A business competitor is claiming "patent pending" on a product I know they did not originally create. The product is manufactured by us, the competitor in question, as well as at least 15 other individuals/companies I know of. All our products are basically the same. There are cosmetic differences but everything else is the same.
I believe they filed for a patent in November/December 2012. So from what I understand that would give a prior art grace period from December 2011-December 2012.
These products in question have been sold publicly online and discussed online since the start of 2011, with an extremely similar product sold since early 2009. We began manufacturing and selling ourselves in July 2011.
To me it seems pretty clear that the public sales and Internet discussions would count as prior art. But I won't assume it's obvious to the examiners.
I can easily provide all the proof. But without a patent application number, I can't submit anything directly to discredit their claim. So unless my competitor contacts me and claims some kind of infringement along with the patent number, I'm stuck either waiting until the application is public in 18 months... or hoping the examiner catches it quickly.
My question is how rigorously will the patent examiner dig into the history of the product? (I know they like to search for existing patents - there are none covering this product.)
And is there anything I can do to make their job easier ahead of time?