What is Patentable?

A patent is a form of protection for certain things – from new and original ideas to new and improved forms of things that already exist. However, not all things are patentable. Below, you will find helpful information on what is patentable and what items need a different form of protection.

In order for something to be approved for a patent, it must generally meet a few different but specific criteria. Those particular criteria state that the invention or idea must be:

  1. Statutory
  2. New
  3. Useful
  4. Non-Obvious

If the idea or invention does not meet these requirements, the individual or business applying for the patent will likely be turned down. So, what do those individual things actually mean?


In order for an item or idea to be considered statutory, it must be within the required criteria. While most individuals and businesses will not run into problems in this area, there are some different inventions or ideas that are not considered statutory, including natural phenomena like electromagnetic waves, certain descriptive works such as songs, poems, etc.


Obviously, a patent is only given to inventions or ideas that are new and original. Also, a patent cannot be applied for on any item or idea that has been disclosed to the public more than a calendar year ago. By saying ‘disclosed to the public,' the criteria can mean anything from holding a conference about the proposed idea, sending a press release about it and even talking about the idea at work or among friends and family. For this reason, an individual should always apply for a patent before disclosing information about their inventions or ideas.


An invention or idea must be useful in order for a patent to be granted. If someone invents a machine that is supposed to automatically roll up your car windows when an electronic sensor senses rain – but that machine doesn't work or doesn't do it properly, it's not considered useful. The patent would not be very useful in this case and neither would the invention, so if an idea or invention is not deemed ‘useful,' chances are the applicant will not receive the patent.


This basically means that when an invention is created, it must be obvious that the invention is not based on a prior invention. While there may be some elements of a particular prior invention, one should not be completely reliant on all elements. For instance, someone may invent a machine that is similar to an old machine which has been patented; however, the new machine must have new and improved features that have never before been used. It may also have new parts that have never been used.

It's difficult to ascertain whether or not an invention or item is non-obvious. A patent attorney can help tremendously by redusing the time and cost of repeated filings. The representative of the US patent office will check for past patents that contain the same aspects and if all parts and components of each invention are the same, the later patent applicant will most likely be refused the patent.

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