Within the context of describing a patent claim for a USPTO patent, would use of the term apparatus to represent a group of inter-networked computers be correct?

Does the USPTO have a formal definition of apparatus?

It is important to me to use the correct term properly in the sense that my audience is a patent examiner: any constructive guidance regarding the term is appreciated.

1 Answer 1


There is no formal definition, just the meaning which is derived from usage over the years.

Typically an apparatus is a single device. Multiple devices which work together would be a system.

In practice, you would not often refer to something as an apparatus, but rather as the thing you are claiming, so a "computer", "mobile device", "base station", "display" etc. This is aids in clearing setting the scope of your invention.

  • Thanks: I was heavily leaning towards 'system', what swayed me to apparatus was the heavy usage in patent applications. When you say 'in practice': are you referring to a patent application claim? I was / am tempted to declare equivalent of system / apparatus for the purpose of clarity in the patent applications, but I want to follow any convention that examiners expect or are familiar with
    – gatorback
    Feb 14, 2018 at 20:22
  • 2
    @gatorback I did mean claims, yes. It would be reasonable to clarify in your description that you don't intend anything special by "system" or that "apparatus" can include multiple components working together, if that's what you intend, but in general I don't think either term has a huge amount of inherent meaning on its own.
    – Maca
    Feb 14, 2018 at 20:28

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