How Do I Read a Patent – What Are the Different Parts?
Patents are legal documents that confer powerful rights granted by the government. A United States Patent has four parts: (1) a cover page; (2) drawings; (3) a specification; and (4) claims. When courts interpret patents, and rule on the scope of rights conferred by the patent, they look at each part.
- Cover page: The cover page includes the title of the patent, and an abstract that summarizes the invention in 150 words or fewer. It also lists the inventors and owners of the patent, and the date on which the patent application was filed. That date is critical for determining whether the invention was novel at the time of filing. The cover page also lists other patents and documents the Patent Office considered in awarding the patent.
- Drawings: Most patents include drawings that depict the invention in whole or in part. Drawings must show all elements of the invention. A patent can also include drawings of earlier inventions, called “prior art,” to highlight how the present invention is novel.
- Specification: The specification provides a written description of the invention and, for certain kinds of patents, the process for making it. The specification must enable a person skilled in the relevant field to make and use the claimed invention. It typically includes a background section discussing the state of the art prior to the invention, a summary of the invention, an explanation of the patent’s drawings, and a detailed description identifying the best way to make and use the invention.
- Claims: A patent concludes with one or more claims that distinctly describe each aspect of the patented invention. The claims define the scope of the rights created by the patent. A patent can include different types of claims. An “apparatus” claim describes a tangible machine or object. A “system” claim describes a combination of machines or objects working together. A “method” claim describes a process, or a series of steps to carry out. Claims can be “independent claims,” which describe one “embodiment” of the invention, or “dependent claims,” which describe specific variations on a particular embodiment described in a prior independent claim.
If you have questions about interpreting a patent, you should consult an attorney. Skilled intellectual property lawyers can help you and your company navigate pending or contemplated litigation, reaching the best possible resolution.
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