Characteristics of Patent Documents

Description and Drawings

The description gives the background to the invention (what was known before the invention, i.e., the "prior art"), and defines the difference between the pre-existent technology and what the invention contributes to technology development. Information includes:

  • Title of the invention 
  • Statement of patent history 
  • Field of the invention
  • Summary of the invention in broad terms
  • Drawings and brief description of the drawings 
  • Detailed description of the invention


Claims are written statements of what the inventor asserts is his or her exclusive property. They determine the scope of patent protection and define legal boundaries of the invention.


Many patent documents contain an abstract summarizing the contents of the document.


Patent documents have "classification symbols" to facilitate finding and extracting relevant information from them. Although several classification systems exist, today the International Patent Classification (IPC), which was established by an intergovernmental agreement concluded more than 30 years ago and administered by WIPO, is the most widely applied by all the major industrial property offices.


Patent dates reveal the age of an invention and whether they are still under legal protection. Patent documents may list:

  • date of application
  • priority date
  • date of grant

Inventor, Applicant, Owner

Most patent documents indicate the name and address of at least one or two of the following:

  • inventor
  • applicant
  • patentee (the owner)

Patent Classification Systems

To make searching easier, every patent is classified using a defined scheme. A classification scheme is a system of codes that groups inventions according to technical area, which means similar inventions are grouped under the same classification.

Patent Families

A patent family is a set of either patent applications or publications taken in multiple countries to protect a single invention by a common inventor(s) and then patented in more than one country. A first application is made in one country – the priority – and is then extended to other offices.

Patent family searches are used in order to:

  • find the countries in which a given patent application has been filed (if published);
  • find a "patent family member" that is written in a desired language;
  • obtain a list of prior art documents or "References Cited"; and
  • estimate the importance of the invention (by number of patent documents relating to the same invention and being published in different countries or by industrial property organisations).


Human Sling Shot Machine (US5421783 A)

"An amusement ride for slingshotting and bouncing humans with bungee cords"

Patent number US5421783 A.


Country Codes

CA   Canada

CN   China

DE   Germany

EP   European Patent Office (EPO)

FR   France


KR   South Korea

JP   Japan

US   U.S.

WO  World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) used in relation to the international publication under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)


WIPO Standard ST.3: Country codes