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I'm trying to understand "claims" and how they define an invention.

Is there a strict unambiguous definition of "claim" and how multiple claims about the same invention together with the "elements" of each claim define it?

As I understand it to violate a patent it is enough to violate any one of its claims. Right?

But a claim often contains multiple "elements" (no?). Then to violate a single claim does it mean you have to violate all "elements" of the claim, or is it enough to violate just one element of it (or any other claim)?

In other words are claims disjunctive, and claim-elements conjunctive?

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As I understand it to violate a patent it is enough to violate any one of its claims. Right?

This is correct.

Then to violate a single claim does it mean you have to violate all "elements" of the claim, or is it enough to violate just one element of it (or any other claim)?

To infringe on a claim, you must implement each and every element of that claim. If you manage to skip even one element then you should avoid infringement. If a claim has elements A, B, C and D and your implementation only implements A, B and D, then you should be fine. If, however, your implementation employs A, B, C, D and E (something else), then you probably do infringe even if E is novel.

Please note that I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. Infringement is tricky and there is no substitute to a freedom to operate opinion from an actual attorney. Also, just because you avoid infringement of a specific patent doesn't mean there isn't some other patent that is also relevant.

  • Very enlightening answer thank you. Just in case anyone else wants to chime in let me say what's still kind of unclear to me: What is an "element"? I can understand that "claim" pretty much corresponds to a "description" of parts of the invention, perhaps expressed as a set of multiple sentences. Then would each such sentence be an "element"? Or does "element" have a more formal definition in the law? – Panu Logic Nov 16 '18 at 1:33
  • @PanuLogic As I said, I’m not a lawyer. That said, pretty much each stand alone sentence or paragraph in the claim is a separate element. Non-standard terms used in claims should be defined in the patent. If after waiting for other answers, it would be great for you to accept the answer you prefer. – Eric Shain Nov 16 '18 at 3:28
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An "element" of a claim is not defined in the law. It's actually a kind of abstraction.

But let's start at the beginning. A patent's protection is defined by the claims. Anything that falls under the scope of any claim infringes that claim. The scope of a claim is all that is described by that claim.

An example might make this clearer.

Claim 1:

A device for moving around humans and/or goods, the device comprising

  • at least two wheels
  • at least one motor,

the motor beeing designed in such a way that it has at least the power of two horses.

(disclaimer: the last part is somewhat unclear (it defines the problem, not the solution), don't write something like that into a patent claim in real life unless you know what you're doing)

The elements of the claim are "at least two wheels" and "at least one motor". Would a bycicle without a motor infringe this claim? No, it doesn't fall under the wording of the claim as should be rather clear from just reading it. A bycicle is not "a device" as described. So for infringement, all elements need to be present.

But what about "the motor beeing designed in such a way that it has at least the power of two horses", is that an element of the claim? I'd say yes, though you might say it is just part of "a motor". It doesn't really matter, because "element" is not defined. But whatever you call it, if the motor doesn't have the power of two horses or more, you do not infringe the claim.

And "for moving around humans and/or goods" is interpreted as "the device must be able to do that, but not necessarily be used that way". The reason is that the claim describes a device and not a method and if moving around people or goods is something the device could do, it infringes the claim. A (strong) toy car might not infringe though.

How do other claims play into that? There are dependent and independent claims. Independent claims don't depend on other claims, so there is no connection, they are evaluated on their own. Dependent claims are something like claim 2: "the device from claim 1 further including a passenger seat." So without a passenger seat you would still infringe claim 1, but not claim 2. It is read as if it were an independent claim with everything from claim 1 copied into it. Why do we have dependent claims then, if anything that infringes the dependent claim would also infringe the independent claim?

Be wary of optional elements though:

Claim 3:

A device for moving around humans and/or goods, the device comprising

  • at least two, preferably exactly 4, wheels or a caterpillar drive
  • at least one motor,

the motor beeing designed in such a way that it has at least the power of two horses.

Anything falling under claim 1 also falls under claim 3. Actually claim 3 is more like a combination of claims 1, 4 and 5. Anything infringing any of those infringes claim 3!

4: (strictly speaking this is dependent on 1 because it has a strictly smaller scope/ is completly encompassed by claim 1)

A device for moving around humans and/or goods, the device comprising

  • exactly 4 wheels,
  • at least one motor,

the motor beeing designed in such a way that it has at least the power of two horses.

5:

A device for moving around humans and/or goods, the device comprising

  • a caterpillar drive
  • at least one motor,

the motor beeing designed in such a way that it has at least the power of two horses.

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    Ok very good I think I get it now. A claim describes the invention and if any of the claims also accurately describes another device then that other device infringes. "Elements" is just common language which in this context means something like "Everything in the claim". Thanks – Panu Logic Nov 17 '18 at 0:28
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    @PanuLogic exactly – DonQuiKong Nov 17 '18 at 8:49

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