ByJohn S. McClenahen With most U.S. patent applications now being published 18 months after they are filed, companies large and small need to be even more careful to protect their intellectual property, advises Tim Baumann, an attorney at McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff, a Chicago law firm. "Companies will now have to do even more advanced planning in obtaining patents to avoid potential headaches, which include possible loss of patent rights," he claims. A U.S. patent publishing rule change that took effect Nov. 29 means that smaller companies filing patent applications involving core business technologies will now have such technologies exposed to their competitors, says Baumann. Presumably, he's worried that disclosure during the application process could diminish competitive advanatge. However, the change brings the U.S. in line with the practices in most other countries and could, in effect by calling attention to claims of innovation earlier in the process, strengthen the quality of patents that are actually granted.