Legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi famously began the first practice of each season, by stating the obvious, “Gentlemen, THIS is a football.” Lombardi realized that success, on or off the field requires a thorough understanding of the fundamentals. This blog post is our first in a series dedicated to helping inventors make informed decisions by better understanding “intellectual property” in all its many forms. With that, it seems appropriate to begin this series with the topic we are asked about most…
Inventors, ”THIS” is a patent!
A patent is a legal mechanism for describing and protecting an invention by excluding others from making, using or selling it for a certain period of time. A patent application has numerous parts, but in this post, we will focus on the 3 most important elements of a patent:
- Specification – written description of the invention
- Claims – written details of what is being protected
- Drawing(s) – one or more visual representations of the invention and how it works
The specification should describe how the invention works, what it is, and what it does. It is strongly advised to be objective and to not praise or overstate the capabilities of the invention in the specification. (save the praise for your sell sheet)
Patent claims can be difficult to understand, partly because they are written in a non-conversational style of English, similar to real-estate language in a property deed, such as “described herein is a property, bordered on one side by a . . . , bordered on another side by XXXX, and also bordered on its front side by Maple Street”. The purpose of a property deed is to universally convey to any interested party, exactly what is contained in a property and what is not. A key principle of deed language is that every person who reads the deed should have the exact same understanding of where the property is and who owns it.
Similarly, patent claims are (in a perfect world) supposed to convey the exact boundaries and scope of an invention, what is protected by the patent, and what is not. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Very often, different readers of patent claims may all have very different ideas of what is protected and what is not.
As a patent attorney and former Examiner at the U.S. Patent Office, it has been my experience that the chances of obtaining a patent are in direct proportion to the length and detail of the specification and drawings. Shorter applications tend to be rejected more easily.
Patent drawings are usually simple line-drawings done in black ink on white paper.
A patent disclosure should show one of “ordinary skill in the art” (average skill in the relevant industry), how to make the invention.
A patent is not intended to be a bullet-proof vest that can protect an invention against all competitors. The U.S. Government does not enforce patents, and there are no “federal patent police”. In other words, having a patent is not a guarantee that competitors will not steal your idea or knockoff your product. Patents are merely one weapon in a much larger battleground of the marketplace, but more on that later. Stay tuned for a discussion on copyright.