One month ago today a patent application filed by Apple Computer back on October 20, 2006, was published by the United States Patent Office. The application titled Solar cells on portable devices could signal the entry into a new generation of mobile devices, more particularly the entry into the age of the solar iPod and iPhone.
Now, while this invention may be cool I also would like to point out that it appears that this application is very well written. I am not going to comment on whether the invention is likely patentable because it is indeed new and not obvious because doing so would require a patent search and I am not using this patent as illustrative of something that should not be patented. The invention looks useful and new, not to mention cool, so if a patent can be awarded it should. Rather, the reason I am writing this is to talk about what I believe to be a good example of drafting. From a drafting perspective what is done here in this application is quite good and worth reading by anyone who is trying to learn the art of drafting a patent application. Notice in the Background how a story is being told about the industry and development of devices, which leads you to come to the conclusion that wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a solor powered device. Then in the Summary the application then says that what has been invented is exactly the need identified in the Background. This is how it is done. Only say enough about what is wrong or inferior with the prior art in the Background so that your invention solves all of the problems identified.
Notice also how in the Summary of the Invention paragraph after paragraph discusses alternative embodiments. This is an excellent way to describe what could be present in various versions of an invention. This is critical because a patent is going to provide an exclusive right if and when granted. This means that the right the owner achieves is the right to prevent others from making, using, selling, offering for sale or importing into the United States what is covered by the claims. Because the claims cannot be broader than the written description you need to have as many possible variations and versions of your invention as possible described with the greatest amount of detail possible.
Also notice how many drawings are present and how this really helps with the writing of the detailed description. Drawing can be your best friend when drafting. The more that are there the better the disclosure will be because whatever someone would appreciate by looking at what is pictured is included in the application. Additionally, the more drawings the more easy it is to sit down and write what is shown.
Now I would not say that this application is perfect, although if I were grading it would receive at least an A. One mistake that is made that I would typically consider to be a major mistake is that in the Background the terms “related art” and “prior art” are used. This may seem harmless enough, and in truth here it probably is harmless, but you typically do not want to use these terms at all. Once you admit that something is prior art it can be difficult to retreat from that admission, particularly if you have described what the prior art actually is and does. In all cases you can draft a patent application without using these terms, which have a special meaning in the patent field, so I always suggest not using them. I am also not a fan of including a drawing that illustrates what is in the prior art for the same reason. Now, having said this, there are times when these rules can and should be violated. All patent drafting rules are really only guidelines, but when you are drafting your own application you should stay away from using the terms “related art” and/or “prior art” because they can be dangerous. When a patent attorney violates the rule there is a specific reason, not just because it is convenient.