Elements of a Patent

By Grygor Scott

A patent gives an inventor the legal right to prevent others from making, using or selling the inventor’s new device, process, design or substance. In effect, a patent is a short-term monopoly for an invention. Most patents expire in 20 years. A patent grant encompasses the elements of the inventor’s patent application. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reviews patent applications and issues a certificate for each approved patent. This certificate acknowledges that the federal government has granted the inventor a patent for the invention. Patents have several required elements.


A patent’s abstract is a synopsis of the patented invention, process, substance or design. It provides a brief summary of the technical information disclosed in the patent. An abstract is usually only one paragraph in length.


A patent’s specification provides details about the invention and demonstrates how it differs from earlier inventions. The specification includes a title, which indicates the invention’s general field. For example, a patent’s title could be “A Decorative Device for Storing Shoes.” A specification includes a summary that briefly outlines the invention’s scope or claims. The specification also has three major elements: background, description and claims.

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The background section provides a thorough overview of the invention’s prior art. A patent’s prior art consists of the existing technologies and information related to the patent’s invention. The background is important because it helps the inventor show how his invention is new and different from existing inventions.


A patent’s description section provides a complete explanation of the invention’s components and how it works. In exchange for a patent, an inventor must publicly disclose all of the details of his invention. U.S. patent law requires that a patent’s description be detailed enough “so that any person of ordinary skill in the pertinent art, science, or area could make and use the invention without extensive experimentation.”


The claims section provides a narrow, precise statement of what the invention is. It is the most important element in a patent because it establishes the exact scope, or boundaries, of the patent’s invention. In patent infringement cases, courts use a patent’s claims to determine whether the defendant’s device, process, design or substance infringes on the plaintiff’s patented invention.


In most cases, a patent includes drawings. They demonstrate how the invention works. Federal law requires a patent’s drawings to show “every feature of the invention as specified in the claims.”


A patent includes an inventor’s declaration that he was the first to invent the device, process, substance or design. The inventor must also affirm that the patent discloses all of the information that is material to the invention’s patentability.

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