The Meaning of a Patent Publication
Prior to the 2000’s, patent applications in the United States were maintained in secrecy unless and until they issued as patents. Starting in the early 2000’s the United States started to publish all US patent applications 18 months after the filing date. These are known as patent publications. The patent applications published as they were originally filed, regardless of the state of the prosecution of the application. Due to the legacy of maintaining patent applications in secrecy, there are mechanisms and certain circumstances where such secrecy during pendency can be maintained for a patent application.
On the other hand, once a patent is issued, the patent is printed for all to review and see. This is the part of the patent bargain of the Inventor: the inventor explains the invention in a public disclosure in exchange for the twenty year monopoly given by the government by the patent issuance.