This lesson examines the anatomy of a granted patent, emphasizing its major components. The example referenced throughout is US9,914,063, a granted U.S. patent for a type of fidget spinner. (images are included below; however, you may find it helpful to download and view the linked PDF of this patent as you read through this lesson).
Although the example used is a granted U.S. utility patent, this format shares much in common with nonprovisional utility patent applications and international patents. Specific patentability requirements vary among countries or regions, but the basic parts of a patent are extremely consistent. The final section of this lesson describes slight variations in U.S. plant patents and design patents.
Published patent documents only include fields that are relevant for the patent, thus this example does not include all possible content, but includes most common fields.
The first page (or “cover page”) of a patent document includes a specific set of headings and fields with identifying and descriptive information. So that all essential fields and headings can fit on this page, longer fields are sometimes continued on subsequent pages.
To help standardize and overcome language and formatting differences, the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) maintains a list of INID codes, or "Internationally agreed Numbers for the Identification of (bibliographic) Data,” which most patent offices have adopted and use on the first page of each patent document. The field definitions below are preceded by these INID codes, where applicable.
Note that some fields on the example do not have headings, thus the field definitions below refer to terminology used in the patent example provided (e.g., “TOY DESIGNED TO SPIN IN A USER’S HAND”).
(12) [United States Patent]
Type of patent document, including territory and distinction between patent and patent application.
(10) Patent No.
Patent document identifier. In this case, the number appears in the following format:
US 9,914,063 B1
US = country code (the European Patent Office maintains a list of current codes)
9,914,063 = unique identifier assigned to granted patents (published U.S. patent applications are assigned unique identifiers in a different format that begins with the year, e.g., US 2004/0213483 A1)
B1 = kind code (or status code) of the patent document. Commonly-used U.S. common codes include A1 (patent application publication), B1 (granted utility patent for which no application was previously published), and B2 (utility patent for which an application was previously published). The USPTO maintains a list of current and previously used US kind codes.
Some U.S. patent applications include additional letters directly preceding the unique identifier to indicate design patents (e.g., US D652,181 B2) and plant patents (e.g., US PP11,728 B2).
(45) Date of Patent
Date on which the granted patent document was published. This date does not indicate filing date or priority and cannot be used to estimate the term of protection.
(54) [TOY DESIGNED TO SPIN IN A USER’S HAND]
Title of the invention. Note that the language used here explains the basic function of the device, but does not include brand names or colloquial terms. Although the device in this example is popularly known as a “fidget spinner,” that term does not appear in the title. Some invention titles are even more misleading than this, such as the “Generally spherical object with floppy filaments to promote sure capture” and “Method for making a seamless plastic motion discomfort receptacle” (patents, respectively, for a Koosh® ball and a new process to make plastic air sickness bags).
This is often not just the case for titles, but throughout patent documentation. This is critical to keep in mind when performing keyword searches in patent databases. As patent applications do not use consistent or expected terminologies, patent searchers generally need to use multiple search strategies beyond keyword searching. Search strategy is discussed in Lesson 4.
The example used throughout this lesson is for a popular model of fidget spinner that the inventor and owner has trademarked as the Torqbar®. The USPTO considers the term “fidget spinner” to be merely descriptive of a general type of device, thus it cannot be trademarked. Inventors of similar fidget spinners have patented their devices, as well, differentiating their inventions from this fidget spinner and other fidget spinners through the careful construction of their claims, but none can prevent others from using the term “fidget spinner” in marketing their devices. Some patent applicants have chosen to use the term “fidget spinner” in their patent applications since 2017, at approximately the same time that the USPTO determined that no one could own the trademark for “fidget spinner” for these devices. These patent applicants could be confident that they would not be using a trademarked term in their application materials.
Name and city of the patent applicant. This may or may not be the same as the name of the inventor or rights-holder of the invention.
Name and city of the inventor. The inventor may or may not be the same as the applicant or rights-holder of the invention. Inventors are always named as individuals, not organizations. If a team of 35 researchers designed the invention for a corporation, all 35 researchers would be listed on the patent documentation as the inventor, even if the corporation maintains the rights. These names are listed on the patent in perpetuity even after the patent expires or if the rights are reassigned.
Name and address of grantee, owner, assignee, or owner (language may vary depending on the patent-granting body). This may be an individual or business and reflects the rights owner at the time that the patent is granted. If the rights are assigned to another party during the life of the patent, this will be reflected on official and most third-party patent databases, but patent offices do not update the original document.
Patent term extension or adjustment notice, if applicable.
(21) App. No.
Number of the patent application associated with this granted patent. Patent applications are assigned both application numbers and publication numbers (the latter of which appear at the top of the published application, if published).
Filing date of the patent application. This may or may not be the priority date for the granted patent, depending on whether a provisional patent application was filed, as well as other circumstances (e.g., the patent’s term was extended due to an unusually long review process by the USPTO or other governmental offices, such as the FDA).
Related U.S. Application Data
Fields below this heading detail additional applications relevant to this granted patent, including provisional patents and other related patent applications. The example provided includes information about a provisional patent application (indicated with INID code 60).
(51) Int. Cl.
