How to Read Patents: Everything You Need to Know

Determine how to read patents by first understanding exactly what a patent is. They can be confusing documents that lead to frustration on the part of the reader.

However, if you understand the way in which patents are organized and where to find important details about the inventions that would otherwise seem impossible to find among the walls of fine print and legalese, patents can be simple to understand.

Reading Patents Overview

With an understanding of the above, one can browse patents to get a sense of their contents, rather than buckling down and reading the entire patent. Browsing patents is a useful skill; it saves companies and individuals time and money — especially those who deal with a lot of patents and who may not know where to start in understanding the process.

Many IP-based organizations protect their trade secrets through distributing gag orders to their engineers, technologists, and scientists, as well as restricting their access to raw patent information. That’s not because the documents are difficult or because they contain language not suitable to the everyman, or because these highly-skilled individuals are better utilized elsewhere; it's because of a concept known as “inequitable conduct.”

Inventors have an obligation to truthfully disclose information they’re privy to prior to filing a patent application for a new invention. It is a process heavily laden with “red tape,” meaning there are many technical aspects involved in filing a legally serviceable patent.

Should a court rule that inequitable conduct took place in obtaining a patent, that patent can then be invalidated wholly in the eyes of the law. These complex documents need to be reviewed carefully, and decisions need to be made by all relevant parties as to whether or not a professional patent expert would be a welcome addition to the process. It’s often better handled by a specialist who does nothing but deal with patents.

If you yourself are going to read a patent, you shouldn’t read it like a book, from beginning to end. You’ll likely miss too many details and fail to piece together the information this way. You would be better suited to reading the important sections first, digesting what they’re telling you, and proceeding to the fine print afterward, as needed.

Most patents have three distinct parts. The three main parts of a patent are Abstract, Claims, and Specifications.

Countries all over the world model their patenting systems around what the United States uses. Our well-modeled and tested structure and format for patents yields better results than other models. The cover page of a patent includes the Abstract portion. Any specific information related to reading the patent shows up here. Other data to appear in the Abstract portion of a patent are identifying elements such as serial numbers and filing dates.

The cover page also includes data that covers historical facts and precedents tied to the patent. A bracketed number can be found next to each subsection of the data on the cover page. This number refers to the specific field the Patent Office uses for their own internal identification.

This number identifies the type of publication (such as a U.S. patent), as well as the inventor’s name, patent number, and date of issuance. A key distinction to be aware of is the fact that the title of the patent will identify inventors, as well as their contact information, though the Assignees are the real owners of the patent rights. This is why it’s possible, as an example, for Michael Jackson to own the Beatles’ discography. Inventors are not the same as patent owners.

The application number, assigned by a patent office, will normally be included on the cover page. Related applications that claim a priority in the filing process should be noted on the cover page, too.

An “internal classification code”, also known as an “international patent classification” (or an IPC), should also appear on the cover page. The cover page should also include the classification codes of other patents that relate to the filing, appearing as they’ve been assigned by the Patent Office Examiner. The classification code on the cover page that is bolded is considered to be the most important and relevant classification code.

A field of search, which contains U.S. classification codes and is used by the Patent Office Examiner, should also be present.

References to records of the application process for the patent to date should be on the cover page, as well. After the references, the name of the Primary Examiner at the home patent office, as well as the attorney, firm, agency, or agent presiding over the application should be listed.

Finally, the cover page should include an abstract description of the product or idea contained within the patent.

Specification – Description of The Invention

The specification portion of a patent is also known as the disclosure portion. It seeks to describe the invention. These specifications contain descriptions of the invention, and those descriptions must satisfy certain criteria in order to be accepted:

  • The specification document is supposed to inform someone in the related field how to use or create the invention.
  • The inventor gets the rights to a patented invention in exchange for full disclosure as to what the invention is, does, and how it functions.

Layouts are not uniform documents, and they vary on a case-by-case basis. The layouts are, however, consistent among patent offices in the United States and Europe. Cross-referencing related applications and requiring a statement disclosing any federally-sponsored research are wholly unique to the United States.

This portion of the document serves to establish the particular value of a patent. It should also help readers understand the scope of any claims made in the patent.

If you’d like assistance or more information on how to read patents, post your legal need to UpCounsel’s marketplace. Lawyers from UpCounsel consist of Harvard and Yale graduates who have an average of 14 years of legal experience. They are top lawyers who have worked with the largest companies in the country and are standing by to assist with your legal needs.