Stupid board timed me out after I wrote a response. Trying again,
Are all the details of all (US) patents made public?
During prosecution, the patent application and details are kept confidential. Only the application, owner or agent can give authorization to release information, unless it is a status report and only under certain circumstances (See 37. CFR 1.14). So, basically, the answer here is that before the patent issued, the details are kept confidential. After the patent is granted, however, the final patent is published and freely available to the public. The prosecution history and certain documents are also available for inspection and copying from the USPTO.
**Can classified technologies be patented? If not, how are they protected? **
Once an application is filed, the USPTO is supposed to screen each application for material that could impact national security. I presume this would cover “classified information”. The application is then sent to one of 3 agencies: DoE, NASA, and the Armed Services Patent Advisory Board, whichever is more appropriate.* (In your case, probably the ASPAB; I’ve always been surprised that the DOD isn’t one of the 2 agencies.) If the agency tells the PTO that the application does cover technology that affects national security, a Secrecy Order is issued and a patent won’t be granted until it no longer affects national security.
As for how to protect the information w/o a patent, there may be other venues of IP protection like trade secret or copyright laws that could apply. Of course, you’d still have to worry about things like ITAR and Export Control Regulations, but that’s a whole nudder ball of wax.
See http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/01.txt has all the dirty details.
- This is the way it’s supposed to work, but reality says that at least with one of the agencies, it doesn’t quite work that way. They just ignore those files.
(Not legal advice, see your own patent lawyer, blah blah blah)