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Patents Glossary

It's important to protect the things you create. Whether you are a small business ownernonprofit organization, or individual inventor, understanding patent-related terms is essential for navigating the complex world of intellectual property (IP). Below is an alphabetical list of definitions of patent-related words and phrases. FindLaw's Patents section has in-depth articles and resources.

Abandonment: A patent application may become abandoned for failure to file a complete and proper reply as required under existing patent laws and regulations. Abandonment may be either of the invention or an application.

Agent: One who is not an attorney but may act for or in place of a patent applicant(s) before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Applicant: Inventor or joint inventors who are applying for a patent on their own invention or the person who may apply for a patent in place of the inventor.

Assignee: The entity to which patent rights transfer, often through an assignment agreement.

Assignment: A transfer of ownership of a patent application or patent from one entity to another. All assignments should be recorded with the USPTO Assignment Services Division to maintain clear title to pending patent applications and patents.

BPAIIS: This stands for the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences Information System. The BPAIIS is an electronic database and information system used by the USPTO. This system manages and provides access to documents related to patent appeals and interferences.

Canceled Claim: A patent claim that is canceled or deleted. "Canceled" is the status identifier used when an application cancels a claim.

Certificate of Mailing: A certificate for each piece of correspondence mailed before the set period for response expiresstating the date of deposit with the U.S. Postal Service and including a signature.

Certificate of Transmission: An electronic certificate for each response or correspondence sent to the USPTO through their e-filing system.

Claims: Patent claims define the invention and determine the legally enforceable aspects. The specification must conclude with a claim pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter the patent applicant regards as their invention or discovery. The claim or claims must conform to the invention as outlined in the rest of the specification, and the terms and phrases used in the claims must find clear support or antecedent basis in the description so that the meaning of the terms in the claims may be ascertainable by reference to the description.

Clearance Search: A search done by a patent attorney or patent agent prior to filing a patent application to make sure there are no issued patents in conflict.

Co-Inventor: An inventor named with at least one other inventor in a patent application, wherein each inventor contributes to the conception and creation of the invention outlined in at least one claim in a patent application.

Combination Patent: A patent granted for an invention that unites existing components in a novel way.

Common Inventor: An inventor whose name is on many patent applications or granted patents, making the inventions at least partially the work of the same person.

Concept: An idea or design.

Continuation-in-Part: A patent application that combines new material with already disclosed subject matter.

Counterpart: An application filed in a foreign patent office that is substantially like the patent application filed with the USPTO and based upon some or all the same invention. The two applications generally have the same applicant.

Declaration: A document in which an applicant for a patent declares, under penalty of fine, imprisonment, or both, their country of citizenship and that:

  • They are the original or sole inventor
  • They have reviewed and understand the contents of the specification and the declaration's claims
  • Acknowledges the duty to disclose information material to patentability as defined by federal law

Design Patent Application: An application for a patent to protect against the unauthorized use of new, original, and ornamental designs for articles of manufacture.

Design Patent: A design patent grants anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.

Disclaimer: A statement made by a patent owner to limit the scope of their patent rights. Disclaimers help avoid infringing on the rights of others or to clarify the patent's scope.

Disclosure Document: A document disclosing an invention, signed by the inventor or inventors that is forwarded to the USPTO only as evidence of the invention's conception date.

Divisional Application: A new patent application for an independent or distinct invention carved out of a non-provisional application used to separate distinct inventions.

Drawing: Patent drawings must show every invention feature specified in the claims. Drawings may prevent an application from a declaration of incomplete. It is only required if drawings are necessary to understand the patent's subject matter.

Element: A discretely claimed component of a patent claim.

Enforceability of Patent: The right of the patent owner to bring an infringement suit against a party who, without permission, makes, uses, or sells the claimed invention. The period of enforceability of a patent is the length of the term of the patent plus the six years under the statute of limitations for bringing an infringement action.

European Patent Office (EPO): The organization granting European patents in many countries.

Exclusive Right: The sole authority to use, make, or sell an invention granted to a patentee.

Ex Parte Reexamination: A procedure that allows anyone to request a reexamination of an issued patent by the patent office.

Filing Date: The date of receipt in the USPTO of an application, which includes:

  • A specification containing a description and, if the application is a nonprovisional application, at least one claim
  • Any required drawings

Independent Claim: A patent claim that does not refer to or depend on another claim.

Industrial Designs: Intellectual property rights that protect a product's visual or aesthetic aspects, often covering its shape, ornamentation, or surface.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR): Legal rights protecting creations of the mind, like inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, names, and images used in commerce. The four forms of IPR are:

  • Patents
  • Copyrights
  • Trademarks
  • Trade secrets

Interference: A proceeding conducted before the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences to determine the priority of invention between a pending application and one or more pending applications and one or more unexpired patents.

International Patent: A patent with global protection. These patents reach this status through many national patent filings. Each country has its own Patent and Trademark Offices (PTO).

Invention: Any art or process, machine, manufacture, design, or composition of matter, any new and useful improvement thereof, or any variety of plant, which is or may be patentable under the patent laws of the United States.

Inventor: One who contributes to the conception of an invention. The patent law of the United States of America requires that the applicant in a patent application must be the inventor.

Inventor's Assistance Center:USPTO website that helps inventors understand the patent application process and provides forms.

IP: Acronym for intellectual property.

IP Address: Refers to the website address if needed to show publication. IP in this phrase stands for "Internet Protocol."

Joint Application: A patent application in which the presented invention is that of two or more persons.

