Secret Inventions on the Rise

11.04.15 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

There were 5,579 invention secrecy orders in effect at the end of fiscal year 2015. This was an increase from 5,520 the year before and is the highest number of such secrecy orders in more than a decade.

Under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951, secrecy orders may be imposed on patent applications when a government agency finds that granting the patent and publishing it would be “detrimental” to national security.

Most of the current invention secrecy orders were renewals of orders granted in past years. According to statistics released under the Freedom of Information Act by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, there were 95 new secrecy orders imposed last year, while 36 prior orders were rescinded. More information on the newly rescinded orders is forthcoming.

Of the 95 new orders, 15 were so-called “John Doe” secrecy orders, meaning that they were imposed on private inventors in cases where the government had no property claim on the invention. The prohibition on disclosure in such cases therefore raises potential First Amendment issues.