In many countries, system claims are treated differently as compared to method claims. I wish to understand -

  1. What is difference between system and method claims?
  2. Generally speaking, in what situations either of them are not allowed?

Speaking specifically of U.S. law, a system is a physical thing, just like a device, a machine, an apparatus, a manufactured item or a composition of mater. A method, or process, is a series of steps or actions to achieve some end. A method might be performed by a person or it might performed by a machine/system. A system, inherently, is a complex "machine". Therefor, when a system is activated, it generally carries out a series of steps.

If your invention is a system you might have one or more system claims that describe the parts of the system and how they interrelate. It might describe a part of the system (a transmitter) by stating that it performs an action (transmitting a specific signal) under some condition - as a way of defining the structure of the machine. A system claim reads on a system even if the system is not plugged in and in a box.

A method claim tying to cover that same system would claim a series of steps. Step 1 might be transmitting a particular signal. Notice the "-ing". That indicates an action, not a thing. A transmitter configured to transmit a particular signal is a thing whereas transmitting is an action.

Patents cover making, using, selling, offering for sale an importing. As I said, a system claim covers the physical system whether or not it is use. In contrast, a method claim coving that same system is only infringed when the system is activated and actually carries out the claimed steps.

For simpler inventions, method claims might be a method of making a physical item or a method of using a physical thing.

A single patent might have claims to a physical structure, claims to a method of using the system (by a person) and claims to the method of steps performed by the system itself.


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