What can be patented?

Under U.S. Patent law, any person who “invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent.” In general, what this means is that to qualify for a patent, you must satisfy the following four requirements:

  1. The subject matter must be patentable.
  2. The invention must be novel.
  3. The invention must have some utility or usefulness.
  4. The invention must not be obvious.

1. Patentable subject matter

A patent does not cover a mere idea. Instead, the idea must be embodied in one or more of the following:

  1. A process or method (such as a new way to manufacture concrete)
  2. A machine (something with moving parts or circuitry)
  3. A manufactured article (such as a tool or another object that accomplishes a result with no moving parts, such as a pencil).
  4. A new composition (such as a new pharmaceutical)

Even if the invention falls into one of the four above categories, there are certain subject matters that just cannot be patented. These include mathematical formulas, naturally-occurring substances, laws of nature and processes done entirely with the human body (such as a technique for shooting a free throw in basketball).

2. Novelty

Novelty simply means the invention must be new. That is, it must differ from knowledge already existing in the public domain (referred to as “prior art”). Patent law defines prior art in several ways, including:

  • Anything that is described in a publication: 1) before the date you made the invention, or 2) one year before you file your patent application.
  • Anything that is in public use or on sale in the U.S.: 1) before the date you made the invention, or 2) one year before you file the patent application.
  • Prior patents that were issued: 1) before the date you made the invention, or 2) one year before you file the patent application.

Please be aware that if you’re not careful, even the original inventor could be barred from filing a patent application! The reason is the one-year rule applies to everyone, including the original inventor. For example, if you publish your invention in a magazine or begin selling it, you must file a patent application within one year from the date it was published or first sold. Otherwise, no one (not even the inventor) will be able to obtain a patent for the invention.

Because a provisional patent application is not published, it preserves the confidentiality of the invention and does not start the one-year rule by itself. For example, although you would not get the benefit of the earlier filing date, there is no restriction against filing a full patent application two years after filing the provisional application (assuming the invention has not been disclosed in a publication and has not been sold).

3. Utility

Utility means an invention must physically accomplish something. If an invention works, or if it produces a result – even in theory -- then it has utility. In practice, very few inventions fail the utility test. Only where the logic underlying the assertion is seriously flawed (for example, a perpetual motion machine) could a patent be challenged on utility. In addition, illegal or highly dangerous products may also be rejected by the U.S. Patent Office under this requirement.

Please be aware that design patents do not need to satisfy the utility requirement.

4. Non-obviousness

Non-obviousness means that people who are skilled in the field of the invention (as opposed to the average person) would not consider the invention obvious, given the information already available in the public realm. For example, an invention made by simply substituting one color for another, or by combining two existing inventions in a logical and obvious manner, would ordinarily not be patentable.

Invention Evaluations   Invention Evaluations

Choose the Invention Evaluation Plan that fits your goals and budget.

Inventors such as yourself who are looking to protect and profit from your invention or new product idea each have your unique needs and budgets. That is why we offer several invention evaluation plans for you to choose from that are tailored to the special needs of individual inventors.

Save Money   Invention Packages

Invention Commercialization and Profitability Program

Choose from our Basic, Advanced, or Professional Invention Combo Packages, depending on your particular needs and budget. Each combo package includes your choice of the Invention Sales Package, the Invention Licensing Package, or the Invention Marketing Package.


Invention Evaluations   Crowdfunding

Don't have money to develop your invention into a product?

Crowdfunding makes it possible for you to achieve your invention goal of selling, licensing, or manufacturing products based on your invention that you otherwise might not be able to do using equity or debt financing. And you don't give up any ownership stake in your invention.


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