which the subject matter is otherwise related. If there is no such contract, the petition must so state.
- (d) Appeal to the Secretary of Commerce, as provided by 35 U.S.C. 181, from a secrecy order cannot be taken until after a petition for rescission of the secrecy order has been made and denied. Appeal must be taken within sixty days from the date of the denial, and the party appealing, as well as the department or agency which caused the order to be issued, will be notified of the time and place of hearing.
37 C.F.R. 5.5 Permit to disclose or modification of secrecy order.
- (a) Consent to disclosure, or to the filing of an application abroad, as provided in 35 U.S.C. 182, shall be made by a "permit" or "modification" of the secrecy order.
- (b) Petitions for a permit or modification must fully recite the reason or purpose for the proposed disclosure. Where any proposed disclosee is known to be cleared by a defense agency to receive classified information, adequate explanation of such clearance should be made in the petition including the name of the agency or department granting the clearance and the date and degree thereof. The petition must be filed in duplicate.
- (c) In a petition for modification of a secrecy order to permit filing abroad, all countries in which it is proposed to file must be made known, as well as all attorneys, agents and others to whom the material will be consigned prior to being lodged in the foreign patent office. The petition should include a statement vouching for the loyalty and integrity of the proposed disclosees and where their clearance status in this or the foreign country is known all details should be given.
- (d) Consent to the disclosure of subject matter from one application under secrecy order may be deemed to be consent to the disclosure of common subject matter in other applications under secrecy order so long as not taken out of context in a manner disclosing material beyond the modification granted in the first application.
- (e) Organizations requiring consent for disclosure of applications under secrecy order to persons or organizations in connection with repeated routine operation may petition for such consent in the form of a general permit. To be successful such petitions must ordinarily recite the security clearance status of the disclosees as sufficient for the highest classification of material that may be involved.
I. SECRECY ORDER TYPES
Three types of Secrecy Orders, each of a different scope, are issued as follows:
- (A) Secrecy Order and Permit for Foreign Filing in Certain Countries (Type I secrecy order)— to be used for those patent applications that disclose critical technology with military or space application in accordance with DoD Directive 5230.25 "Withholding of Unclassified Technical Data From Public Disclosure," based on 10 U.S.C. 130 "Authority to Withhold From Public Disclosure Certain Technical Data."
- (B) Secrecy Order and Permit for Disclosing Classified Information (Type II secrecy order)— to be used for those patent applications which contain data that is properly classified or classifiable under a security guideline where the patent application owner has a current DoD Security Agreement, DD Form 441. If the application is classifiable, this secrecy order allows disclosure of the technical information as if it were classified as prescribed in the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (NISPOM).
- (C) General Secrecy Order (Type III secrecy order)— to be used for those patent applications that contain data deemed detrimental to national security if published or disclosed, including that data properly classifiable under a security guideline where the patent application owner does not have a DoD Security Agreement. The order prevents disclosure of the subject matter to anyone without an express written consent from the Commissioner for Patents. However, quite often this type of secrecy order includes a permit "Permit A" which relaxes the disclosure restrictions as set forth in the permit.
The Type I Secrecy Order is intended to permit the widest utilization of the technical data in the patent application while still controlling any publication or disclosure which would result in an unlawful exportation. This type of Secrecy Order also identifies the countries where corresponding patent applications may be filed. Countries with which the United States has reciprocal security agreements are: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Please note that applications subject to a secrecy order cannot be filed directly with the European Patent Office since no reciprocal security agreement with this organization exists. Applications must be filed in the individual EPO member countries identified above. Applicant must arrange filing of such subject matter through the agency sponsoring the secrecy order.
The intent of the Type II Secrecy Order is to treat classified and classifiable technical data presented as a patent application in the same manner as any other classified material. Accordingly, this Secrecy Order will include a notification of the classification level of the technical data in the application.
The Type III Secrecy Order is used where the other types of Orders do not apply, including Orders issued by direction of agencies other than the Department of Defense.
A Secrecy Order should not be construed in any way to mean that the Government has adopted or contemplates adoption of the alleged invention disclosed in an application; nor is it any indication of the value of such invention.
II. RELATED SUBJECT MATTER
The Secrecy Orders apply to the subject matter of the invention, not just to the patent application itself. Thus, the Secrecy Order restricts disclosure or publication of the invention in any form. Furthermore, other patent applications already filed or later filed which contain any significant part of the subject matter of the application also fall within the scope of the Order and must be brought to the attention of Licensing & Review if such applications are not already under Secrecy Order by the Commissioner.
The effects of a Secrecy Order are detailed in the notifying letter and include restrictions on disclosure of the invention and delay of any patent grant until the Order is rescinded.
