This is a spin-off from Do patent holders have an obligation to make their patents available? To what extent? and particularly from this answer by Robbie Goodwin.

In that answer Robbie Goodwin asserts that:

patents exist to help their holders exploit whatever it is, without sharing.

In an exchange of comments following this answer, the same user asserted:

That patent holders are protected from the worst excesses of sharing their knowledge does not give them any duty to share.

and later asked:

If you [think] patent holders have a duty to share anything, where is that written? What d'you think "others can make use of the ideas without infringing the patent" means?

Keeping all this in mind:

  1. To what extent do patent holders or applicants have a legal duty to share their knowledge and discoveries with others, or with the public at large?

  2. What laws or legal regulations impose such a duty?

  3. How can others benefit by such disclosures by the patent holder, during the term of the patent, without infringing the patent?

  4. How can others benefit by such disclosures by the patent holder after the patent expires?

I am hoping for answers that cite law, case law, or other reliable sources.

I am particularly interested in US patent law, but am also interested in the law for any and all other jurisdictions, and answers based on the law of any jurisdiction are welcome.

4 Answers 4


The constitutional basis for all US patents is Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, of the US Constitution, which grants Congress the power:

To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.

See "Intellectual Property Clause" from Cornell's WEX Legal Information Institute.

US Patent law requires an applicant to include with a patent application "disclosures". As the page "Patent Disclosure: Everything You Need to Know" from UpCounsel states:

[A] patent disclosure is a public claim of data about an invention. In general, it is any part of the patenting process in which data regarding an invention is disclosed. A good disclosure tells someone else how to create the product. [Emphasis added]

The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the right to offer exclusive rights to people for their inventions for set periods of time. This is only if and when the inventor agrees to adequately disclose the invention in writing. [Emphasis added]

A formal patent disclosure ... stipulates a set of claims regarding the invention, as well as other data that reveals the unique nature of the product. It should be expressed in writing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as part of the patent application.

What Is Included in a Patent Disclosure?

  • The Specification. A primary disclosure or "specification" is a main document in a patent application. It describes the ways in which the invention is innovative compared to similar inventions and explains the scope of monopoly the applicant believes he or she has to the invention. The specification describes the item and the way to make and to use it, in clear and exact terms. Someone in the field must be able to reasonably create it with these instructions. Further, the specification notes the patent application filing date on which inventor can the rely. It also offers evidence that the invention belongs to the person in question.

  • The Enablement. This explains how to create the object and how someone in the field can do so. The instructions cannot be vague or unclear, but must be exact and detailed. When the patent expires, the enablement should still be usable. This section should include any figures or drawings, with explanations. Again, you will want to show how your invention is special. So, you might want to include many details and different variations of the invention. Later, many of these variations may be deleted from the document as unnecessary. This section may be numerous pages long.

  • Best Mode Requirement. The path revealed must be the best way of creating the item within the author's awareness at the time of filing. Therefore, it may include specific or unique techniques. There should be no concealment. A poor-quality disclosure can risk the appearance of concealment. [Italics added]

  • Claims. This area tells the reader the exclusive rights the patent offers to the inventor....

The official page "Duty of Disclosure, Candor, and Good Faith" from the USPTO cites 37 CFR 1.56 on the duty to disclose information material to patentability. This regulation provides, in the relevant part:

A patent by its very nature is affected with a public interest. The public interest is best served, and the most effective patent examination occurs when, at the time an application is being examined, the Office is aware of and evaluates the teachings of all information material to patentability. Each individual associated with the filing and prosecution of a patent application has a duty of candor and good faith in dealing with the Office, which includes a duty to disclose to the Office all information known to that individual to be material to patentability as defined in this section. The duty to disclose information exists with respect to each pending claim ...

These disclosures include the state of prior art, as kown to the applicant and the applicant's associates.

