A patent exists for a broad system of interacting large, and independently complex, elements. However, at least one of the complex elements is described/claimed in the patent in a very cursory and general way. I would not be able to build and use the system as described in the patent. the system is too large and complex. In fact, I think that it would require a large team of persons with expertise in various areas to actually build and use the system (imagine the GPS satellite SYSTEM that required sattelite engineers for satellite elements, communications engineers for their devices, rocket scientists to further make the complex rockets work, etc.)

The system is claimed at an abstract level such as "a system comprised of [things] ... and a ground control station, where said ground station is comprised of an antenna, a computer, a database, telephones ... etc."

Question: Can I improve, or better or more thoroughly define (reduce to practice), a "ground station" with better specification and claimed elements such that my improvements (or better reduction to practice) precludes the other patentee from building and using his ground station without, in fact, infringing on my patent? This assumes he would actually NEED my claimed element improvements for his "system" to work.

One outcome, I would hope, would be that the other patentee is essentially forced to work with me and me with him to respectively build and "use" our respective inventions.

Thank you for any answers. I am still wrestling with this. [Could science fiction author Arthur C. Clark have patented his big system ideas in his book Profiles of the Future without more detailed specification/claims?]

3 Answers 3


It frequently happens that person B invents a patentable improvement to person A's invention. If it is a compelling enough improvement it can be thought as a blocking patent. Neither A or B can independently make the improved version without the other.

But just making it work efficiently or creating a specific, well-engineered, detailed embodiment is not necessarily creating a patentable improvement. For your scenario to play out, your work needs to be patentable in a way that is hard to get around. The value you plan to extract has an upper limit related to the cost of designing around your future patent or realizing the system in some completely different way.


It sounds like there are two possibilities:

1) The current patent is insufficient; it cannot be implemented without some further inventive contribution. Such a patent is invalid. 2) The system in the patent can be implemented, but needs some work. Provided this work is predictable, and does not require undue experimentation, the patent still holds. The work might still be complex and require a team of skilled people, but it's essentially mundane. Electrical and electronic technologies are usually considered pretty predictable, and quite a high level of generality is enough to enable the patent.

Situation 2 is the more usual in this field of technology; as the other answer says, you can patent improvements (or particular specific ways of implementing the invention) if it is inventive over the earlier patent. And if your improvement is valuable enough, it could act as a blocking patent, or at least help you negotiate a cross-licence.

But Situation 1 does sometimes occur. It's interesting you mention Arthur C Clarke. I'm not familiar with the book you mention, but Clarke proposed quite a detailed idea for using geostationary satellites for telecommunication in 1945, and the consensus is that he would not have been granted a patent, because any description he could give wouldn't allow the invention to be performed - the necessary technology to implement it simply didn't exist. (Clarke didn't even apply for a patent, considering them 'a licence to be sued')

  • Another excellent answer. Thank you. +1 for entertainment value, as well!
    – SirCut
    Jan 31, 2013 at 6:41

In contrast to Arthur C Clarke, look at the story of Hedy Lamarr and Spread Spectrum. She patented this back in WW2, but the valve radio technology of the time wasn't quite up to the task. See US2,292,387

Another possibility:

Situation 3 is a where there are vague descriptions of the ground station in the patent, but a more detailed description has been published, some times accidently, and some times deliberately "published" in some obscure newspaper in Hicktown, or presented as a poster paper at some conference. The original inventors realised it was going to be difficult to get enforcable definitive claims in for the ground station, but prevented other blocking patents by clever use of public domain. Another situation (which actually happened to a client) was having the fancy control room open to guided tours, so anything the [non employee] visitors could see is in the public domain. Anything hidden in electronic racks is still patentable.

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