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, this means you must satisfy the following four requirements to qualify for a patent:

  • The subject matter must be patentable.
  • The invention must be novel.
  • The invention must have some utility or usefulness.
  • The invention must not be obvious.

Patentable subject matter

A patent cannot protect an idea. Instead, the idea must be embodied in one or more of the following:

  • A process or method (such as a new way to manufacture concrete)
  • A machine (something with moving parts or circuitry)
  • A manufactured article (such as a tool or another object that accomplishes a result with few or no moving parts, such as a pencil)
  • A new composition (such as a new pharmaceutical)
  • An asexually reproduced and new variety of plant.

Even if the invention falls into one of the four above categories, there are certain subject matters that 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).

Novelty Requirement

Novelty simply means the invention must be new. That is, it must differ from knowledge already existing in the public domain, prior patents, published applications, publications available to the public and items on sale (all together referred to as “prior art”). Patent law defines prior art in several ways, including:

Anything disclosed as described above:

  • by someone other than you (or a joint inventor, or someone who receives the information disclosed from you or from a joint inventor, at any time prior to your filing date, or
  • by you, one year or more before you file your patent application.

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