What is a virtual patent?
Marking a patented product with the number of an applicable patent is a way of putting others on notice of the patent protection obtained for a product. Thus it is not uncommon to see “U.S. Pat. No. X” marked directly on the product or the packaging for the product. Difficulties in this approach to marking may arise when multiple patents, and thus multiple patent numbers, apply to the same product as well as when those multiple patents issue with intervals of time in between. The physical marking of the product with the appropriate patent number(s) may thus have to be updated multiple times and require changes to packaging, labels, nameplates or even molds for the product.
A fairly recent revision of the patent law provides a new option for marking a patented product “virtually.” This virtual patent marking may be accomplished by simply marking the product or packaging with the word “patent” (or the abbreviation “pat.”) followed by the address for a web page or other document accessible on the Internet that lists the product and any patents that cover the product. In many cases, updating a web page as new products are introduced and new patents are granted is easier than making changes to a marking directly on the product.