According to an article in the Washington Times on Jan. 20, the USPTO is warning inventors not to put sensitive information such as Social Security and bank account numbers on patent applications and related documents, lest it be used to commit identity fraud. Each week thousands of patent application files become available to the public on the USPTO web site. (Applications are published 18 months after the earliest filing date or when a patent issues.) The USPTO implemented a new policy on Oct. 1, 2005 by which it reserved the right to remove such information if inventors include it. An agency spokesman said that there were no known cases of inventor identity theft.
This is not the first time that the dissemination of patent information has been linked to potential inventor fraud. It's interesting to note that in March 1874, just a few years after the Patent Office began publishing a weekly gazette containing abstracts (and inventor information) of newly issued patents, the Scientific American reported that inventors were receiving unsolicited letters from companies offering large sums to purchase their inventions provided they send a small sum ($5) to pay for an evaluation of their patent rights. Of course, few inventors received replies after sending in their money. Copies of the gazette were distributed to public libraries and private subscribers nationwide. Did this make it easier for unscrupulous patent agents and swindlers to contact potential victims?
Inventors Warned of ID Theft, Washington Times, Jan. 20, 2006.