If you have your own unique invention, you may want to protect it with a patent. A patent application is an important document for many reasons, but one of the most critical components of a patent application are the claims. Here is what you need to know about the claims.
What is a patent claim?
The claims in a patent application are the equivalent to a deed and survey in real property law. The claims define the boundaries of what you own. Most importantly they tell the public what they may not make, use, sell or offer for sale without your permission.
It is not surprising, then, that most patent attorneys agree that the claims are the most important part of a patent application, and of a patent. It is not uncommon to have many claims in a patent – some independent claims that stand on their own, and other dependent claims. One reason for this is that patent prosecution is a lot like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. You may have to amend claims and even narrow them, to distinguish over the prior art.
How is a patent claim structured?
By law, every patent claim must consist of a single sentence. Moreover, every patent claim has three parts: a preamble, transitional phrase and elements.
The fewer the elements – the broader the claim! The fewer the elements the harder it is for competitors to avoid infringement. But you need to have “just enough” elements that the claim defines an invention that is both novel and non-obvious in view of the prior art.
This is a delicate balancing act. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged that a patent application is the single most difficult legal document to draft, which is why you need a knowledgeable, experienced patent attorney to draft the all-important claims for your invention.