Independent vs. Dependent Patent Claims

A patent application, as well as an issued patent, consists of multiple parts. These basic components may include drawings, a specification and an abstract.

However, it is the claims that are perhaps the most critical part of the patent.

What are patent claims? More specifically, what is the difference between an independent claim and a dependent claim?

Patent attorneys spend a great deal of their time learning to craft patent claims that will provide adequate protection for the subject invention. There is definitely an art to it, but it also is possible for the layperson to gain some insight into patent claims and why they are so important. In fact, it is a good idea for inventors and entrepreneurs to become familiar with patent claims so that they can help to approve proposed claims or suggest revisions that will help to clarify the protection sought in the disclosure.

What Are Patent Claims?

Non-provisional utility and design patent applications in the U.S. must contain at least one claim. Although design patents typically only include a single claim, it is not uncommon for utility patent applications to contain ten, 20 or even more claims.

The claims are an essential part of the patent. This is where the inventor spells out in detail what is being claimed by the invention and precisely what they want to protect.

In simpler terms, the claims define the scope of protection that a patent provides. This means that the claims may articulate both what the patent covers and what it does not.

Patent claims are written as a statement or description including technical facts and relying heavily on legal terminology to outline the invention.

Are Patent Claims Really that Important?

A seasoned patent attorney will spend a great deal of time working on the specification of the patent application, but he will put in even more effort when it comes to drafting the claims. This is because they are of primary importance to the issued patent.

The claims of an issued patent are what your competitors will look at when they are trying to determine what they can and cannot do if they want to create a competing product but don’t want to infringe your patent rights. The more specific your issued patent claims are, the harder it may be for your competitors to find a way to “design around” your rights.

Remember that a patent gives the patent owner or a licensee the exclusive right to make, sell, import, use or otherwise produce the technology covered in the patent. It is the claims that spell out exactly what is exclusive about this technology.

Patent claims similarly are crucial from a legal perspective. This is because it is the claims that will be examined by attorneys in a patent infringement lawsuit. As an example, the patent owner’s attorney will point out the specific scope of the patent claims and how the competitor’s product infringes these claims. It is the job of the accused infringer’s attorney to look for errors or holes in the issued patent claims that may demonstrate that the patent holder is not entitled to rights that are as broad as is being claimed.

If there are any errors in the issued patent claims, this can render the patent worthless. Accordingly, it is extremely important that patent claims are initially drafted with care and then amended with equal care during the process of obtaining a patent to ensure that no errors are introduced.

Independent and Dependent Claims

Most utility patents have a mixture of independent and dependent claims. The independent claims are those that stand on their own. In other words, they are not attached to the other claims. Accordingly, they do not refer to any of the other claims.

Independent claims follow a predictable format with a preamble and a list of all of the components that are necessary to define the invention.

It is common to see that the first claim in a patent is an independent claim. This claim sets a precedent with regard to the protection that the inventor is seeking. In general, independent claims are broader than dependent claims, with a view toward deterring infringers from finding a way to bypass the independent claim.

Three types of independent claims frequently are seen. These include a claim for an item, a claim for a method of making an item and a claim for a method of using an item.

Dependent claims rely either on an earlier independent or dependent claim. They are used to comparatively narrow the scope of the claims on which they depend. This type of claim additionally is used to further sharpen the focus on the protection that the inventor is seeking.

Some dependent claims even add nonessential characteristics or introduce trivial aspects and optional features that do not appear in the independent claim.

How Are Claims Written?

Claims are expressed in the patent as sentences, with each claim being a single sentence. The claims are consecutively numbered in ascending order.

This all sounds straightforward, but the claims actually can be pretty hard for a layperson to decipher. This is because claims must adhere to certain grammatical rules.

Accordingly, it generally is unwise for inventors or entrepreneurs to try to write patent claims. The rules are extremely tricky, and any mistakes can mean that any resulting patent is invalid.

Work with a Patent Attorney

The best way to ensure that any issued patent you own has a meaningful scope of protection is to work with a seasoned patent attorney like the professionals at Williams IP Law. When it’s time to protect your innovative technology, call Williams IP Law for competent and reliable drafting of patent claims.

Basics of a Patent Claim

A patent application contains many parts. These include components such as a specification, claims, an abstract and drawings. While drawings are not required, all of the other components are.

Perhaps the most important required part of the patent application is the claims. When they are new to patent prosecution, most people don’t know what a patent claim is. That’s why working with a skilled intellectual property attorney is so vital. They can walk you through the process and craft a claims set that protects your invention from every angle.

What Is a Patent Claim?

The patent claims define in technical language the scope or extent of the protection that is granted by the patent. Effectively, the claims define the specific subject matter that the patent covers. A competitor that begins making and selling a similar product may be accused of infringing the claims of an existing patent.

A patent basically grants the right to exclude other people from making, using, selling or importing any items that are covered by the claims of an issued patent. While claims may cover an “apparatus,” they also may be written to cover a process. When this occurs, the claims are referred to as method claims. These claims define the steps required to complete an innovative process. Accordingly, a competitor is precluded from being able to use the steps of the protected process.

How Important Are Patent Claims?

Drafting a sufficiently broad yet narrow set of claims is an incredibly difficult process. It’s important to cover all new and inventive aspects of the apparatus or method. At the same time, the claims need to be narrow enough to avoid the risk of infringing other existing patents that are focused on the same industry.

Suppose an inventor creates a widget that requires components A, B and C. The inventor obtains a patent that protects each of these components. Then, a competitor comes along and begins manufacturing a similar widget that contains components A, B and C. The original inventor will have an excellent case for patent infringement against the competitor.

However, if one competitor is using component A but not components B and C and yet another competitor is using component B but not A or C, then it would be virtually impossible to make a case for patent infringement because neither of these competitors is making the widget with all three components.

This means that it is essential for the claims to be drafted with extreme care. They must be written so that infringement by one entity is possible. This offers the patentee the greatest breadth of protection.

What Are the Types of Patent Claims?

Claims may be directed to an apparatus, device or item. Accordingly, they will describe the various components of the invented item.

On the other hand, an inventor may have developed a new process for doing something. It will be necessary to draft method claims to define the process for attaining an intended result.

Independent Claims

This type of patent claim stands alone. That is, an independent claim is one that is unattached to other claims. Accordingly, they do not refer back to any other claim.

Typically, an independent claim includes a preamble or an introduction before moving on to identify all of the components that are necessary for defining the subject invention. The introduction names the invention and also may detail the use of the invention. A transitional phrase follows to serve as a connection between the introduction and the various components. Next, the independent claim lists the components.

It is common for the first claim in a patent application to be an independent one. Broader than the claims that follow it, the independent claim is written in a manner that is designed to anticipate the efforts of would-be infringers to get around the independent claim.

In general, independent claims are written in one of three forms. These are designed to claim one of: an invention, a method of making an invention or a method for implementing an invention.

Dependent Claims

These claims are so named because they refer back to an earlier independent or dependent claim, thereby limiting the scope of those earlier claims. Accordingly, dependent claims are relatively narrower in scope than the previous claim from which they depend. Under U.S. patent law, a dependent claim must make an additional limitation to the independent claim.

It also is possible that a dependent claim will identify various trivial aspects, optional features or a variety of non-essential features that are not included in the earlier claims.

Dependent claims are an essential part of patent applications in the United States. This is because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office charges additional fees for every independent claim in excess of three independent claims in a single patent application.

Special Claims

It is most common for patent applications in the United States to include between one and three independent and multiple dependent claims. However, sometimes there are situations in which special claim types are necessary.

These special claims may include:

  • A Beauregard Claim – which is a claim relating to a method implemented by a computer
  • A Markgush Groups Claim – which is a claim that combines elements to limit the number of claims
  • A Jepson Claim – which is a claim that separates the new and old elements of the invention

What Is a Patent Claim Limitation?

Claims typically are made up of three parts. These are a preamble that gives context for the invention. Next comes a transitional phrase that establishes the claim as being open, closed or partially open. Effectively, this transitional phrase states just how much the claim is limited to only the recited elements in the body of the claim.

It is the third part of the claim, or the “body,” that contains the patent limitations. These include the structure or steps that are needed to define the invention. The terms must be full yet clear and concise, which is not an easy balance to achieve.

Each dependent claim effectively defines a further limitation to the independent claim.

Ask an Intellectual Property Attorney

If you have invented a new product or process and are interested in obtaining patent protection, then contact the experienced practitioners at Williams IP Law. Their skill at drafting strategic patent claims will ensure that you get the broadest and most meaningful protection possible.