The page "BEST MODE: Noncompliance with the Duty of Disclosure is Not an Option" states:

When you apply for a patent in the United States, you have a legal duty to disclose prior art that could be used to reject your application — in essence, information that may be used against you by the examiner of your application. While persons accused of a crime have a right to remain silent, so as to avoid self-incrimination, inventors applying for a patent have no such right. To the contrary, an inventor’s failure to comply with the duty of disclosure risks any resulting patent being unenforceable.


One of the requirements for the USPTO to issue a patent is that the applicant’s claimed invention be fully disclosed in the application and published in the patent. This is sometimes referred to as the “patent bargain.” This is at the opposite end of the spectrum from trade secrets law, under which a company can sue for © misappropriation of a trade secret but only if it takes reasonable measures to maintain confidentiality of the trade secret. ...

Under patent law an inventor must fully disclose his or her invention before enforceable patent rights come into being. This disclosure requirement is sometimes termed the “patent bargain,” under which an inventor gains the right to exclude others from practicing a patented invention in exchange for disclosing the invention so that it may be known by the public and indeed practiced after the patent term has expired. ... [Emphasis added]

In general a patent application is not just a description of a specific industrial process. It includes the research by which that process was discovered or developed. That research can benefit others in the same field, and so "promote the progress of science and the useful arts" in helping others to do further research and make further discoveries, which can often be done without infringing the patent itself.

Of course, once patent protection expires, anyone may use the patent, and the final patent documents are supposed to include sufficient information that "one skilled in the art" will be able to build the invention or use the process that had been patented. This is in contrast to the situation which would exist had the inventor retained the discovery as a trade secret. In that case no one would have been able to use the patented discovery until some other person independently discovered and disclosed it.

  • 5
    In today's industrial landscape, with its ever greater emphasis on knowledge and information, "intellectual property" (i.e., owned patents) plays a huge role (a) for the owner to make life hard for competitors and (b) for competitors to know how to work around the patent. The result is a market full of products that are less-than-optimal because they contain lots of workarounds. The effect of patents today is in a sense almost the opposite of what they were meant for (promote knowledge and incentivize research): They create IP traps and divert valuable research to second-best solutions. Mar 28, 2022 at 8:29
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    The question here is what the law now is, not what it should be. Mar 28, 2022 at 17:28
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    @Peter Mind you I generally disapprove of software patents, and particularly of algorithm patents (now generally repudiated, as i understand it) I also disapprove of patent trolls. But the disclosures in algorithm patents could, in some cases, assist general algorithm developments Mar 28, 2022 at 18:09
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    @fectin Actually, the legal sense of patent is derived from the meaning "open,obvious" on;ly indirectly. In middle-ages and early modern England, Royal monopolies were granted by "letters patent" that is a document with the seal attached and openly visible (as opposed to "letters close" with the seal inside). So what was open and obvious was the seal confirming the document, not the information. New titles of nobility were also granted by letters patent, and so are called "patents of nobility". So that definition, while now correct, is so only by accident. Mar 29, 2022 at 0:27
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    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact In the past "doing what we always did but using a computer" was patentable. Nowadays combining A and B is only patentable in the USA if either the combination does more than just A and B and that wasn't obvious, or if actually combining A and B in one package is hard to do and needed someone to be inventive beyond the obvious.
    – gnasher729
    Mar 29, 2022 at 11:35

Any information in a patent that is not covered by an issued claim is deemed dedicated to the public at the time of grant. See Typically the specification includes much more information than the claimed subject matter.

The disclosure-dedication doctrine bars infringement under the doctrine of equivalents where the equivalent element (found in the accused product or process) was disclosed but not claimed in the asserted patent. See Johnson & Johnston Assocs., Inc. v. R.E. Service Co., Inc., 285 F.3d 1046, (Fed. Cir. 2002) (en banc). As explained by the Federal Circuit in Johnson, the policy behind the disclosure-dedication doctrine is to prevent patent owners from limiting the claimed invention during prosecution and then subsequently relying on the doctrine of equivalents to recapture the non-claimed subject matter during enforcement. Id. at 1054 (stating that “a patentee cannot narrowly claim an invention to avoid prosecution scrutiny by the PTO, and then, after patent issuance, use the doctrine of equivalents to establish infringement because the specification discloses equivalents”).

