Reading a Patent
Anyone interested in patent law should take the time to study an actual patent. Copies of three United States utility patents can be found in Appendix A of this book. The examples have been chosen for the sake of simplicity and brevity, and to show that inventors are still searching for a “better mousetrap.”
The first patent claims a device for trapping a mouse with the help of a ping-pong ball. The mouse enters a tube, the tube tips forward as the mouse heads for the “smelly bait,” and a ping-pong ball rolls down to block the mouse's escape. In the second patent, bait is used to lure the mouse onto a bridge. Although the bridge appears to be secure, the weight of the mouse causes the bridge to spin sideways, sending the mouse plunging headlong into a bucket. The trap claimed in the third patent is made from a soda can.
Although none of these inventions is complex, each patent includes the basic components found in patents awarded to the most sophisticated advancements. The first patent will be used as an example for most of the following discussion, but the reader should examine all three, in order to get a feel for the way patents are organized.
Patents are officially known by their serial numbers, printed at the top right-hand corner of the patent. For the sake of convenience, patents are often referred to by the last name of the first listed inventor or by the last three digits of the patent's serial number. The first patent in