What Can Be Patented?

In the United States, patent laws govern the types of things that can be patented, and the conditions that must be met in order for a patent to be granted. If you have an idea and you are thinking about pursuing a patent, the first step is to make sure that it is legally able to be patented.

A utility patent, the most common form of patent granted, has three requirements: the invention must be novel, nonobvious, and useful. For a patent in the United States, the invention must never have been made public in any way. If the invention has already been known or used by others or described in printed materials, it cannot be patented unless the application is filed less than a year after the invention is known.

It must also be original and non-obvious; that is, the invention must contain an aspect that would not be obvious for someone with knowledge and experience in the subject matter. This requires that the new invention is substantially different from the ‘prior art’ (the term for previous inventions already covered by other patents). Even if the object you are trying to patent is not identical to that shown in the prior art, the application may still be refused if the differences between the prior art and the new invention are obvious. For example, a change in size or color from a prior invention is usually not able to be patented. However, patents may be granted for an improvement upon a previously patented idea. In fact, most patents granted are for incremental improvements on a technology that is already known, rather than an entirely new innovation as was described in this article.

To be granted a utility patent, the invention must be useful – the object must ‘do something’ or have some purpose; it cannot be solely decorative. Examples of inventions covered by utility patents include a machine, a manufactured product, a new chemical composition, or a process.

There are two other types of patents covering different patentable items. Design patents cover a new ornamental design of a manufactured object. Package designs and the ornamental design (as opposed to functional use) of a new product are among the subjects covered by design patents. Jewelry, furniture, food or beverage containers, and computer icons are a few of the object types that can be covered by a design patent.

Finally, it is also possible to patent a new variety of plant reproduced asexually. These are covered by a plant patent. This is a specialized type of patent, and the least common type granted.

There are some things that simply cannot be patented under any of the above three categories. These include laws of nature, a physical phenomena, and an invention that the USPTO considers to be impossible, such as a perpetual motion machine. Patents can only be obtained for objects that can actually be made; patents cannot be obtained for an idea or suggestion of an invention. During the application process, a complete description of the object and how it works is required. In addition, works of art cannot be patented, though they can be protected by copyright. You can find much more useful information about patenting process like this on


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