International Patent Class (IPC) assigned during the examination process. IPC is a hierarchical classification system established in 1971 and used by patent offices internationally. It is one of several classification systems intended to simplify prior art searching by grouping similar technologies regardless of language or specific terminology used.
(52) U.S. Cl.
Domestic or national classification assigned during the examination process. The USPTO and European Patent Office (EPO) now classify patents using Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC), a system jointly developed by the USPTO and EPO to further comply with the IPC system. Previous to 2013 and 2015 respectively, the EPO and USPTO used internal classification systems. The EPO patent searching database, Espacenet, includes a helpful CPC class browse, which will be discussed further in Lesson 4, along with using CPC in your search strategies.
Bolded CPC classes in this field represent the “inventive” aspects of the patented invention (i.e., these are the classes most associated with the novel, non-obvious qualities protected, while the non-bold classes may be associated with more general qualities of the patented invention).
(58) Field of Classification Search
Classifications that the examiner searched while conducting a prior art search for this patent. These may or may not correspond entirely with the classifications that were ultimately assigned to the patent.
(56) References Cited
All patent documents and non-patent literature cited by both applicant and examiner as prior art. Prior art cited by the examiner is noted with an asterisk (*).
Name of the USPTO examiner responsible for conducting the prior art search and examination for the patent.
(74) Attorney, Agent, or Firm
Attorney, agent or firm employed by the patent applicant (if applicable).
One-paragraph description of the invention.
[14 Claims, 4 Drawing Sheets]
Count of the claims and drawing sheets included in this patent document. Both of these sections are explained below. Depending on space available on the cover page, this is sometimes followed by a representative picture from the drawing sheets.
The drawing sheets include visual matter associated with the patent, generally black and white drawings provided by the applicant in India ink. The USPTO has precise requirements for formatting, sizing, and other details for applicants. One important guideline to keep in mind while searching and reading patent documents is that the drawings must depict all features specified in the claims (defined below).
The majority of most patent documents is dedicated to the specification, which consists of a description and the claims. Below are some of the most common sections of the description.
In the fidget spinner patent example, this section refers to the provisional patent application.
This section typically refers to an existing need or market for the invention and sometimes refers to prior art.
This section describes the invention in brief.
Description of Drawings
This section explains each drawing in the Drawing Sheets section. In the fidget spinner example, this is titled Brief Description of the Figures, and provides only an overview of each drawing. Details about the drawings are integrated into the Detailed Description section.
The detailed description includes all information about the structure of the device and how it functions. In the fidget spinner example, this description focuses on details illustrated on the drawing sheets. The applicant has titled this section Detailed Description of Certain Embodiments. This refers to the fact that most patents protect a single embodiment of a patentable idea. In this case, the applicant notes that the invention “is not limited to the embodiments set forth and the invention can be adapted for any of several applications” and has titled the section to reflect this.
The second part of the specification section contains the patent claims. This section is sometimes difficult to find in the original patent document, as it continues directly from the last part of the description and is not set off by a new heading. The claims section begins with a phrase such as “what is claimed is” and enumerates the scope of the patent protection in minute, legalistic detail.
Despite their being hard to spot in the published document, the claims are the most important part of the patent in terms of rights afforded to the patent holder. Claims set the scope of the patent protection. Potential infringement is evaluated in light of whether an invention has all the elements of a single claim or if it has overall similarity to the description in the claims.
Most claims sections contain a mix of independent and dependent claims. This distinction between types of claims provides applicants the ability to further elaborate on specific claims without needing to restate in detail.
For instance, in the fidget spinner example, claim 1 introduces a very specific idea:
A device designed to spin in a user's hands, the device comprising:
a planar body with a centrally mounted ball bearing positioned within a center orifice of the planar body, wherein an outer race of the ball bearing is attached to the planar body;
a button comprising a pair of bearing caps attached to one another through the ball bearing and clamped against an inner race of the ball bearing, such that when the button is held between a user's thumb and finger, the planar body freely rotates about the ball bearing; and
a plurality of weights distributed at opposite ends of the planar body, creating at least a bipolar weight distribution.
Claim 2 assumes all of the qualities of claim 1, while further specifying:
The device of claim 1, wherein the planar body has a rounded hour glass shape with a bipolar weight distribution.
During infringement cases, dependent claims are evaluated in light of their corresponding independent claims; the independent claim must be infringed upon for the dependent claim to be infringed upon (e.g., random devices with rounded, hour-glass-shaped planar bodies and bipolar weight distribution are not infringing; an infringing device would also have to be designed to spin a user’s hand, along with all of the other qualities described in claim 1).
U.S. plant and design patent documents share many fields and sections with utility patent documents, but there are important differences. This section highlights a few.
In addition to changes made to differentiate from utility patents (e.g., the document type in INID field 12 is modified from “United States Patent” to “U.S. Plant Patent”), plant patents have some of the following unusual features.
As with plant patents, U.S. design patent documents share most fields with utility patent documents, but differ in some important ways.
Match the part of the patent with a statement that applies to it:
Always the name of an individual person = Inventor
Can change after the patent issues, but will never be updated on the patent documentation = Assignee
The main part of the patent used to determine infringement = Claims
Often includes a description of drawings section = Description.
Date on which the patent was published = Date of Patent.
The priority date of the patent (under most circumstances) = Filed aka "Filing Date".