When the Secrecy Order issues, the law specifies that the subject matter or any material information relevant to the application, including unpublished details of the invention, shall not be published or disclosed to any person not aware of the invention prior to the date of the Order, including any employee of the principals except as permitted by the Secrecy Order. The law also requires that all information material to the subject matter of the application be kept in confidence, unless written permission to disclose is first obtained from the Commissioner for Patents except as provided by the Secrecy Order. Therefore, all correspondence to be filed in an application which is subject to a secrecy order and which is directly related to the subject matter covered by the Secrecy Order must be transmitted to the Office in a manner which would preclude disclosure to unauthorized individuals and addressed as set forth in 37 CFR 5.1(a). Use of facsimile transmission is not permitted. 37 CFR 1.6(d)(6).
Subject matter under Secrecy Order must be safeguarded under conditions that will provide adequate protection and prevent access by unauthorized persons.
When applicants desire to change the Power of Attorney in an application under Secrecy Order, applicant is required to provide a statement that the new attorney(s) has been apprised of the secrecy order.
In the case of applications bearing National Security Classification markings pursuant to an Executive Order, e.g., "Confidential" or "Secret," applicants must provide a DoD cage code as evidence of the ability to accept and store classified information. Applicants no longer need to provide individual personal information to ensure a proper security clearance. Personnel controlling the cleared correspondence address bear the burden of ensuring that individuals obtaining classified information from the correspondence address follow the proper procedures for handling classified information.
IV. INTERNATIONAL APPLICATIONS (PCT) AND INTERNATIONAL DESIGN APPLICATIONS
If the Secrecy Order is applied to an international application or an international design application, the application will not be mailed, delivered, or otherwise transmitted to the international authorities or the applicant as long as the Secrecy Order remains in effect.
An international application will be considered withdrawn (abandoned) if the Secrecy Order remains in effect at the end of the time limit under PCT Rule 22.3 because the Record Copy of the international application was not received in time by the International Bureau. 37 CFR 5.3(d), PCT Article 12(3), and PCT Rule 22.3. If the United States of America has been designated, however, it is possible to save the U.S. filing date, by fulfilling the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 371(c) prior to the withdrawal.
V. CHANGES IN SECRECY ORDERS
Applicants may petition for rescission or modification of the Secrecy Order. For example, if the applicant believes that certain existing facts or circumstances would render the Secrecy Order ineffectual, he or she may informally contact the sponsoring agency to discuss these facts or formally petition the Commissioner for Patents to rescind the Order. Rescission of a Secrecy Order may also be effected in some circumstances by expunging the sensitive subject matter from the disclosure, provided the sensitive subject matter is not necessary for an enabling disclosure under 35 U.S.C. 112. See MPEP § 724.05. The defense agency identified with the Secrecy Order as sponsoring the Order should be contacted directly for assistance in determining what subject matter in the application is sensitive, and whether the agency would agree to rescind the Order upon expunging this subject matter. The applicant may also petition the Commissioner for Patents for a permit to disclose the invention to another or to modify the Secrecy Order stating fully the reason or purpose for disclosure or modification. An example of such a situation would be a request to file the application in a foreign country. The requirements for petitions are described in 37 CFR 5.4 and 5.5. The law also provides that if an appeal is necessary, it may be taken to the Secretary of Commerce. Any petition or appeal should be addressed to the Mail Stop L&R, Commissioner for Patents, P.O. Box 1450, Alexandria, Virginia, 22313-1450.
VI. IMPROPER OR INADVERTENT DISCLOSURE
If, prior to or after the issuance of the Secrecy Order, any significant part of the subject matter or material information relevant to the application has been or is revealed to any U.S. citizen in the United States, the principals must promptly inform such person of the Secrecy Order and the penalties for improper disclosure. If such part of the subject matter was or is disclosed to any person in a foreign country or foreign national in the U.S., the principals must not inform such person of the Secrecy Order, but instead must promptly furnish to Mail Stop L&R, Commissioner for Patents, P.O. Box 1450, Alexandria, Virginia, 22313-1450 the following information to the extent not already furnished: date of disclosure; name and address of the disclosee; identification of such subject matter; and any authorization by a U.S. government agency to export such subject matter. If the subject matter is included in any foreign patent application or patent, this should be identified.
Under the provision of 35 U.S.C. 181, a Secrecy Order remains in effect for a period of 1 year from its date of issuance. A Secrecy Order may be renewed for additional periods of not more than 1 year upon notice by a government agency that the national interest so requires. The applicant is notified of any such renewal.
The expiration of or failure to renew a Secrecy Order does not lessen in any way the responsibility of the principals for the security of the subject matter if it is subject to the provisions of Exec. Order No. 12958 or the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 141 et. seq. and 42 U.S.C. 2181 et. seq. or other applicable law unless the principals have been expressly notified that the subject patent application has been declassified by the proper authorities and the security markings have been authorized to be canceled or removed.