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Patents Glossary

Inventors who hope to monetize or at least protect their inventions will need to get acquainted with the basics of patent law. This includes a working knowledge of the main terms related to patents. Below you will find an alphabetical list of definitions for frequently used words and phrases related to patents. See FindLaw's Patents section for additional articles and resources.

Abandonment - A patent application may become abandoned for failure to file a complete and proper reply as required under existing patent laws and regulations. Abandonment may be either of the invention or of an application.

Agent - (may be referred to as a practitioner or representative) One who is not an attorney but is authorized to act for or in place of a patent applicant(s) before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Applicant - Inventor or joint inventors who are applying for a patent on their own invention, or the person who is authorized to apply for a patent in place of the inventor.

Application - An application for patent filed under federal law that includes all types of patent applications (i.e., utility, design, plant, and reissue) except provisional applications. The nonprovisional application establishes the filing date and initiates the patent examination process. A nonprovisional utility patent application must include a specification, including a claim or claims; drawings, when necessary; an oath or declaration; and the prescribed filing fee.

Assignment - A transfer of ownership of a patent application or patent from one entity to another. Record all assignments with the USPTO Assignment Services Division to maintain clear title to pending patent applications and patents.

BPAIIS - Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences Information System.

Cancelled Claim - A patent claim that is canceled or deleted. "Canceled" is the status identifier that should be used when a claim is canceled in an application

Certificate of Mailing - A certificate for each piece of correspondence mailed, prior to the expiration of the set period of time for response, stating the date of deposit with the U.S. Postal Service and including a signature.

Claims - Patent claims define the invention and are what aspects are legally enforceable. The specification must conclude with a claim particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the patent applicant regards as his invention or discovery. The claim or claims must conform to the invention as set forth in the remainder of the specification and the terms and phrases used in the claims must find clear support or antecedent basis in the description so that the meaning of the terms in the claims may be ascertainable (clearly understood ) by reference to the description.

Co-Inventor - An inventor who is named with at least one other inventor in a patent application, wherein each inventor contributes to the conception (creation) of the invention set forth in at least one claim in a patent application.

Combination Patent - A patent granted for an invention that unites existing components in a novel way.

Common Inventor - An inventor whose name is listed on multiple patent applications or granted patents, making the inventions at least partially the work of the same person.

Concept - An idea or design.

Counterpart - an application filed in a foreign patent office that is substantially similar to (like) the patent application filed with the USPTO and is based upon some or all of the same invention. The two applications would generally have the same applicant.

Declaration - A document in which an applicant for patent declares, under penalty of fine or imprisonment (or both) that (1) he or she is the original or sole inventor, (2) shall state of what country he or she is a citizen, (3) that he or she has reviewed and understands the contents of the specification and claims which the declaration refers to, and (4) acknowledges the duty to disclose information that is material to patentability as defined by federal law.

Design Patent Application - An application for a patent to protect against the unauthorized use of new, original, and ornamental designs for articles of manufacture.

Design Patent - A design patent may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.

Disclosure Document - A document disclosing an invention, and signed by the inventor or inventors, that is forwarded to the USPTO only as evidence of the date of conception of the invention.

Drawing - Patent drawings must show every feature of the invention as specified in the claims. Omission of drawings may cause an application to be considered incomplete but are only required if drawings are necessary for the understanding of the subject matter sought to be patented.

Element - A discretely claimed component of a patent claim.

Enforceability of Patent - the right of the patent owner to bring an infringement suit against a party who, without permission, makes, uses or sells the claimed invention. The period of enforceability of a patent is the length of the term of the patent plus the six years under the statute of limitations for bringing an infringement action.

Filing Date - the date of receipt in the USPTO of an application which includes (1) a specification containing a description and, if the application is a nonprovisional application, at least one claim, and (2) any required drawings.

Independent Claim - A patent claim that does not refer back to or depend on another claim.

Infringement (See "Patent Infringement')

Interference - A proceeding, conducted before the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences, to determine priority of invention between a pending application and one or more pending applications and/or one or more unexpired patents.

Invention - Any art or process (way of doing or making things), machine, manufacture, design, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, or any variety of plant, which is or may be patentable under the patent laws of the United States.

