Patents Explained: Claims

At last, the claims!  The heart of the patent!

Appropriately bringing this series of explanatory posts to an end, the claims conclude a patent.  A patent can have one claim or many; generally, though, they’ve got 20 or less because the Patent Office will let you write up to 20 claims without paying extra fees for additional ones.  If the invention necessitates a more complete claiming profile, going beyond the 20 may be a good idea.

Patent claims are written in independent and dependent form.  Independent claims stand on their own.  Dependent claims – get this – depend from independent claims.  They include all the subject matter of the independent claims from which they depend and then add additional subject matter, making the dependent claim more specific (narrower) than the independent claim.  Again, the Patent Office will let you have 3 independent claims “for free.”

The claims are what count when it gets down to litigation.  They define the scope of the invention or how far the protection of the patent extends.  Therefore, whether the defendant’s product infringes the patent depends on the breadth of the claims.  However, the claims aren’t considered in isolation.  Their relationship to the drawings, the detailed description, and the patent’s disclosure as a whole is important, because those parts affect how the claims are construed in court.  So while the claims are a crucial component of the patent’s protection, they aren’t the whole story.