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How do I read a patent? - the Front Page
Let's look at the front page of a typical patent. We'll discuss each section on the front page, from left to right and top to bottom, identifying the sections by the number code in parenthesis before the section. These numbers, called "INID Codes", are used universally on all printed patents around the world, so that you can identify the information elements on a patent even if you do not speak the language. A complete list of these codes is available on this site. If any of the terms used in this explanation are unfamiliar, you will probably find them defined in our Patent Glossary.
Sample patent front page, from Patent Number 6,763,791
(12) Type of Document: for an issued patent, this will just read "United States Patent" (or, if appropriate, "United States Design Patent" or "United States Plant Patent"). Other possibilities are:
The last name of the inventor will normally be printed under the type of document. If there is more than one inventor, this would be the last name of the first inventor followed by "et. al" (Law Latin for "and others").
(10) Number: A utility patent will have a number here with no letter prefix (other than the "US" which denotes a US publication). Other patent office documents have letter prefixes before the number which indicate the kind of document:
Just for general interest, here's how utility patent numbers work out over the years:
Documents also have a letter or letter/number after the number. These appear on the face of the patent only after January 2, 2001, but the codes may be used on all patents in some databases. To make things more complicated, the number after the letter is sometimes omitted.
(45) Date of Patent: the date the patent was issued by the USPTO. The patent is enforceable after this date, and in some cases the patent term is measured from this date (see "How to determine if a patent is still in force"). Interesting trivia point - this date is always a Tuesday.
(54) Title: This is the full title of the patent. In past years, it was the practice to give very vague and general titles to patents ("Tool"), but more recently titles tend to be fairly specific.
(75) Inventors: All of the inventors will be listed on the patent, usually with their city of residence. Sometimes the inventor's full address will be listed.
(73) Assignee: If the patent is owned by a company (or an individual other than the inventor(s)), it will probably be listed here. Note that this information comes from the cover sheet which was filed when the issue fee was paid, and may not be correct. Sometimes the attorney or inventor forgets to list an assignment, or chooses not to. Assignments which are recorded after the patent issues are never printed on the patent. To find out the latest assignment status of a patent, see the Patent Assignments database at the USPTO website.
(*) Term extension notice: Sometimes the term of the patent is extended due to delays in the USPTO processing beyond certain limits. If the term is extended, it will be noted here, as a certain number of days of extension (see "How to determine if a patent is still in force"). In the example above, the term was not extended.
(21) Appl. No.: The serial number of the application on which this patent was based - in this case 10/198,476. The serial number is always six digits, assigned sequentially as applications are received by the USPTO, prefixed by a two digit series number. When the number reaches 999,999, they start a new series. The series numbers are as follows:
(22) Filing date: This is the date that this application was filed. Note that this is the actual filing date, not necessarily the "first US filing date" used for determining patent term. (see "How to determine if a patent is still in force")
(65) Prior Publication Data: If this patent was published while it was a pending application, the publication number and date will be listed here. In this example, the application was published on February 20, 2003 as Published Application Number "US 2003/033,999 A1". For more information on patent application publication, see our Patents FAQ page
(60) Related US Application Data: and (30) Foreign Priority Data: If this application is related to any other applications or patents, they will be listed here. In this example, patent 6,763,791 was based on Provisional Application number 60/312,140 filed on August 14, 2001.
The patent might be related to other non-provisional applications, for example if it is a Continuation-in-Part of an earlier application or a US equivalent of an application first filed in Japan. If so, the patent term would be measured from the filing date of the earliest non-provisional US application listed here.(see "How to determine if a patent is still in force") If any of the related applications have issued as US patents, that will be indicated in this section as well.
(51) International Patent Classification and (52) US Patent Classification All patents are classified by subject matter for ease of searching. The classifications in which a patent is indexed are listed in these sections. A given patent may be classified in any number of different locations, depending on the features of the invention.
Most patent offices around the world use the International Patent Classification system, which is based on the function or operation of the invention. The classification system is defined in a hierarchical outline. In this case, the patent is classified in subclass F01L 1/34, defined as follows:
The USPTO uses its own US Patent Classification System, in which all inventions are first put in a class having a three-digit number, then in a numbered subclass under the class. The subclasses are arranged in a hierarchical form, but not necessarily in numerical order. The US classification system is more based on structure than function. In this case, the patent was classified primarily in subclass 123/90.17, defined as follows:
Knowing the US classification(s) for a patent is important in searching, because the USPTO database only indexes patents issued before 1976 by number and classification. Therefore, if you need to retrieve pre-1976 patents in your search you have to search by class/subclass number, rather than by keywords.
(58) Field of Search: These are the US classes/subclasses the Examiner searched when he examined this patent. If you are doing a patent search and find a patent which seems similar to your idea, this can give you a hint of other places you should be looking.
(56) References Cited: This is a list of the prior art that the Examiner found in his search, or which were listed by the patentee on an "Information Disclosure Statement" (IDS) filed with the application. Patents flagged with an asterisk are those that the Examiner felt were particularly relevant to the patentability of this patent. Both US and foreign patents may be listed, as well as non-patent literature the Examiner might feel was relevant.
Primary Examiner, Assistant Examiner: These are the USPTO Examiners who did the examination of the application when it was filed in the USPTO.
(74) Attorney, Agent or Firm: When the Issue Fee is paid for the patent, one or more patent attorneys, patent agents or law firms may be listed on the cover sheet. In this case, the firm who filed and prosecuted the application was Brown & Michaels PC (surprised?) and Greg Dziegielewski was the Patent Counsel for the Assignee, BorgWarner Inc, at the time the patent issued.
(57) Abstract: A brief summary of the invention, with the emphasis on "brief" (less than 150 words). Note that the abstract is usually a much broader description of the invention than the claims, which actually define the limits of the patent's coverage.
Number of claims and drawing sheets: Simply an enumeration of the number of claims and sheets of drawing in the patent, so that you can determine if the copy you have is complete.
Representative drawing: The Examiner picks one of the drawing figures to put on page 1 of the patent. Usually, this is figure 1, but if the Examiner feels another figure shows the invention better, he will pick that one.
Ahead to the Drawings ->
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