Skip to Main Content
library logo banner

Finding patent information: The patent document

Reading a patent document

Patents are legal documents and can be difficult to read.  We will look at a typical UK patent application document and go through each section, explaining what you can expect to find.  As an example we will use this patent for a karabiner: GB2340173A.  A karabiner is a safety device used in rock climbing or industrial rope work such as window cleaning.

INID codes are internationally agreed numbers for the identification of bibliographic data in patents.  They represent a specific type of information, for example:

(11) patent number
(32) priority date
(54) title
(72) name(s) of the inventor(s)

There is a list of codes. We'll refer to the codes when describing the document.

Administrative information

On the front page of the patent document you will see:

(19) Country code: GB means this patent was filed at the UK patent office and applies in the UK.  There is a list of country codes.
(11)  Patent number, which identifies this particular application and the equivalent granted patent. The patent number can be searched for in patent databases, together with the country code.
(13) Type code, in this case 'A' for application.  The patent was granted so you can also find a 'B' document with the same number.

(21) Application number: this it is for administrative purposes for the UK patent office and cannot be searched in patent databases.
(22) Date of filing: the date when the application was received at the patent office. This is normally the same as the priority date but in this case it is not:
(30) Priority data: (31) gives the number of an earlier application to the UK patent office for the same invention and (32) is the date of the original filing.  It means that 29.07.1998 is considered to be the application date for this invention so a different company submitting an application for the same invention since that date would not be successful.

(71) The applicant is the individual or company who has submitted the application and who will hold the patent rights.  This is normally a company rather than an individual person.
(72) The inventor is the individual who is credited with the invention, normally an employee of the applicant company.
Both the applicant and inventor cannot normally be searched for in a patent database.
(74) This records the patent agent used in the application process and is not normally relevant in a database search.

(51) INT CL stands for International classification.  Classification codes are important for patent searching and will be explained elsewhere in this guide.
(52) Gives the UK classification code
(56) Documents cited refers to 'prior art', or in other words previous patents that are similar to this one, that have been discovered during the search process.
(58) Field of search provides brief details of how the search for 'prior art' was conducted.

Title, Abstract and Description

The title of a patent document will of course be short but it should contain the most important keywords relating to the invention.

As for journal articles, patents include an abstract which gives a brief summary of the invention and includes other important keywords.  Titles and abstracts are searchable in all of the patent databases.

This is followed by a more lengthy description of the invention, which will normally include:

  • Why the invention is needed – what is it for?  Is there a problem to be addressed?
  • Discussion of ‘prior art’: earlier inventions that are on a related topic.
  • Examples of how this invention solves a problem, how the invention could be used.
  • Drawings

 'Full text' patent databases permit searching of this information for certain categories of patents.  A full text search will normally retrieve many results and needs to be more specific than a title/abstract search.


Claims are the legal description of the exclusive right granted to the inventor.  They can be bought, sold or rented (licensed).

There are broad and narrow claims.  As a patent document moves through the application process, the claims are likely to narrow: this will probably be the biggest difference between an application document (A) and a granted patent document (B).

The granted patent: 'B' specification

This application was modified and then granted.  Can you spot the difference between the application 'A' document and the granted patent, 'B' document?