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Poll: Would patents be easier to read if their claims were written in multiple, shorter sentences?

The patent claim reproduced below was issued yesterday in a Google patent (U.S. Patent No. 8,281,245, “System and method of preparing presentations”). I’ve drafted two alternative formats, intended to be substantively identical. For more background, please scroll down.

[poll id=”3″]

Original format: One long sentence & paragraph

[BEGIN]

A method of displaying presentation slides, the method comprising: receiving a request for information, the request being associated with a first set of identifiers; selecting, with a processor, a group of presentation slides from among a plurality of presentation slides based on a comparison of the identifiers associated with the request and identifiers associated with the plurality of presentation slides, where a presentation slide is a slide containing information to be rendered to a human readable display, and wherein: the slides are selected such that each selected slide has at least one overlapping identifier, where the overlapping identifier is a member of both the first set of identifiers and the slide’s set of identifiers, and the slides are selected such that, within the group, the overlapping identifiers identified with one slide are not a proper subset of the overlapping identifiers in another slide, wherein a set of one or more overlapping identifiers associated with a first slide are a proper subset of a set of overlapping identifiers associated with a second slide if all of the overlapping identifiers of the set of one or more overlapping identifiers associated with the first slide are also included in the set of overlapping identifiers associated with the second slide and the set of one or more overlapping identifiers associated with the first slide is different from the set of overlapping identifiers associated with the second slide; and displaying the group of presentation slides.

[END]

Alternate format 1: One long sentence, broken into multiple short(er) paragraphs

[BEGIN]

A method of displaying presentation slides, the method comprising:

(a) receiving a request for information, the request being associated with a first set of identifiers;

(b) selecting, with a processor, a group of presentation slides from among a plurality of presentation slides based on a comparison of the identifiers associated with the request and identifiers associated with the plurality of presentation slides,

(b)(1) where a presentation slide is a slide containing information to be rendered to a human readable display, and the slides are selected such that each selected slide has at least one overlapping identifier, where the overlapping identifier is a member of both the first set of identifiers and the slide’s set of identifiers, and

(b)(2) the slides are selected such that, within the group, the overlapping identifiers identified with one slide are not a proper subset of the overlapping identifiers in another slide,

(b)(3) wherein a set of one or more overlapping identifiers associated with a first slide are a proper subset of a set of overlapping identifiers associated with a second slide if all of the overlapping identifiers of the set of one or more overlapping identifiers associated with the first slide are also included in the set of overlapping identifiers associated with the second slide and the set of one or more overlapping identifiers associated with the first slide is different from the set of overlapping identifiers associated with the second slide; and

(c) displaying the group of presentation slides.

[END]

Alternate format 2: Multiple short sentences, each in its own paragraph

[BEGIN]

A method of displaying presentation slides, the method comprising:

(a) A request for information is received.

(b) The request is associated with a first set of identifiers.

(c) Using a processor, a group of presentation slides is selected from among a set of presentation slides.

(d) Each of the presentation slides contains information to be rendered to a human readable display

(e) The selection is based on a comparison of (i) the identifiers associated with the request and (ii) identifiers associated with the set of presentation slides.

(f) The slides are selected such that each selected slide has at least one overlapping identifier.

(g) The overlapping identifier is a member of both the first set of identifiers and the slide’s set of identifiers.

(h) The slides are selected such that, within the group of presentation slides, the overlapping identifiers identified with one slide are not a “proper subset,” as defined below, of the overlapping identifiers in another slide.

(i) A set of one or more overlapping identifiers associated with a first slide are [sic; should be “is”] a “proper subset” of a set of overlapping identifiers associated with a second slide if both of the following are true:

(i)(1) all of the overlapping identifiers of the set of one or more overlapping identifiers associated with the first slide are also included in the set of overlapping identifiers associated with the second slide, and

(i)(2) the set of one or more overlapping identifiers associated with the first slide is different from the set of overlapping identifiers associated with the second slide.

(j) The group of presentation slides is displayed.

[END]

The USPTO’s single-sentence rule seems based on, “it’s always been that way”

The U.S Patent and Trademark Office (together with essentially all non-U.S. patent offices) requires that each claim in a patent must be written as a single sentence. The USPTO’s official rationale for this requirement seems to be along the lines of, “it’s always been done that way, so by definition that’s the only way to do it.” This often results in long, visually-dense patent claims such as the original format above.

Evidence of public preference as to readability might help challenge the rule

I’ve got a client matter in which I’m contemplating petitioning for the repeal of the single-sentence rule. For this, I would want to submit evidence of public preference as to readability — when this issue came up in 1995, the USPTO dismissed the challenge to the rule in part on grounds that the challenger had presented no evidence that the single-sentence format was less readable than multiple sentences.

Toward that end, I’ve recast the original version of the Google patent claim, reproduced above, into two alternative formats, which are intended to be substantively identical to the original.

Further reading

See, e.g., the following:

• Stephen Schott, An Appeal to the New Patent Office Director: Repeal the Single Sentence Rule, a guest post at Professor Dennis Crouch’s PatentlyO blog, Sept. 18, 2009

• James F. McKeown, Claim Drafting Strategies Revisited — Is The “Single Sentence Rule” Too Inflexible?, Intellectual Property Today, August 2003.

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