Reference Numbers in Patent Application


The patent application includes many sections, and two particular sections which run concurrently to describe the invention in detail are the specification and the drawings. It is important that the detailed description of the invention and the drawings have to be correlated. And the generally accepted way of achieving that has been the use of reference numbers.

Reference Numbers

Reference numbers are used by employing a set of numbers to distinguish each element described in the detailed description section of the specification and the drawings, i.e. for each element one specific and different number is chosen and the same number is used to label that element in the associated drawings.

Some of the common rules for including the reference numbers in the specification (or even the claims in some case) of the patent applications are enlisted below:

  • Use reference numbers sequentially:

Although it is not a rule, but it is advised to keep the reference numbers in a sequential order. This way it will be much easier for the reader to identify the first element and then go on to locate other elements in the drawings or vice-versa.

  • Hop every other reference number:

Many attorneys prefer to skip every other reference number and hop to the next one while numbering the various elements in the description of the specification. This may help later if one element, which may have been missed earlier, may need to be introduced between two already numbered elements. For example, some attorneys use numbering scheme such as 102, 104, 106, … and so on. So if one element has to be introduced later between element 104 and element 106, it may be numbered as 105.

  • Reference number should be distinguished from drawings/figures numbers:

If the included drawings have been labeled as FIG. 1, FIG. 2, FIG. 3…… and so on; then it is advised that the same numerals, i.e. 1, 2, 3, etc. shall not be used for labeling the elements in the drawings and the corresponding description, so as to avoid any possible confusion. In one such case, assuming the total number of figures is limited to nine (i.e. up to FIG. 9), the reference numbers could be started from “10” and so on; i.e. start with a reference number higher than the last drawing number.

  • Reference numbers are not a substitute to good writing:

It may be understood that reference should be included in the description only for the purpose of referencing the elements in the drawings, and otherwise the description shall be written as if reference numbers are not part thereof. Take this example, if two elements have the same name, the elements are differentiated, for instance by using “first ring 202” and “second ring 204” rather than “ring 202” and “ring 204.”

Reference numbers are employed by using a set of numbers to distinguish each element described in the detailed description section of the specification and the drawings, i.e. for each element one specific and different number is chosen and the same number is used to label that element in the associated drawings.

As discussed above, that the detailed description of the invention and the drawings have to be correlated in the patent application, and this is achieved by the use of reference numbers.

Furtherance to above, some more tips for using the reference numbers in the specification (or even the claims in some case) of the patent applications, are provided below. These tips enlisted below are in continuation of the tips as shared in the previous article.

  • Enlist the reference numbers in the description:

Many attorneys advise that a list of reference numbers used in the description shall be included, for example, towards the end of the specification of the patent application. This list could help the writer to cross-check whether the numeral given to the repeated occurrence of each element is correct throughout. Further, this may aid the reader of the patent application as well to quickly glance over the elements included in the patent application. Sometimes, a tree-type listing could also be used for further simplification.

  • The consistency of reference numbers:

It is very important that the reference numbers are used consistently throughout the description. For example, the same element in repeated occurrences shall be given the same reference number each time. Also it is preferred that if possible the same element in different embodiments of the invention shall be given the same reference number to mitigate any discrepancies.

To refresh from the above tips, reference numbers are employed by using a set of numbers to distinguish each element described in the detailed description section of the specification and the drawings, i.e. for each element one specific and different number is chosen and the same number is used to label that element in the associated drawings.

  • Use some symbols to distinguish different versions of the same element:

As discussed, it is important to use the reference numbers consistently in the description. For example, if there are two versions of the same element, say a ring 202, in the invention, each version of the element should refer with the same base number, such as “ring 202”. Alternatively, some symbols like primes may be used to distinguish similar elements, for example, in first version it may be called ring 202´, in second version it may be called ring 202´´, and so on.

  • Using suffix with reference numbers:

In addition to different version of the same element, sometimes the invention may use two types of a similar element. In such case, a suffix may be added to the reference number to distinguish these two or more similar elements. For example, if an apparatus has four lines passing therefrom and each line has different length for the purpose of the invention, then these different lines may be called as line 102a, line 102b, and so on.

  • Use series of reference numbers:

Many a times, an invention to be described in the patent application includes different embodiments. These embodiments may generally be different versions of the invention with substantially same components or processes and trying to solve a generally a substantially similar problem. However, the patent drafter may sometimes wish to properly distinguish between these embodiments in the specification of the patent application. For this purpose, the drafter may choose to use different series of reference numbers for each element in the different embodiments. For example, for one embodiment, the drafter may choose 100 series, that is, 102, 104, 106, etc., and for the second embodiment, he/she may choose 200 series, that is, 202, 204, 206, etc.

  • Antecedent with reference numbers:

It is to be understood that the antecedent basis would still need to be followed along with the reference numbers while writing the specification of the patent application. For example, for the first occurrence of element 102 in the detailed description of the specification; that element shall be referred to as “a/an element 102” and for the next occurrences it may be referred to as “the element 102” and not again as “a/an element 102”. Therefore, it is implied that the reference numbers may not be considered as a substitute to the antecedent basis.

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