Often in software patents “A method, apparatus and system ...” is claimed.

With reference to USC 35 – section 101 then:

  • is “method” used as synonymous for “process”?
  • are “apparatus and system” both used as synonymous for “machine”?

Often software is claimed as a process. If I have a web server that is an hardware machine running an instance of an application (service) capable of accepting request from the client and give response accordingly, and I have an invention to claim that is a new process that a new service is able to perform on a web server, then I see three entities:

  • hardware (like PC)
  • software (like OS + web server + web services)
  • steps of process performed by the service (like receiving an HTTP request, processing the HTTP request, sending an HTTP response).

Now when the formula “A method, apparatus and system ...” is used is it:

  • “apparatus” = hardware
  • “ method” = software + steps

or is it:

  • “apparatus” = hardware + software
  • “ method” = steps?

What is “system”?


Method is synonymous with process and both apparatus and system would fall under machine. Something like a micro-controler with specific software flashed into it might be seen an article of manufacture or as a machine. The distinction between the various names for a "thing" do not end up mattering much but the distinction between a thing and a method/process is important.

In claiming a client/server service you might have "thing" claims to the client, the server, both together (a system), and the software (a database retrieval module that feeds is output to a sorting module). Method claims are a series of steps (retrieving address from the database; sorting the retrieved addresses). One method claim could be just in terms of steps performed by the client, another is just steps performed by the server, and a third could be the steps performed by both.

  • Thanks, a precise answer to an often misinterpreted matter! So, if I've understood right, a server has a double nature, hardware and software, both “things”. – mrc-- Aug 26 '14 at 20:22
  • Indeed sometimes there are two drawings, FIG. 1 that displays an embodiment of the web server apparatus 100 as a set of services (HTTP server + WebDAV service + IPP service + ...) and FIG. 2 that displays display an embodiment of the web server apparatus 100 as a set of hardware components (CPU + disks + RAM + …). Then in the detailed description, when describing FIG. 1 the web server apparatus 100 is described as software, and when describing FIG. 2 the web server apparatus 100 is described as hardware. – mrc-- Aug 26 '14 at 20:23
  • The above description would make sense in theory but in practice all cases are found: hardware description missing at all, server components called “units”, mixed up cases in which software services and hardware components are represented on the same drawing, ... – mrc-- Aug 26 '14 at 20:25
  • Some patents have better organized specifications and drawings than others. Also, one way to think about it is the claims say what the inventors think they invented and everything else is just to back up the claims. Of course everything about patents is more complex, more subtle and more constantly changing than you would think. – George White Aug 26 '14 at 21:46

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