What Can I Patent?


Patent law is one of the most complicated legal areas. Unlike copyrights and trademarks, to get patent protection you must file an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Filing these applications has been deemed special enough to require lawyers and engineers to take a separate, difficult test just to have permission to file them (historically, only about 50% of the people who take the test pass). Under the law, you can file these applications on your own, but just keep in mind that you'll need a good basis of knowledge to do so.

To get your patent application approved, your invention must be new, useful, not obvious, and fall within a specific category.

First, the word "new" has a very specific legal definition. An invention is new if it hasn't been disclosed publicly. The law on this is very, very complex. Some basic guidelines, however, state that an invention isn't new if the public knew about it before the application was filed or if the invention appeared in writing before the application was filed.

Second, an invention is useful if it has a specific, useful purpose.

Third, the invention can't be obvious. The patent office will ask what people familiar with this invention's general area would think. If it would be obvious to an ordinary person who works with the invention's type of technology, it probably won't be patentable.

Fourth, the invention has to fall within one of the categories outlined in the law. These categories are:

  • processes,
  • machines,
  • articles of manufacture, and
  • compositions of matter.

You can also get a patent for an improvement on something falling within one of these categories. Laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable.

This very brief introduction merely scratches the surface. If you would like to speak with someone about patenting your invention, please reach out to us.