What is a Patent Claim in a Utility Patent?
Wherever you are in the world, claims are the most powerful part of the patent. This is the place where the inventor defines his or her property rights. A patent claim is comparable to the property lines for a piece of real estate. The law defines the dimensions of your lot. You might own a rectangular lot which is 100 meters wide and 200 meters deep. While others can stand all around your lot, no one can come onto your lot without your permission. Much the same, your claim defines what you can keep others from copying. Let’s imagine you have a patent on a very basic chair. And in that patent you have the following claim: “An apparatus for sitting comprised of a back; a seat, and four legs.” That’s it. That is your property right. No one is allowed make an apparatus for sitting that contains all these elements. If they do, they would be infringing your patent. Importantly, though, they would only be infringing your claim if they made a product with ALL the elements listed in your claim. If they made a chair with no back, a stool perhaps, they would not be infringing because your claim defines your property rightto include a seat with a back. You can only keep people off your property as you defined it in your claim. Just the same, if they made a three-legged chair, they would not be infringing because your claim only prevents others from making chairs with at least four legs. Now, when comparing a claim to a product to determine whether the product infringes, IP professionals will typically create a claim chart. The claim chart will list each element of the claim in the first column, then add the matching product features in the other. In the case of your chair claim; “An apparatus for sitting comprised of a back, a seat, and four legs,” you would simply populate the cells with each element of the claim like this. If someone went to market with a three-legged chair, you would put the features of their chair in the other column like this. It would not infringe because it doesn’t have all the elements of your claim. It has a back and a seat, but it does not have at least four legs. If, instead, they went to market with a five-legged chair, the chart would look like this (show chart…maybe have a bell that dings to show it’s an infringement). Now, patents typically have much more complicated claims, but the analysis is the same. Every element of the claim must be present in the product in order for there to be infringement. Okay, it’s worth mentioning that there are two basic types of claims you’ll see in patents; independent claims and dependent claims. An independent claim defines a complete invention, whereas the dependent claim incorporates all the elements of the independent claim by reference, then adds one or more additional elements. For example, if an independent claim described “An apparatus for sitting comprised of a back, a seat, and four legs,” a dependent claim would refer to that independent claim and add an additional element. For example, “An apparatus for sitting as described in Claim 1 further comprising a footrest.” Which means that to infringe the independent claim, you must make a chair with, at a minimum, a back, a seat, and four legs. To infringe both the independent and the dependent claim, you must make a chair with a back, a seat, four legs, and a footrest. As you can appreciate, dependent claims are narrower in scope than the independent claim to which they refer.