Return to claim (idea)

From a [lawyer]'s perspective, the "claims" are the most important component of a [patent]. A [scientist] or [inventor] will be more interested in the [description] that follows the claims, since it actually shows what the invention is and how it works. The claims, which more closely resemble [gobbledygook] to the average person, are what define the scope of the patent—which devices its [monopoly] will cover, and which devices will be unprotected. [Infringement] cases always revolve around the claims, not the description, although the description can help to clarify the meaning of the claims.

Here are the first seven claims in U.S. Patent No. 6,972,748, awarded to [Microsoft] a couple of days ago.

1. Method for inputting an [information element] from an information element set in an [information processing device] having a [multiple axes input] key movable in M [multi-axial] directions, said method comprising the acts of:

moving the key in one of the M multi-axial directions to generate a selection [stroke];

repeating said act of moving the key N number of times to generate N selection strokes, a pattern of N selection strokes with each stroke being in one of M multiple-axial directions defining the information to be input to the information processing device; and

wherein the number of selection strokes N is given by a [logarithm|logarithmic] value of a number of information elements in the information element set to a base M where M is the number of possible directions available from the multiple axes input key for each selection stroke.

2. The method of claim 1 wherein each act of moving comprises:

providing a selected [subset] of information elements from the information element set choices existing prior to the act of moving.

3. The method of claim 2 wherein the [Nth] stroke of the input key provides a final selected subset of information to be input to the information processing device.

4. The method of claim 3 wherein the information element set is a set of [character|characters].

5. The method of claim 4 wherein the information processing device has a [display] screen to display the final selected subset of information as a character.

6. The method of claim 4 wherein the set of characters are [alphabet|alphabetic] characters.

7. The method of claim 4 wherein the set of characters are [number|numeric] characters.

The first claim is an "[independent claim]," so called because it doesn't refer to any other claims. The next six claims are all "[dependent claim]s." Claim 2 is dependent upon claim 1: if claim 1 is invalidated, claim 2 falls as well. Since 3 is dependent on 2, 3 would also be invalidated. And, by [domino effect], the whole patent would be lost.

Note that all of the claims above are for [method]s. Microsoft couldn't patent the actual device in claim 1: it's a [joystick], and they didn't invent the joystick. What they're patenting is a use for the joystick. A claim can also cover an actual device, like this claim from U.S. Patent No. 4,239,129 ([1978]):

1. A [toy] comprising an elongated [housing] having a [chamber] therein for a [liquid], a [pump] including a [piston] having an exposed [rod] end extending rearwardly of said toy facilitating [manual operation] for building up an appreciable amount of [pressure] in said chamber for ejecting a stream of liquid therefrom an appreciable distance substantially forwardly of said toy, and means for controlling the [ejection].

It's a [water pistol]!

The precise wording of the claim is very important. The holder of the water pistol patent, for instance, tried to sue [Larami], claiming that their [Super Soaker] line was infringing the patent. The [district court] dismissed the suit because the Super Soakers had chambers outside the housing, thus making them fall outside the scope of the claim. See Larami v. Amron, 27 U.S.P.Q.2d 1280 (E.D. Pa. 1993).

Many other claims follow a "[means plus function]" structure, where they vaguely decribe a "means" for achieving some "function." For examples, see the [means plus function] node.