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I am a computer engineer working with text (NLP). As part of my PhD, I am conducting some experiments on automatic summarization, i.e., automatically generating a summary / abstract of a text. One of the datasets I am using contains patents' text. The dataset idea is to generate the patent Abstract given the Detailed description / Detailed description of the embodiment. For example, for this patent, one has to automatically generate the Abstract given the Detailed Description.

Since this task seems pretty hard to me even for humans (certainly it would be for me, but my knowledge of patents is very limited), my questions are:

  • Given a patent text (no figures), is the Detailed description enough for an expert to write the Abstract?
  • What other sections might be important/useful/easier to use?
  • And how is the process carried out, in reality, when writing a patent?

Thanks

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My answer is intended to address your question in the context of European patent applications only.

In European patent applications, the abstract is a mandatory part of the application although not necessary for according a filing date. The abstract has little relevance in the application though, cf. Art. 85 EPC:

The abstract shall serve the purpose of technical information only; it may not be taken into account for any other purpose, in particular for interpreting the scope of the protection sought or applying Article 54, paragraph 3.

As a matter of fact, the Examining Division has the capacity of amending the abstract as it may see fit during prosecution of the application.

The abstract may or may not be drafted in accordance with the detailed description of the application. Many applicants and European patent attorneys reproduce one of the independent claims in the abstract because there is no need to spend time drafting something that can be seen as useless. The abstract is useless for the applicants because it is not part of the disclosure of the patent application; in other words, you cannot use the abstract for claim support or for amending the description.

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  • The abstract is not only useless, but it could be harmful for the applicant, as it gives a false feeling of being part of the patent. At the law firm I work, the abstract is strictly claim 1 in a bit more readable form, e.g. separating features into multiple sentences instead of only one.
    – picibucor
    Mar 18 at 10:45
  • @picibucor Yes. It would be a problem if the only support you had for a claim were to be in the abstract and you had to explain to the client that you cannot claim that because it is not part of the application. Mar 18 at 16:31
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Since the claims are necessary to mark the boundary of the process or apparatus that is to be owned, certainly the claims as a broad topic are in part cognized in vague-gist summary in the abstract. The description supports the claims by enlightening the patent reviewer, the court, and any would-be infringers at least one way that the claims can be interpreted in practice, so the description is easiest from which to draw a summary, although taking it from solely the description would inappropriately skew the abstract toward the one or few practice demonstrations in the description instead of broadening the abstract to the as-general-as-practical principles in the claims.

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  • Since the claims may be amended during prosecution of the patent and the abstract isn't, the connection between the abstract and the claims is often ver tenuous.
    – Eric S
    Mar 9 at 16:44

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