Special Meaning, Ordinary Meaning, Everyday Meaning

Date Published

Special Meaning

The special meaning of a particular term or phrase is that which the specification defines explicitly (or otherwise). The special meaning is similar to the Dictionary Principle in national examination. Explicit definition of a term is that provided in a dictionary portion of the specification. However, there may be instances where a term is defined outside of the dictionary portion of the specification which would also be considered as the special meaning. It should be noted that non-limiting definitions (open definitions) do not constitute a special meaning and in such cases the ordinary meaning would be invoked.

Examiners, in consultation with the 3 person search strategy team, should use their professional judgement in determining whether the special meaning places any limitations upon the claims.

Ordinary Meaning

The ordinary meaning of a particular term or phrase is that meaning which the person skilled in the art, when reading a claim, would attribute to the terms and phrases of that claim in the context of the particular art. Therefore, for any terms or phrases which have well recognised meanings within the particular art, those recognized meanings are used to understand the scope of the claim. However, where there is a special meaning different to the ordinary meaning, the special meaning is used to interpret the claim.

Everyday Meaning

Terms not explicitly defined by a special meaning, and that have no ordinary meaning, are interpreted by using their everyday meaning. The everyday meaning is the non-technical meaning of the term or phrase. It should be noted that not all terms have an everyday meaning because there are technical terms that have no corollary in English. However, because of the hierarchical approach, where there is an ordinary meaning to a term it would not be necessary to consider the everyday meaning.


The following examples demonstrate the differences between special, ordinary and everyday meaning for particular words or phrases.

Example 1

Term: ‘hook’

Technology: Fishing

Special Meaning: Fish hook for catching fish

Ordinary Meaning : Fish hook, not restricted to fish but encompassing any hook used for fishing purposes

Everyday Meaning: fastening hook, crane hook, warehouse hook, fish hook

Example 2

Term: ‘milk’

Technology: dairy processing

Special Meaning: milk in which there is between 0-5% fat content

Ordinary Meaning: Cows milk, including full cream, light, skim

Everyday Meaning: Cows milk, including full cream, light, skim, UHT milk, soy milk, rice milk, coconut milk, plant milk, evaporated milk, dried milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, whale milk

Example 3

Term: ‘alkyl substituent’

Technology: organic chemistry

Special Meaning: substituent which is comprised of carbon and hydrogen, being saturated; being straight chain or branched, containing up to 6 carbon atoms and being substituted by halogen, hydroxy and amino groups

Ordinary Meaning: substituent which is comprised of carbon and hydrogen, being saturated and straight chain, potentially substituted, containing up to 12 carbon atoms

Everyday Meaning: a group obtained by removing a hydrogen atom from an alkane (a saturated hydrocarbon with the general formula CnH(2n+2). [This was the meaning taken from the dictionary and while the term has no non-technical meaning it was considered that for this example a definition from a dictionary is an appropriate everyday meaning].

Example 4

Term: ‘blue’

Technology: dyes/photo printer

Special Meaning: as defined by specific RBG ranges within the description

Ordinary Meaning: the colour that outside of the technology is purple (technology specific)

Everyday Meaning: the colour blue of varying shades (‘cyan’ corresponds to blue shades in the technology)