What Can Be Patented?

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Since patents are official documents issued by the Federal government, certain criteria must be met when officials are establishing whether a product or invention is suitable for patentability. Federal law has established three specific criteria used by the Patent and Trademark Office to determine whether an invention, as described in the patent application, is patentable. In addition to the subject matter criteria, in other words, the description of the invention, formal elements of the application must also be in good order. An incomplete application will not yield very good results.

Because the patent document is an official record that provides detailed information about specific inventions, inventors are required to make a full disclosure of the invention so that someone who is skilled in the technological area of the invention can reproduce the invention by using the information contained in the patent.

The three criteria include:

  • Utility: Does the subject matter have a useful purpose? This includes "operativeness;" in other words, a machine that will not operate to perform the intended purpose would not be called useful, and therefore would not be granted a patent.
  • Novelty:The invention must be new.
  • Non-Obvious: Non-obvious requires that the difference between "existing art" and the invention be significant enough to warrant a patent.