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What cannot be patented?

Abstract ideas, laws of nature, discoveries

Utility patent

A patent that covers invention of a new or functionally improved product, process, or machine

Term of a utility patent

20 years from the priority date of a US application

Design patent

  • A patent granted for a new, original, and ornamental design (visual quality) for an article of manufacture
  • They do not cover the function or construction of the article

Term of a design patent

15 years from the date of grant

Provisional application

  • An application that can be filed without a formal patent claim or any information disclosure statement
  • It provides the means to establish an early priority date for a nonprovisional patent application
  • It automatically becomes abandoned after one year
  • It is not examined by a patent office

Non provisional application

  • A complete application that includes a specification, claims, and drawings
  • It is formally examined by an examiner of a patent office to ascertain if it can be granted

Prior art

  • An evidence that the invention is already known in a previously filed/published patent or non-patent literature
  • Technical definition: a prior art to an application is an invention that is patented, described in a printed publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public before the filing date of the application

Major types of patents

  • Utility patent (provisional/non provisional)
  • Design patent
  • Plant patent

Application number

  • A unique number assigned to a patent application when it is filed at a patent office.
  • Format for a US application number: US XX/XXX,XXXX

Publication number

  • A unique number assigned to a patent application once it is published (after 18 months from filing)
  • Format for a US publication number: US YYYY/XXXXXXX

Patent number

  1. A unique number assigned to an application when it is issued as a patent
  2. Format for a US patent number: US X,XXX,XXX

Patent family

  • A set of applications/patents that protect a "single invention" in one or more countries
  • The filing date of a first application in this set becomes a priority date for all other applications
  • A family can include both national filings (provisional, continuation, CPP, divisional) and foreign filings

Continuation application

  • An application that is filed for the same invention as claimed in a prior non provisional application (family)
  • A continuation adds claims and does not add any new subject matter to the specification
  • The continuation is filed during the lifetime of the prior non provisional application

Continuation-in-part application

  • An application that adds claims and new subject matter not disclosed in a prior non provisional application (family), while retaining some substantial portions of the earlier disclosed matter
  • The continuation-in-part is filed during the lifetime of the prior non provisional application

Divisional patent

  • An application that is filed for an independent or distinct invention disclosing subject matter disclosed in a prior non provisional application (family)
  • The divisional is filed during the lifetime of the prior non provisional application

Independent claim

A claim that does not refer back to or depend on another claim

Anatomy of an independent claim

  • Preamble
  • Transitional phrase
  • Body

Dependent claim

A claim that depends on and further limits a preceding dependent or independent claim

Method claim

A claim that protects a sequence of steps that complete a task or accomplish a result

System claim

System claim

Computer Program Product (CPP) claim

A claim that protects inventions related to computer software

Transitional phrase

A transitional phrase connects the preamble and the body in a claim

Open-ended transitional phrase

A transitional phrase that does not exclude additional elements or method steps. Example: "comprising," "including," or "characterized by"

Closed transitional phrase

A transitional phrase that limits the scope of a claim to the specified materials or steps. Examples: "consisting of," "consisting essentially of," or "composed of

Office action

A document written by a patent examiner of a patent office summarizing the examiner's assessment on the allowability of an application's claims

Response to office action

  • A response filed by an applicant addressing the issues raised by the examiner in a previously received office action
  • The application (claims) may be amended to comply with examiner's objections/rejections

Non-final office action

  • An office action letter from an examiner of a patent office that raises issues in the application
  • The examiner lists relevant prior art references that may be applied to each pending claim, detailing how the examiner believes the features recited in the claims are found in the cited prior art
  • Applicants must respond to non-final Office action letters within six months from the date they are issued to avoid abandonment of the application

Final office action

An office action letter from the patent office that restates all outstanding issues from previous non-final office action(s) and holds these issues fina

Claim rejection

  • A patent rejection is raised in an office action when the application doesn't meet the patentability standards of the law.
  • Example: the claims in the application are not novel in light of prior art identified by an examiner

Claim objection

  • A patent objection is raised when the application doesn't comply with the rules of how patents are filed
  • Example: the claims are grouped improperly

Request for Continued Examination (RCE)

A request filed by an applicant requesting examination of an application for which a final office action has been issued

Notice of allowance

Notice of allowance


  • A process by which a patent office begins examining the application to determine the patentability of the claimed invention
  • Per the US laws, an application is examined after 18 months from the application's filing date


A patent application becomes abandoned for failure to file a complete and proper reply to an office action within a prescribed time (six months

Filing Date

A date on which a patent office receives a complete application (provisional/non provisional). Also known as the application date

Priority Date

'An earlier filing date to which a patent application can claim priority (within a family)

Publication Date

'A date on which a patent office publishes the application

Issue Date

A date on which that a patent application is granted


United States Patent and Trademark Office


International Trade Commission


Intellectual Property Appellate Board


Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights


World Intellectual Property Organization


Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences

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The flashcards cover US patent specific terminologies and procedures

The information provided therein is an introduction to basic concepts and is by no means comprehensive