For more information google disclosure-dedication doctrine.


To what extent do patent holders or applicants have a legal duty to share their knowledge and discoveries with others, or with the public at large?

Before the patent expires, the information is disclosed but no one can use it to carry out anything claimed in it, and there is no duty to share the right to use anything claimed in it.

How can others benefit by such disclosures by the patent holder, during the term of the patent, without infringing the patent?

Only with the express permission of the patent holder, typically in a license for which the person using it pays a fee.

How can others benefit by such disclosures by the patent holder after the patent expires?

The patent enters the public domain and anyone can use it.

  • 2
    I would argue that disclosure is a form of sharing. In what way can a patent holder disclose without sharing? Also, this answer seems to assume that the only way tp "use" the disclosed information is to make the patented device or employ the patented method. But is it not the case that knowing the content of the patent can help create other related inventions or methods, at least in some cases? Is this not "using"? Mar 27, 2022 at 23:08
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    @DavidSiegel Normally a method that built upon a patent would abridge the patent even if the patent were only an intermediate step. I think from the context of the previous question that this one follows up on, that the sense in which the OP is using the word "use" is narrow.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 27, 2022 at 23:17
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    @ohwilleke I've never heard about such limitations. A patent only pertains to explicitly mentioned claims. If the derived solution does not infringe on the claims then it is not covered by the patent.
    – ciamej
    Mar 28, 2022 at 20:19
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    @ohwilleke Ok, now I understand what you mean. However, I guess it is completely rational and possible that someone is inspired by a patented method A which solves problem X, to create method B for problem X, but which does things differently enough to not be covered by the said patent. Method B may be even more efficient/better than A, or B can be worse, but still solve problem X, and is not covered by the patent (B is then a workaround).
    – ciamej
    Mar 28, 2022 at 21:13
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    Any information contained in a patent that is not covered by a claim is dedicated to the public. From a top patent blog "Disclosure-dedication doctrine is a bar to the doctrine of equivalents. Under the disclosure-dedication doctrine, when a patentee discloses subject matter but does not claim it, the patentee dedicates the unclaimed subject matter to the public and cannot recapture it through the doctrine of equivalents.Jul 13, 2020" Mar 30, 2022 at 4:16

David, thanks for the heads up.

I view your horse as trying to push the wrong cart. To me, your hypothesis puts necessary outcomes in place of defined objectives and if the same result is achieved that’s by chance, not design.

I think ohwilleke, for one, pulls it back into proper perspective.

“Sharing” in the sense of “disclosure” is the fortuitous reverse of this coin, not at all the desired or stated obverse; a necessity, not a duty… though you’re clearly not alone.

“A patent by its very nature is affected with a public interest… “ would be shown in the same light, had it not dragged itself into near-total obfuscation.

That “… disclosure tells… how to create the product” is the not at all the objective; it’s simply a necessary corollary of describing the product in technical detail.

The US Constitution promoting the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries puts the onus on everyone else to make creativity worth the candle.

It gives inventors right, not responsibility.

“Sharing” comes into that only insofar as relevant details have to be “shared” both for the powers that be to consider a patent application in the first place, and then for a patent holder to prosecute an infringement.

I see those as wholly different from the “sharing” involved in granting open licences or otherwise putting anything into the public domain.

To reduce the thing to absurdity, consider a box enclosing and concealing a wheel which touches the ground only via a slit no-one can see through. What could the inventor claim or defend?

Sine qua non, “sharing” details of how axles, spokes, and rims work is a necessary part of registration or protection of the wheel; not any kind of appeal to altruism.

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