Words Are Limitations

Words are limitations

Let’s say I have a boat and I need you to go to my boat and get something, but I can’t go with you. How would you find my boat? I would have to describe it with as many different words as necessary for you to find it among all the boats in the harbor. If I told you it was about 25 feet long, that would help. You would limit your search to boats that were about that length. But that single attribute isn’t enough. There may be a hundred boats that fit that description. I might add that it’s all white, and that would limit it further, but there may still be 50 that have both those attributes. I could add it’s a sailboat, not a speedboat, and keep giving you more specific descriptors until you had enough information to pick out my specific boat.

This principle applies in writing patents, except there the goal is the opposite. If you were writing a patent for the first boat (Don’t try it, that ship has sailed) and you wrote down it was a white vessel meant to float on the water, it is roughly 25 feet long, propelled by the wind through sails held by a mast, and used all the descriptors of your particular boat, then it would be easy for a competitor to get around. He could use a motor to propel the boat rather than sails, and you wouldn’t be able to protect your invention from him. Had you kept it as simple as possible and claimed a floating vessel, it would have covered all the sizes, colors, means of propulsion, etc.

Of course, this is a vastly over-simplified example, but it serves to demonstrate this principle: when writing patents, the idea is to find the essence of the invention, and distill that down into as few words as possible. It feels counter-intuitive, but in reality, each word of your claim acts as a limitation on your invention, and you want to protect your idea, your intellectual property, as much as possible from competitors. In this case- less is more because words are limitations.