Alternatives and Variations in Patent Applications

A post from our student blogger Sarah Goodman

In the MSPL classes, we learn that well-drafted patent applications should contain the widest breath possible and appropriate to best protect the client against competitors. When more attention to detail is paid by the patent drafter, more coverage can be granted to the patent applicant. The claims should be written to cover more than just the minimal features of an invention. A good technique is the incorporation of alternatives and variation.

Alternatives are different methods of accomplishing a task. Alternatives can include additional ways an invention can be utilized. Variation is the addition of different configurations, materials, and compositions. Alternatives and variations can be added by the patent drafter which requires creativity and research into the technical field. At least one actual embodiment of the invention must be included in the patent application, but describing the invention usually involves a lot more than just describing one embodiment. Any possible alternatives and variations should be included when preparing and filing patent applications to reduce the ability for competitors to design around the claims.

Variations should be listed even if not the best mode of practicing the invention. If variations are not included in a patent, a competitor company could sell cheaper inferior products without infringing by using the less optimal materials. Variations should include everything that could reasonably work. Another reason to list alternatives and variations is to allow the patent owner to continue improving the invention. If alternatives are not listed that later are discovered by a competing company to be an improvement, that company could obtain competitive patents which block the innovation of the original patent owner.

Listing variations and alternatives is a much cheaper and simpler method of providing broad coverage for an invention than filing more patent applications. The difficulty and expense to list alternatives and variations is minimal when compared to the cost and amount of effort necessary to file additional patents on modifications of one basic idea.

By writing a nonprovisional patent application as our capstone project in the MSPL program, we learn how to use alternatives and variations to increase the broadness and enforceability of a patent application. A broad patent is more valuable to the patent owner and potential licensees. It is the responsibility of the patent drafter to provide a quality patent application.

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