Inventor - One who contributes to the conception of an invention. The patent law of the United States of America requires that the applicant in a patent application must be the inventor.

Joint Application - A patent application in which the invention is presented as that of two or more persons.

Joint Inventor - An inventor who is named with at least one other inventor in a patent application, wherein each inventor contributes to the conception of the invention set forth in at least one claim in a patent application.

Multiple Dependent Claim - A dependent patent claim which further limits and refers back in the alternative to more than one preceding independent or dependent claim.

Non-Provisional Patent Application - An application for patent that includes all patent applications (i.e., utility, design, plant, and reissue) except provisional applications. The nonprovisional application establishes the filing date and initiates the examination process. A nonprovisional utility patent application must include a specification, including a claim or claims; drawings, when necessary; an oath or declaration; and the prescribed filing fee.

Non-Obviousness - The subject matter sought to be patented must be sufficiently different from what has been used or described before that it may be said to be non-obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the area of technology related to the invention. For example, the substitution of one color for another, or changes in size, are ordinarily not patentable.

Oath - A solemn declaration before another, complying with the laws of the state or country where made, that the document in which an applicant for patent declares that (1) he or she is the original or sole inventor, (2) shall state of what country he or she is a citizen, (3) that he or she has reviewed and understands the contents of the specification and claims which the declaration refers to, and (4) acknowledges the duty to disclose information that is material to patentability.

Original Application - "Original" is used in the patent statute and rules to refer to an application which is not a reissue application. An original application may be a first filing or a continuing application.

Parent Application - The term "parent" is applied to an earlier patent application of the inventor disclosing a given invention.

Patent - A property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor "to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States" for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

Patent Application (See "Application")

Patent Infringement - Any unauthorized making, using, offering to sell, selling or importing into the United States any patented invention is considered infringement.

Patent Number - Unique number assigned to a patent application when it issues as a patent.

Patent Pending - A phrase that often appears on manufactured items. It means that someone has applied for a patent on an invention that is contained in the manufactured item. It serves as a warning that a patent may issue that would cover the item and that copiers should be careful because they might infringe if the patent issues. Once the patent issues, the patent owner will stop using the phrase "patent pending" and start using a phrase such as "covered by U.S. Patent Number XXXXXXX." Applying the patent pending phrase to an item when no patent application has been made can result in a fine.

Patentable - Suitable to be patented; entitled by law to be protected by the issuance of a patent.

Plant Patent Application - Applications to protect invented or discovered, asexually reproduced plant varieties.

Plant Patent - May be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.

Practitioner - One who stands for or acts on behalf of another. A patent attorney or patent agent may represent the inventors named in a patent application.

Prior Art - Any pre-existing knowledge, process, or product in the field or marketplace that can impact the validity (as to novelty or "obviousness") of a patent claim.

Restriction - If two or more independent and distinct inventions are claimed in a single application, the examiner may require the applicant to elect (designate) a single invention to which the claims will be restricted (limited to). This requirement is known as a requirement for restriction (also known as a requirement for division).

Scope - What is included; as in the scope of a patent claim.

Specification - A written description of the invention and the manner and process of making and using the same.

Substitute Patent Application - An application which is in essence a duplicate of a prior (earlier filed) application by the same applicant abandoned before the filing of the substitute (later filed) application; a substitute application does not obtain the benefit of the filing date of the prior application.

Term of Art - An expression or phrase that has a defined meaning when used in a particular context or knowledge environment (such as the patenting process, pharmaceuticals, computers, etc.).

Utility Patent Application - A patent application that can be used to protect useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, and compositions of matter.

Utility Patent - A utility patent may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new, useful, and nonobvious process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.

Withdrawn Patent - An allowed application for patent in which the applicant files correspondence to withdraw the patent from issue; thus preventing it from issuing on the patent issue date.  The printed document is sometimes available on the day of publication, but is later retracted and will not be available in the patent database. 

Get Legal Help With Your Patent Today

Patents are important for protecting your inventions and, ultimately, monetizing those inventions. But patent law can be very complicated, so you may want to consider contacting a patent law attorney before filing a patent application, assigning your patent, or exploring licensing options.

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