Patent Claim Structure

By Shelly Morgan

At the end of every patent is a numbered list of patent claims. Unlike the text that precedes them, the claims very specifically define what is patentable about the invention. If the patent is ever challenged, the court will look to the language in the claims. These claims are often written by a patent attorney, who may use very abstract language that seems impenetrable to those not skilled in claim drafting. The structure of each claim complies with rules set forth in the Manual of Patent Examination Procedures, commonly known as the MPEP.

Claim Types

A claim may be independent or dependent. An independent claim contains the essential elements of the invention. A dependent claim contains all the elements of the independent claim as well as other elements. You can distinguish between dependent and independent claims because a dependent claim will always state which independent claim it depends from.

Preamble

All claim begin with a preamble. The preamble often states whether the invention is an apparatus, a method or an improvement. For example, the preamble of an independent claim to a camera lens might read "An apparatus for visualizing an image" or "A method for generating images" or "An improved method for generating images." The preamble of a dependent claim will state the claim it depends from. For example, it might read "An apparatus as in claim 1."

File a provisional application for patent online. Get Started Now

Transitional Phrase

The preamble is followed by a simple transitional phrase. Common transitional phrases are "comprising the steps of," "consisting of the following elements," and "including the elements." One important aspect of the transitional phrase is whether the verb is limiting. The verbs "including" and "comprising" are understood to be open-ended. While the invention includes whatever elements follow these verbs, it could also include other, different elements. The word "consisting" means that the invention is limited to those elements that follow the transitional phrase.

Elements

A list of elements follows the transitional phrase. These elements might be parts of the invention or steps for using the invention. If the elements are parts of the device, the claim is often referred to as an "apparatus claim." If the elements describe how to use the device, the claim is often referred to as a "method claim." Each element is often separated by semicolons and appears on a new, indented line of text.

Examples

An independent claim for a lightbulb might read: "1. An apparatus for generating light, including the elements of a housing; a filament; and a means for coupling said housing to a power source." A dependent claim might read: "2. An apparatus as in claim 1, wherein said filament is made of metal."

File a provisional application for patent online. Get Started Now
How to Patent a Toy Idea
 

References

Related articles

The Meaning of Traverse in a Patent

Traversing in a patent proceeding means to register a formal disagreement with the examiner's findings or requirements. An inventor must file an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to obtain protection for his invention. Once filed, the application is reviewed by a patent office examiner who decides whether to grant the patent. If the inventor doesn't agree with the examiner's rulings, either during the application process or the examiner's final decision, he must traverse.

What to Do When Someone Steals Your Ideas

An unexpressed idea enjoys no legal protections. If you have fixed your idea in a tangible medium, such as by recording a song, writing a novel or creating a prototype invention, it may be entitled to the protection as intellectual property, and you may have legal recourse against someone who steals your idea. The ease with which you may enforce your rights depends on which branch of intellectual property law applies to your idea or creative work.

Does a Copyright Protect an Author's Creative Idea?

Copyright laws give authors and other creators property rights for their works of original authorship, including the rights to reproduce, distribute, and display their works. One of the fundamental principles of copyright law is that a copyright protects expressions but not creative ideas. Although this basic rule seems straightforward, it may be difficult to apply in some cases.

Start here. LegalZoom. Legal help is here. LLCs. Corporations. Patents. Attorney help.

Related articles

Can Products Be Similar Without Violating Patent Laws?

Products can be very similar without violating patent laws because patents do not protect products. Patents protect ...

How to Get a Patent on a Website Idea

A utility patent, which is the most common type of patent, covers the functional aspects of an invention. To be ...

Patent Options

Not all patents are created equal under U.S. federal law. In fact, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or ...

DIY: How to File for a Non-Provisional Patent

A patent protects your right to use and profit from an invention. Many individuals and businesses retain patent ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED