Tips for Writing a Patent Application

A patent protects your invention from being stolen

A simple propelling device consisting of a large spring attached to each shoe designed by Harry Brant and Henry Turner, patent no. 1331952. (Getty Images)

The process of writing a patent application, no matter how complicated your product or process is, begins simply: with a description. This description—together with the claims section, which defines the boundaries of patent protection—is often referred to as the specification. As the word suggests, in these sections of the patent application you specify what your machine or process is and how it differs from previous patents and technology.

The description starts off with general background information and progresses to increasingly detailed information about your machine or process and its parts. By starting with an overview and continuing with increasing levels of detail, you guide the reader to a full description of your invention.

Be Thorough

You must write a complete, thorough description; you cannot add new information to your patent application once it is filed. If you are required by the patent examiner to make changes, you can only make changes to the subject matter of your invention that could be reasonably inferred from the original drawings and description.

Professional help may assist you in ensuring maximum protection for your intellectual property. Be careful not to add misleading information or omit relevant items.

Although your drawings are not part of the description (drawings are on separate pages), you should refer to them to explain your machine or process. Where appropriate, include chemical and mathematical formulas in the description.

Example of a Patent

Consider this example of a description of a collapsible tent frame. The applicant begins by giving background information and quoting from previous similar patents.

The section then continues with a summary of the invention, providing a general description of the tent frame. Following this is a listing of the illustrations and a detailed description of each element of the frame.

Description

Below are some instructions and tips to help you get started writing the description of your invention. When you are satisfied with the description, you can begin the claims section of the application. Remember that the description and claims are the bulk of your written patent application.

When writing the description, follow this order, unless you can describe your invention better or more economically in another way:

  1. Title
  2. Technical field
  3. Background information and "prior art," an outline of efforts by previous patent applicants who have worked in the same field as you
  4. Description of how your invention addresses a technical problem
  5. List of illustrations
  6. A detailed description of your invention
  7. One example of intended use
  8. A ​sequence listing (if relevant)

Begin by jotting down brief notes and points to cover under each of the above headings. As you polish your description into its final form, you can follow this outline:

  1. Begin on a new page by stating the title of your invention. Make it short, precise, and specific. For example, if your invention is a compound, say "Carbon tetrachloride," not "Compound." Avoid naming the invention after yourself or using the words new or improved. Give it a title that can be found by people using a few keywords during a patent search.
  2. Write a broad statement that gives the technical field related to your invention.
  3. Provide background information that people will need to understand, search for, or examine your invention.
  4. Discuss the problems that inventors have faced in this area and how they have attempted to solve them. This is the prior art, the published body of knowledge that relates to your invention. At this point applicants frequently quote previous similar patents.
  5. State in general terms how your invention solves one or more of these problems. What you are trying to show is how your invention is new and improved without using those words.
  6. List the drawings, giving illustration numbers and brief descriptions of what they illustrate. Refer to the drawings throughout the detailed description and use the same reference numbers for each element.
  7. Describe your intellectual property in detail. For an apparatus or product, describe each part, how they fit together and how they work together. For a process, describe each step, what you start with, what you need to do to make the change, and the result. For a compound, include the chemical formula, the structure, and the process that could be used to make the compound. Make the description fit all possible alternatives that relate to your invention. If a part can be made out of different materials, say so. Describe each part in sufficient detail so that someone could reproduce at least one version of your invention.
  8. Give an example of an intended use for your invention. Include any warnings commonly used in the field that would be necessary to avert failure.
  9. If relevant to your type of invention, provide the sequence listing of your compound. The sequence is part of the description and is not included in any drawings.

Claims

Now it's time to write the claims section, which defines the subject matter to be protected by the patent in technical terms. This is the legal basis for your patent protection, a boundary line around your patent that lets others know when they infringe on your rights.

The limits of this line are defined by the words and phrasing of your claims, so be careful in writing them. This is an area in which you might need professional help—for example, an attorney skilled in patent law.

One of the best ways to learn how to write a patent for your type of invention is to look at previously issued patents. Visit the USPTO online and do a search for patents issued for inventions similar to yours.