What Can Be Patented? What Can’t?

Inventors and innovators often wonder if their inventions can be patented.  It isn’t always obvious if an item is patentable so it’s not surprising that many inventors seek advice from professionals in the patent arena.  There are some criteria to go by when it comes to addressing patentability.  Understanding the criteria will help innovators determine if or not their invention will qualify for a patent.

Items that Cannot Be Patented

Various categories of items cannot be patented.  Works of art, for example, can be copyrighted, but not patented.  Physical phenomena and laws of nature cannot be patented under law.  Abstract ideas–whatever the subject–are not awarded with patents.  Moreover, items that are not useful or do not serve a purpose will not qualify for patent protection.  Also, an invention that is deemed morally offensive cannot be patented. Patent applications are also likely to be turned down if the invention is obvious or if the application does not present information clearly.

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What Can Be Patented?

Approved patents generally fall into four categories: machine, manufacture, composition of matter, or a process.  While these categories are old, they have stood the test of time and most functioning and physical inventions will fall into one of them.  Many inventors will opt to have their invention professionally assessed to see if it falls into one of these categories and can, therefore, qualify for patent protection (Source: Innovate Product Design invention patent process).

The machine category is essentially self-evident; that is, it is an invention that is comprised of interacting parts or mechanisms that move in some way when operating.  The manufacture category is something that can perform a function but lacks moving parts.  A garden implement might be a good example of this type of invention.  Composition of matter may refer to chemical compositions like a cosmetic or cleaning product.  The process category is historically the most prone to interpretation and debate.  The category protects a unique series of steps for doing something and is typically associated with manufacturing processes.

Inventors who believe their invention falls into the above-mentioned categories should have their item assessed.  If the invention appears to qualify, patent protection is an important protection to explore.

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