Imbrication

Previously I celebrated these words in blog articles:

Today’s word is “imbrication”.  Dear reader, I wonder if you know what “imbricated” means?

I really like “imbrication”.  You can see the Wikipedia article here.  

Maybe the second or third patent application I ever wrote in my life was the one that issued in 1990 as US patent number 4914885.  This was for a clever design for a concrete roofing tile.  My guess is that part of how this patent got granted may have been the “four-finger rule”.  This is the rule that if a patent claim, when typeset for printing in a granted US patent, is so great in vertical extent that it cannot be covered by the width of four fingers, then it is patentable.  Of course patent examiners are not taught to use the four-finger rule to decide what is patentable and what is not.  But you can ask any patent examiner and they will tell you that they have heard this rule mentioned at some time in their training or career.  And you could buy a drink for many a patent examiner who might then admit that this “rule” does in fact influence their work in one way or another.

Some of the patents that got granted on patent applications that I wrote early in my career have not aged well.  There are some where I look at the claims that issued and I feel I could have done better.  But as I look back on this one, I feel okay about the claims in this patent even now.

As I look back on this patent, I do have one regret, namely that I did not work the word “imbricated” into the text of the patent application.  Which brings me to US patent publication 2007/0271164.  This patent application, published some seventeen years later, brings me great satisfaction even now because I did finally get around to using the word “imbricated” in a patent application.  As you will see, this patent was not directed to roofing shingles or roofing tiles or fish scales, yet I do think I used the word appropriately.  

One of the figures of merit for a patent or patent publication is the citation count — the number of times that the patent or patent publication got cited in a later patent.  I looked just now and am delighted to see that the roofing tile patent for which I wrote the patent application has been cited in 36 later patents.  36 is a pretty big number for this figure of merit in this technology area.

Did you know what “imbricated” meant before you read this blog article?  Have you used it in a patent application?  Do you believe in the four-finger rule?  Please post a comment below.

4 thoughts on “Imbrication

  1. I recall the “four-finger rule” from when I was training as a very junior patent agent 40 years ago; but as it was explained to me the rule was not that a claim that you could not obscure with your hand was allowable, but that such a claim when issued was unlikely to be held infringed. Quite possibly both are true.

  2. I recall the four-finger rule from the early ’90s. And the stories of piles of paper patent file wrappers being found on top of elevators in the old Patent Office building in Crystal City.

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