“The stupid nipple apertures would be a manufacturing nightmare…”

A post from student blogger Josh

Admit it, you seriously considered skipping over this post and moving on to one with a pretty picture until you read the title, which is a direct quote from one of my classmates and actually relevant to our coursework in MSPL.

When I was growing up, my parents told me that there are some phrases you could never imagine yourself saying until you became a parent. An article posted a few days ago on Popsugar listed some of these lovely things, my (work/blog appropriate) favorites of which include “why would you want a booger collection?”, “why are you taping candy to the wall?”, and “no, you cannot ride in the trunk”. I’m not a parent, but there is a growing list of things I never thought I would say or hear that have come to light since I decided to become a patent agent. So why would anyone ever professionally say “nipple apertures”, and what does this ridiculous utterance have to do with patent law?

Thankfully, this is not a common legal term (because my inner 5 year old would giggle every time I had to make eye contact and say it with a straight face); however, it is what a patent agent or attorney would call a “term of art”. A term of art is an accepted phrase in patent literature used to describe a facet of an invention, and generally has an accepted definition. One of the best things about writing a patent application is that you’re actually allowed to make up your own words and terms, provided that you give explicit and concrete definitions for them. In this case, the patents up for discussion were a part of our patent application drafting course, and pertained to a selection of nursing bras for mothers. There are hundreds of patents on nursing bras or various facets thereof that one can easily discover using Google patents, with a variety of designs to provide better comfort, fitment, functionality etc. In comparing these designs to one another, one often finds that similar or even identical phrases are used to describe parts common to multiple designs. These phrases are examples of terms of art, and can be found everywhere in the patent world. They have been accepted by the patent office to have definite meaning, and thus we use them to save time and improve accuracy and uniformity of specification and claim writing.

In the case of the nursing bras, the nipple aperture would be an opening on the front of each cup that would allow a mother to nurse a baby without removing the bra. So far, we have run into terms of art in many junctures of our coursework, describing all sorts of widgets. For instance, I was unaware that a lobster claw clasp was a term of art when first introduced to a type of lanyard fastener. When asked to draw an example of a lanyard based on a written specification, the picture my group ended up with looked to resemble an ordinary lanyard with the claw of a lobster (which was actually cooler looking than the real thing, though obviously less practical). Lobster claws, bulldog clips, nipple apertures, gluteal clefts… there are all sorts of lovely terms for things you never bothered to think had technical names. There are patents for most things you’ve ever seen, and plenty of things you (hopefully) haven’t, each uniquely and technically defined using a collection of terms of art. Next time you’re bored, try looking at one of the many online lists of ridiculous patents; I can guarantee you’ll walk away from your monitor knowing new ways to describe all sorts of things you never thought about.

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