patents in a sound bite

A patent cannot be summarized in a sound bite.  It is that simple.  This is not patronizing.  It takes time and hands-on experience to read and appreciate the story a patent tells.  Why am I writing this now?  The last couple of days a local Ottawa broadcaster presented stories on both their website and their radio show about Rockstar’s efforts to license Nortel patents they now own.

Last month Rockstar launched a patent lawsuit against Google and other users of the Android operating system.  In very broad terms the patents relate to the targeting of ads based on search.  During Monday night’s radio show, and I apologize for not having the verbatim, there was talk about a patent or patents “covering” ad targeting based on search.  Then there was general disdain expressed around patents being issued for something obvious.  This is the sound bite trap.

It is time to back-up and consider what a patent “covers”.  A patent’s legal coverage is not defined by a five-word summary floating around the media.  It is not defined by the Title.  If it were, there would be something like two million patents covering a “Semiconductor Device”.  Legal protection is also not defined by the Abstract. 

The legal coverage afforded by a patent is defined by the Claims.  These are those awkwardly worded sentences at the end of a patent that next to no one discusses and most probably never reads.  Claim language is very dense, is written in a very particular format and often employs a very precise interpretation of a good fraction of the words therein.  The most basic rule of thumb: the Claims are much narrower in scope than all other parts of the patent, including the Abstract, Title and a five-word summary.

Let’s discuss Claims a bit more.  As pointed out above Claims often have quite specific language and define specific legal coverage.  I might anticipate that any Claim around the current concept would outline a particular sequence of steps or criteria.  Maybe the Claim details a very particular algorithm.  I simply do not know, but I do know I do not have enough information to make an informed decision.  Thus, if the Claims are not mentioned and any discussion sounds very general the actual legal coverage of a patent is not likely appreciated. 

So, when you hear or read something in the media about a patent being too broad the first thing to question is whether they are discussing a five word summary or the Claims.  If there is no positive indication they are talking about the Claims I can pretty much guarantee they are not.  For sure there are patents out there that are too broad.  There are however many more media stories that misrepresent the scope of actual legal coverage.