Joint Inventor: An inventor named with at least one other inventor in a patent application, wherein each inventor contributes to the conception of the invention outlined in at least one claim in a patent application.

Licensor: The entity granting a license to use their intellectual property to another property.

Maintenance Fees: Periodic payments required to keep a patent in force during its term.

Multiple Dependent Claim: A dependent patent claim that further limits and refers back in the alternative to more than one preceding independent or dependent claim.

Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs): Legal contracts outlining the protection of confidential information.

Non-Provisional Patent Application: An application for a patent that includes all patent applications (i.e., utility, design, plant, and reissue) except provisional applications. The nonprovisional application establishes the filing date and initiates the examination process. A nonprovisional utility patent application must include:

  • A specification, including a claim or claims
  • Drawings, when necessary
  • An oath or declaration
  • The prescribed filing fee

Non-Obviousness: The subject matter sought to be patented must be sufficiently different from what has been used or described before. It may be said to be nonobvious to a person with ordinary skill in technology related to the invention. For example, substituting one color for another or changes in size are ordinarily not patentable.

Notice of Allowance: A communication from the USPTO indicating an application's pending approval.

Oath: A solemn declaration before another, complying with the laws of the state or country where made, that the document in which an applicant for patent declares that:

  • They are the original or sole inventor
  • Will state in what country they are a citizen
  • They have reviewed and understand the contents of the specification and the declaration's claims
  • Acknowledges the duty to disclose information that is material to patentability

Office Action: An official document from the patent office detailing objections, rejections, or requests for clarifications during the examination process.

Original application: "Original" in the patent statute and rules refers to an application that is not a reissue application. An original application may be a first filing or a continuing application.

Parent Application: The term "parent" applies to an earlier patent application of the inventor disclosing a given invention.

Patent: A property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor "to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States" for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

Patentee: The individual or entity holding patent rights.

Patent Application: An application for a patent filed under federal law that includes all types of patent applications (i.e., utilitydesignplant, and reissue) except provisional applications. The nonprovisional application establishes the filing date and initiates the patent examination process. A nonprovisional utility patent application must include:

  • A specification, including a claim or claims
  • Drawings, when necessary
  • An oath or declaration
  • The prescribed filing fee

Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT): An international treaty facilitating the filing of international patent applications.

Patent Infringement: Any unauthorized making, using, offering to sell, selling, or importing into the United States any patented invention is infringement.

Patent Number: A unique number assigned to a patent application when issued as a patent.

Patent Pending: A phrase that often appears on manufactured items, meaning someone has applied for a patent on an invention in the manufactured item. It serves as a warning that a patent may be issued covering the item and that copiers should be careful of infringement if the patent is issued. Once the patent is issued, the patent owner will use a phrase such as "covered by U.S. Patent Number X." Applying the patent pending phrase to an item when there is no patent application can result in a fine.

Patent Term: The duration of how long a patent provides protection for an invention. This term is typically 20 years from the filing date for utility patents and 15 years for design patents.

Patentable: Suitable to be patented; entitled by law to protection through patent issuance.

Plant Patent Application: Applications to protect invented or discovered asexually reproduced plant varieties.

Plant Patent: Plant patents grant anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.

Practitioner: One who stands for or acts on behalf of another. A patent attorney or patent agent may represent the inventors named in a patent application.

Prior Art: Any pre-existing knowledge, process, or product in the field or marketplace that can impact a patent claim's validity (about novelty or "obviousness").

Priority Date: The date a patent application is initially filed. This date establishes the timeline for determining prior art and assessing the novelty of an invention.

Pro Se: This term refers to an inventor who files their patent application without a patent attorney or patent agent. The USPTO offers a Pro Se Assistance Program though it is strongly recommended you speak with a patent lawyer prior to filing.

Restriction: If a single application claims two or more independent and distinct inventions, the examiner may need the applicant to elect a single invention to which the claims have restrictions. This is a rule for restriction.

Scope: What's included, as in the scope of a patent claim.

Service Mark: A type of IP protection that safeguards names, phrases, or symbols used to identify services rather than physical products. This is like trademark protection, but it protects specific services.

Small Entity: A small entity is an independent inventor, a small business, or a non-profit organization eligible for reduced patent fees.

Specification: A written description of the invention and the manner and process of making and using the same.

Substitute Patent Application: An application that is, in essence, a duplicate of a prior application by the same applicant abandoned before the filing of the substitute application. A substitute application does not get the benefit of the filing date of the prior application.

Term of Art: An expression or phrase with a defined meaning when used in a particular context or knowledge environment.

United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO): The U.S. government agency responsible for granting patents and registering trademarks. The USPTO handles all U.S. patent applications and trademark applications. The USPTO keeps a record of all trademark and patent documents.

Utility Patent Application: A patent application that protects useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, and compositions of matter.

Utility Patent: A utility patent is for anyone who invents or discovers any new, useful, and nonobvious process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO): A United Nations agency that promotes and protects intellectual property rights worldwide.

Workflow Diagram: A graphic or chart that shows the individual steps in a method or process for your patent claim.

Withdrawn Patent: An allowed application for a patent in which the applicant files correspondence to withdraw the patent from issue, thus preventing it from issuance on the patent issue date. The printed document is sometimes available on the day of publication but is later retracted and will not be available in the patent database.

Get Legal Help With Your Patent Today

Patent protection for your invention is crucial for monetizing those inventions. However, patent law can be very complicated. You should consider contacting a patent law attorney before filing your patent application, assigning your patent, or exploring licensing options.

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