The perfect patent application lies in a sweet spot of breadth. For your patent to offer optimum protection, it must be narrow enough to gain the USPTO’s approval but also broad enough that it’s difficult for someone to design around your patent and become a competitor.
While patents are limited to a term of 20 years from the date of filing, the scope of protection is defined by the claims. And when done right, a specific invention can use broad and general terms, providing the most value and protection possible.
Imagine that your patent application is walking through a doorway, which represents the examiner’s office. When the application gets to the threshold, you want it to fill the width of the doorway, and squeeze through the frame on its way out. If you allow any empty space around your patent as it moves through the doorway, that means that someone else could potentially go through the door with you. And that person trying to squeeze through alongside you? They’re filling up the empty space that your patent missed with a competing product.
It’s completely legal for a competitor to find loopholes and design around your patent. That’s why it is important to seek the broadest protection for your invention.
A patent is only valuable if it makes a difference in your marketplace. That means that not only do you want to capture the inventive features that make a difference to your customer, but you want to do so in a way that prevents competitors from using the same or similar features.
Keep in mind that if your application is too broad it may not get through the door at all, and if it can’t get through the hypothetical door, it won’t get the stamp of approval from the examiner’s desk. Additionally, claims that are too broad can mean that you might spend more time and money fighting potential infringers both in and out of court.
Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to patents. There are times when taking the approach of a narrower claim during filing can be advantageous. This happens when the invention produces a superior result that can only be achieved in a limited number of ways. Claims that are narrower also tend to be approved more quickly by the USPTO.
It is easier to defend the validity of narrow claims and is also easier to obtain. But beware, it is also more difficult to enforce a narrow patent against others as they are less likely to be infringed upon.
For many non-attorneys, it’s good to know this tip: if your application is approved by the USPTO upon the first review, that’s a sign that your application might be too narrow and limiting, which means you won’t be receiving the best protection possible when the patent is granted. Sure, nobody else is going to be able to design a product exactly like what you claimed, but with one minor tweak, they could be your number one competitor.
It’s good to get turned away at the doorway because you’re too broad. That way, you can slim down to fit through the door snugly rather than just waltzing through with space around you.
A patent gives the owner a negative right, which allows you to stop others from making or doing what the patent covers. This negative right permits what is known as a “time-limited monopoly” which essentially allows only the patent holder the right to practice within the scope of the patent.
Consider the simplified example of a food-serving device. Maybe in your mind, your invention will only be used to serve cheese and crackers. By specifying that on your application, you’re limiting the protection of your patent. Now, change food server to “food and beverage server” and boom” you’ve got broader protection that will stop your competitors from designing the same product to be used to serve flights, wine, beer…even bacon. It’s these little nitty gritty details and word changes that will enhance your patent’s protection, and that’s where partnering with an experienced IP attorney can help you with the strategy of filing to receive the best protection.
In many instances, getting the best protection for your invention can simply come down to your IP attorney using the right words, and knowing when to narrow your claims or hold your ground. Drafting the best patent application is a true art form that requires experience. If you are wondering whether your invention’s claims are too broad or too narrow, the best step you can take is to partner with an IP attorney who can advise you and execute the patent application process.