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Mastering Patent Reading

Patents are a fantastic source of information. Experts and managers will gain great insights into where technology and business are heading. But patents are hard to read. With practice, you can master it!
There are millions of patent documents available today, over 120 million patent documents from around the world. These patents are read by patent attorneys, patent examiners, patent litigators, venture capital analysts, and tech transfer experts. 


What’s in it for you, the inventor? The manager?

Mastering patent reading improves the quality of your patents, enhances the efficiency of patent-related decision making, and saves you valuable time and money.
Search engines and AI tools process patent documents to identify the publications most relevant for a specific question. Software tools save human effort in analyzing the massive amount of search results. Available tools may assist an expert in reviewing a single patent publication. Still, the ability of an expert reader to deeply understand a patent and integrate this understanding into future research and business is unique and unmatched.


Why are patents hard to read?

Following legal requirements, patent attorneys write the patents as long, detailed, and complex documents.  Writers describe inventions most broadly to provide the fullest protection possible for their clients. The writers describe specific implementations and several alternatives. The patent drafters try to generalize the technical idea. Consequently, the result can be unclear!

Try these useful patent reading tactics:
  • Read the abstract and bibliographic details, to get the high-level context of the patent.

  • Look at the drawings first, try to identify the working parts and as much of the logic as you can.

  • Look at the description of the drawings, use the reference numbers of elements and steps to navigate through them.

  • Be familiar with patent segments: there are interconnections between patent segments and repetitions of content.  (see WIPO Guide - Using Patent Information)

  • Learn frequently-used patent terms. 

  • Simplify general terms: is “fastening means” a clip or a button?  Simplify!  Replace generic names with the names of elements in examples or drawings. 

  • Patent texts are concise and formal in style. Use your technical knowledge to assess the examples and alternatives

  • Design your reading as a sequence of questions to be answered. Answer each question before moving on to the next. Relevant questions are:
    • What is the problem they are trying to solve? Does the invention solve the problem? Does it solve my problem?

    • How does it work?

      • What is the essence of this invention?

      • What are the elements of a system? How does the system operate?

      • What are the critical steps of an application, software, algorithm?

  • Adopt a tool: Google Patents and patent analysis tools offer sophisticated displays and analysis aides for patent readers.

  • If you need to read a patent publication in full, make a hard or soft copy and add your technical comments, particularly if you intend to look at it later. That will save you time.

  • Avoid writing any comment that may be perceived later as a legal conclusion. Discuss the scope of protection and potential relevancy to your products and services with your counsel!

In this article, we described aspects relating to the skill and practice of patent reading.  Be cautious and seek professional advice before taking any legal or business decision based on patent analysis.

We offer the following services:
  • Basic and advanced patent training to inventors, managers, and executives

  • Patent reading workshop: our patents, patents of others

  • Patents of others: competitor analysis, freedom-to-operate analysis, invalidation opinion

  • Customization and adoption of Patent search and AI tools

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