I'm trying to apply Dan Shapiro's How to read a patent in 60 seconds to some Nokia "WebM" patents but it doesn't quite match the normal Q/A format.

I would like to break the patent into individual claims and then translate the individual claims into plain English:

1 A method of filtering a received digital video picture

TL;DR Video filter that averages edge pixels on adjacent sub-blocks.

in which said digital video picture comprises video blocks, each video block comprising a certain amount of individual video pixels each video pixel having a numerical value defining a property of the video pixel and having a certain location in the video picture, and in which video picture a first video block and a second video block located adjacent to the first video block define a boundary therebetween, the method comprising the steps of:

Subdividing a frame into a numbered grid.

This makes the process much easier but it becomes cumbersome after one claim. I could break the claims into different questions, but each claims shares language and answers with the others.

Putting translations in as answers breaks the formatting and (given that there are multiple claims) no one answer would be helpful.

I feel like the Q/A needs some tweaking for this kind of analysis. For one, it seems like a patent should be able to branch off multiple answer sections, like one for each method. Or maybe an answer could select which methods it applies to.

I also feel like the UI needs to mimic a translation UI where the original text runs parallel to a translation. Then, for each paragraph, we can translate from lawyer BS to computer programmer.


1 Answer 1


That's a great question!

The correct unit of description is the individual claim. However, a prior-art-request should be a question about a specific patent. There is a bit of disconnect. The good news is that the claims of a patent generally relate to one another in a logical progression so lumping them into one question is fine.

At the patent application stage you are looking for prior art examples (answers to your prior-art-request) which anticipate most or all elements of the claim but ideally get at the overall idea described in the specification as well. Here is why.

Generally, the claims in a well-written patent application look like a series of nested Matryoshka dolls (apologies in advance for the over-explaining for benefit of future readers who may not have read the Shapiro article...)


The first independent claim is the biggest, broadest description of exactly what the inventor claims to have invented.

The subsequent claims ("Dependent claims") generally narrow the independent claim.

An example could be this gem from Outbrain. US Patent Application US 20130132191 A1.

The prior art request should follow the standard Ask Patents format

Claim 1 requires each and every step below:

  1. receiving data indicating a data feed to use to create a feed-based advertisement to represent content, that is to be advertised, of a content provider;

  2. receiving the data feed that is associated with the content to be advertised;

  3. generating, by a server computer the feed-based advertisement using one or more data elements associated with an item in the data feed; and

  4. providing the feed-based advertisement to a user device.

In English this means:

A method comprising

  1. Receiving a data feed of content from a content provider who wishes to advertise its content

  2. Creating a feed-based advertisement unit based on the data feed

  3. Sending the feed-based advertisement to a user (presumably to display on his device)

Subsequent claims describe various narrower version of the method described in Claim 1. For example:

Claim 8 requires each and every step below:

The method of claim 1, wherein the data feed is at least one of:

  • a Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed,

  • an atom feed

  • an Extensible Markup Language (XML)-based feed, or

  • a JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) feed.

Notice how the dependent claim expanded on specific "data feeds" which the inventor could use in the method described in the independent claim. Note that it has been a convention that "Claim 1" is the broadest claim but it is only a convention, not a rule. Another independent claim further down might be broader so all independent claims should be checked to find the broadest one.

The way we have handled this in the the standard Ask Patents prior-art-request format is to list the main independent claim (typically, Claim 1) exactly along with a plain-English version of each element of the independent claim followed by an EXTRA CREDIT section summarizing salient tweaks and limitations from the dependent claims.

By the way, users at Ask Patents don't need to get all of the elements in the claim in one single piece of prior art but when they do it's a knockout!


  • "the claims of a patent generally relate to one another in a logical progression so lumping them into one question is fine." But there might be multiple correct answers, one per claim. That breaks the Q/A format... Perhaps this should be turned into a feature request.
    – Indolering
    Aug 7, 2013 at 21:14
  • You should highlight/bold that third sentence, it gets lost in your explanation : )
    – Indolering
    Aug 7, 2013 at 21:16
  • 1
    It has been a convention that "claim 1" is the broadest claim but it is only a convention, not a rule. Another independent claim further down might be broader.
    – George White Mod
    Aug 8, 2013 at 23:59
  • Agreed and modified the question to reflect your point, George. Thanks. Aug 9, 2013 at 3:25

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