After your invention, your words in a patent application define the boundaries of your exclusive rights

You have just invented something. You believe it is new, useful, solves a problem, and most important: It is yours. You invested time, money, and energy into this invention.

Now what?

If you want to protect your invention, you can apply for a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. A patent grants an inventor the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling, or importing the invention.

In other words, you have exclusive rights to your invention. No other person, corporation, or entity can use your invention or take credit for it.

A patent has several parts—including drawings, a written description, and claims. The claims define in words the boundaries of your exclusive rights.

Claims are numbered sentences appearing at the end of the patent. Each claim is required to be one sentence with three different parts.

The first part is the preamble, which introduces the invention. Example: “An apparatus for sawing wood.”

The preamble is followed by a transition phrase, such as “comprising” or “consisting of,” that links the preamble to the body of the claim and indicates whether the claim is restricted to the listed elements or may cover additional non-listed elements.

The transition phrase is followed by the body of the claim, which lists and describes the elements or limitations of the invention.

There are two types of claims: independent and dependent. Independent claims stand alone. Dependent claims refer to independent claims and further limit those independent claims by adding more elements or limitations to the invention.

Typically, a patent will have only a few independent claims and many dependent claims. There are five general types of claims. Depending on your invention, you can have a claim for a device, a machine, a chemical compound, a method or process for making something, or a method or process for doing something.

Claims should be grouped by type and preferably arranged in order of scope so that the first claim presented is the broadest (i.e., least restrictive). Additionally, all dependent claims should be grouped together with the claim or claims to which they refer to the extent practicable.

When you file a patent application at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, an examiner examines your claims by comparing them to prior patents or publications to see if your invention is entitled to protection. When drafting claims, it is important to strike a balance between a claim that is too narrow and may not fully protect your invention and a claim that is too broad and may not be allowed by the examiner.

For more information about claims and how to draft them, visit the USPTO’s Manual of Patent Examining Procedure, Section 608.01at