Understanding Patents

Anatomy of a Patent

A typical non-provisional patent application contains the following sections, which are described in detail below.

Field of the invention

The field of the invention briefly describes the general field of the invention. A sentence or two is sufficient to aid the Patent Office in assigning the patent application to an Examiner and in classifying the resulting patent.

Background of the invention

The background section describes state of the field prior to the current invention described in the patent. This section provides an opportunity for the inventors to sell the patent examiner on the importance and innovativeness of their invention. This is often best accomplished by discussing in detail the prior art, and pointing out its shortcomings while simultaneously emphasizing the need for exactly what your invention provides. Typical sources of prior art include journal articles, published conference proceedings, issued patents, and other printed materials. In the US, inventors have a statutory duty to disclose all relevant prior art of which they are aware.

Summary of the invention

The summary of the invention sets forth in broad terms what the inventor considers to be the invention, and often how the present invention overcomes the shortcomings of the prior art and meets the unmet need identified in the background section. Since it must be written broadly, it typically does not include all the intricate details of the invention's operation. In fact, in most cases it merely paraphrases the broader claims.

Drawings

The drawings are provided to aid in understanding the invention, although where drawings do not aid understanding or are impractical, they are not included. However nearly all inventions will include at least one drawing, and in general, anything that is claimed in the patent must be shown in the drawings. Elements of the invention shown in the drawings that are described in the detailed description section will be numbered. Graphs and tables may also be included in this section.

Brief description of the drawings

The brief description of the drawings merely identifies the view shown in each figure.

Detailed description of the invention

The detailed description of the invention sets forth the theory on which the invention rests and the intricate details of at least one way (and sometimes several ways) the invention can be implemented. This description must be detailed enough for someone who is of average skill in the relevant area to make and use the invention, and must include a description of the best way, in the inventor's view, the invention can be implemented. Each implementation is called an embodiment, and the best one is the preferred embodiment of the invention. The detailed description, in many cases, is little more than a description of the drawings with reference to its components. One requirement of this section is that it disclose the best mode of practicing the invention known to the inventors at the time the patent is filed.

Industrial applicability

The industrial applicability section describes the applications in which industry will likely use the invention.

Claims

The claims define the legal bounds of the coverage provided by the patent for your invention. There are independent claims, which are the broadest claims, and narrower dependent claims which are "children" of either an independent claim or another dependent claim, and which incorporate all of the limitations of their parent claim or claims while adding additional limitations of their own. Claims describe the essential elements of the invention being claimed, often using specialized terms that reduce or eliminate ambiguity. While it is generally easier to obtain a patent with narrow claims, too narrow are much easier to invent around or avoid. Infringement happens when a product comes within the scope of the claims of a patent, which occurs when it incorporates all elements of the claim. For instance, a claim of "a vehicle with two wheels" covers bicycles, tricycles, cars, 18-wheelers, motorcycles etc., but not unicycles.