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You already know that a patent is an intellectual property right and that a patent application is intended to become a patent. You also know that the two should not be confused.

But what does a patent actually look like? And what about a patent application?

A patent is a legal document that can be compared to a title deed for an item of property: it defines what is protected, by whom, since when, where, etc.

As a reminder, the patent application is the text that is submitted to a patent office and examined for patentability by that patent office. The patent application is published regardless of the outcome of the examination. If the invention that is the subject of the patent application is considered patentable by the examiner, a patent is granted for that invention and the patent specification is also published.

It is interesting to understand how this document is structured so that you can make a preliminary analysis before consulting your patent attorney.

Although there may be some differences between countries and patent draftsmen, a patent always takes the form of a document containing a number of very specific parts and features:


The title states the purpose of the invention in a few words.

Cover page:

The cover page contains bibliographical information about the patent document, including filing date, publication date and grant date, if applicable, applicant, owner, inventors, priority information, etc.

Each document, patent application or patent, has a publication number which can be found on the cover page, often in the top right-hand corner. The publication number can be used in particular to identify the territory of protection and to distinguish between a patent application and a patent. To interpret the publication number, see our previous article on publication numbers.

Claims (revendications in French, claims or patent claims in German)

Claims are usually found at the end of the document. They are the most important part of the document because they define the scope of the patent. In other words, they draw the line between what is allowed and what is prohibited. An infringement analysis determines whether the allegedly infringing item reproduces all the technical features of the granted claims literally or by equivalence.

The claims of a patent are relatively fixed, as they correspond to what has been granted by the office responsible for examining the patent. The scope of protection can therefore be determined fairly accurately by reading and interpreting the claims.

On the other hand, the claims of a patent application are likely to change during examination. In particular, examination may require the applicant to make substantial amendments to the claims before a patent can be considered for the invention. The scope of protection of the claims of a patent application should therefore be analysed with caution.

Claims always consist of at least one claim, named the independent claim (usually claim 1), and several dependent claims.

The independent claim or claims define the core of the patent protection and the essential features for the implementation of the invention. If there are several independent claims, each protects a different subject matter (a device, a process, a use, etc.).

Each dependent claim specifies a particular additional technical feature, thus limiting the scope of protection conferred by the independent claims. It is often intended to protect one or more particular embodiments of a more general concept protected by the independent claims.

Dependent claims can be identified by their specific wording, which cites the claim(s) on which they depend: "Device/process according to claim 1, ...", followed by the additional technical features.

The description

The description helps to interpret the claims. It is usually divided into several parts, which are not necessarily clearly distinguishable.

The first part contains a summary of the technical field of the invention, followed by a description of the technological background to the invention. The disadvantages of known solutions are usually identified in this section.

The description then states the objectives of the invention, particularly in comparison with the technological background known to the applicant. The objectives are often to overcome the disadvantages of previously known solutions.

A "Description of the Invention" section presents the invention, often including a copy of the claims. The claims are usually accompanied by the associated technical advantages and effects.

Finally, the description includes a list of accompanying figures, followed by a detailed description of at least one embodiment of the invention based on the figures.

The figures

The figures and the accompanying detailed description are intended to help you understand the invention.

Be careful not to interpret the figures too quickly, as they do not define the scope of the patent, which is defined by the claims alone. The main purpose of the figures is to give context to the invention.

The abstract

The main purpose of the abstract is documentation. It provides a quick overview of the invention and its subject matter.

So how do you read and interpret a patent document?

Well, it depends!

If you're trying to determine whether your invention is patentable or not, it's important to read the patent documents that seem relevant in full, regardless of whether the relevant features are disclosed in the description, claims or figures. The relevance of the document does not depend on the existence of a granted patent that is still in force: as long as the document is accessible, it is part of the prior art.

If you want to find out whether you can freely exploit your invention in a given territory, you can start by reading the claims, which define the protected territory and therefore prohibit any unauthorised third party.

Note that you can also limit yourself to the documents in force in the territory in question. If the document in question is a patent application, bear in mind that the claims are likely to change during the examination process.

Obviously, a more detailed analysis should be entrusted to your patent attorney. Without a precise analysis of the territories covered, the status of the proceedings and the actual scope of protection, there is a risk of misinterpreting the scope of a document. What's more, it's important to have an expert who keeps abreast of developments in case law, in particular to better assess the risks and the possibility of circumvention.

Now you know how to read a patent document and carry out initial analyses. Please note that patent databases are freely available to everyone, so you can consult, for example, to put into practice what you have learned in this article!

If you need more information, don't hesitate to contact us!

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