Document Type

Article

Publication Title

Iowa Law Review

Publication Date

2018

Abstract

Patent claims are supposed to clearly and succinctly describe the patented invention, and only the patented invention. This Article hypothesizes that a substantial amount of language in patent claims is in fact not about the core invention, which may contribute to well-documented problems with patent claims. I analyze the claims of 40,000 patents and applications, and document the proliferation of “clutter”—language in patent claims that is not about the invention. Although claims are supposed to be exclusively about the invention, clutter appears across industries and makes up approximately 25% of claim language. Patent clutter may contribute several major problems in patent law. Extensive clutter makes patent claims harder to search. Excessive language in patent claims may be the result of over-claiming—when patentees describe potential corollaries they do not possess—thereby making the patent so broad in scope as to be invalid. More generally, it strains the comprehensibility of patents and burdens the resources of patent examiners. After arguing that patent clutter may contribute to these various problems, this Article turns to reforms. Rejections based on prolix, lack of enablement, and lack of written description can be crafted to dispose of the worst offenders, and better algorithms and different litigation rules can allow the patent system to adapt (and even benefit from) the remaining uses of excess language. The Article additionally generates important theoretical insights. Claims are often thought of as entirely synonymous with the invention and all elements of the claim are thought to relate equally strongly to the invention. This Article suggests empirically that these assumptions do not hold in practice, and offers a framework for restructuring conceptions of the relationship between claims and the invention.

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