In a patent, the claims define what that patent actually protects. Claims are the moral equivalent to the property description and plot plan in a real estate transaction that specify the boundaries of a parcel of land – to truly understand what intellectual property is actually covered in an issued patent, you must look to the claims.
To the uninitiated, many patents in the same subject area look and feel the same, and it can be difficult to tell what exactly a patent covers and what it doesn’t cover. Whether you’re a start-up founder, a business lawyer working at a tech company, a software engineer, or really anyone working in an innovative area of technology, reading a patent can be a frustrating experience. However, understanding the layout of a typical claim can help make reading them more manageable.
The first thing to know is that the claims are found in the very back of the patent. Anything you read in the abstract or in the main body of the patent may or may not actually be a protected part of the patent. This main body, also called the specification, is supposed to inform the reader about the subject matter and provide details about making or using the overall invention. So the first thing to do when reading a patent is to flip to the very last few pages where the numbered claims are listed.
Patent-ese is like a computer programming language. And, as with most programming languages, it looks weird or just plain wrong if you’re trying to read it as if it was actually English. Let’s take a look at the anatomy of a method claim, a common type of claim:
Next time, we’ll look another common type of claim, the system claim.