Patent Basics: How to Read a Patent | Flash of Genius
One of the benefits of working in the field of patents is being able to enjoy certain movies that others may find boring. A prominent example may be “Flash of Genius”.
It is a biography of Dr. Robert Kearns, inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper systems used on most automobiles from 1969 to the present, who sued Ford Motor Company in 1978 and Chrysler Corporation in 1982 for patent infringement. The Ford case went to trial in 1990. Ford lost, though the court held that Ford’s infringement was not wilful (meaning that damages for infringement would not be enhanced). Ford agreed to settle with Kearns for US$10.1 million with an agreement of no further appeals. After the settlement with Ford, Kearns mostly acted as his own attorney in the subsequent suit against Chrysler, even questioning witnesses on the stand. The Chrysler verdict was decided in 1992, and was a victory for Kearns. Chrysler was ordered to pay Kearns US$18.7 million with interest. Chrysler appealed the court decision, but the Federal Circuit let the judgment stand. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case. By 1995, after spending over US$ 10 million in legal fees, Kearns received approximately US$ 30 million in compensation for Chrysler’s patent infringement.
Although the movie is a nice watch and is based on a true story of patent infringement, but no joke, a patent is a complex document that is entirely different from a technical literature, and requires special skills to read it thoroughly. It is like finding a diamond in the rough.
In general, a patent is basically classified into three main parts –
- Bibliographic information which is represented in the cover page.
- The invention which is described in the specification.
- The act or process of the invention which is defined in the claims.
Major patent offices worldwide, including United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), European Patent Office (EPO) etc. also follow the same pattern to read a patent. The claims define what is excluded from others to make, use or sell. Other than that what is mentioned in the patent can be made, used or sold, but not the theory mentioned in the patent. One most important step to read a complete patent is to understand all the claims. But then, to read the claims and to understand them clearly is not an easy task. Claims are written in a legal language which can only be understood by a patent attorney. The attorney should make all the specifications clear with the help of patent drawings and patent symbols.
Bibliographic information – Cover page
Cover page has no legal importance but the reference to the dates and the patent issuing serial number is of great importance. It basically mentions various fields, such as, Publication details and inventor’s name, Patent serial number, Date of issuing the patent, Patent’s title, Inventor’s name, Application number given by the patent office, Filing date of the patent application, Code for International classification, References made for the application to be patented, and a short description, called abstract given at the end of the cover page.
Invention description – Specification
The specification is different from place to place, but the US and Europe specifications go hand in hand except a few points. Following are the descriptions followed by a specification – Patent’s title, References to related applications, History of the invention, detailed description of the invention, Drawings of the invention, if any, and a set of Claims.
Act of invention – Claims
The claims are written to identify what is patented and protected and what is not. The claims are divided in two parts – preamble and body of the claims. Preamble only defines a statement which gives brief idea about the invention and the body of the claims gives the description of further points. A claim generally read the following ways out –
- “Consisting essentially of” – This expression is not often used but gives a clear meaning to the invention. This means it is additionally using some elements that are not used by other invention.
- “Consisting of” – This expression is used where the elements required are mentioned in an appropriate method like if the claim has involved three elements and the third party is using one of them and rest their own elements, they are not infringing.
- “Comprising of” – This expression is used when the claim has involved, supposing two elements, those two elements are being used in contrast with the third element, the third party is not infringing, but only if those two element are being used, then they are infringing.
Claims have two sectors – dependent claims and independent claims. An independent claim does not depend or include any limitation of the claim, whereas a dependent claim is solely meant for the protection of the invention and follows all the limitations mentioned in the claim.
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