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Guide To Patenting And USPTO Patent Applications

What can be patented? What does novelty mean?

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In legal terms, 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, subject to the conditions and requirements of the law.

What Does That Mean?

  • A “process” is defined by law as a process, act or method, and primarily includes industrial or technical processes. A process is the way an invention performs rather than the way it is structured. Computer software performs a certain way, it makes certain processes. Another example would be the process for making a drug.
  • “Machine” should need no explanation.
  • The term “manufacture” refers to articles which are made, and includes all manufactured articles.
  • “Composition of matter” relates to chemical compositions and may include mixtures of ingredients as well as new chemical compounds.
Basically, you can patent things that are made or the processes for making the products.

Always An Execption To The Rule

The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 excludes the patenting of inventions useful solely in the utilization of special nuclear material or atomic energy for atomic weapons.

What Does Useful Mean?

The patent law specifies that inventions must be “useful”, which means have a useful purpose. Being useful also includes operativeness, meaning that an invention must operate or perform its intended purpose.

It should be noted that laws of nature, physical phenomena and abstract ideas are not patentable no matter how useful they are.

You cannot patent an idea or suggestion for a new process, machine, manufacture, etc. You can only patent the actual invention and you must provide the USPTO with a complete description of the actual working invention.

What Does New or Novelty Mean?

In order for an invention to be patentable it must be new as defined by patent law. An invention cannot be patented if:
  1. The invention was known or used by others in the United States, or patented or described in a printed publication in the United States or a foreign country, before the current applicant filed for his or her patent. Someone else has made the same invention as you did.
  2. The invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country more than one year prior to the application for patent in the United States. You or somebody else revealed your invention more than a year ago to the public.

Don't Talk About It

If the invention has been described in a printed publication anywhere in the world, or if it has been in public use or on sale in the United States before the date that the applicant made his/her invention, a patent cannot be obtained. If the invention has been described in a printed publication anywhere, or has been in public use or on sale in this country more than one year before the date on which an application for patent is filed in this country, a patent cannot be obtained. In this connection it is immaterial when the invention was made, or whether the printed publication or public use was by the inventor himself/herself or by someone else. If the inventor describes the invention in a printed publication or uses the invention publicly, or places it on sale, he/she must apply for a patent before one year has gone by, otherwise any right to a patent will be lost.

You Can't Be Too Obvious

Even if you don't find the prior art to prove it - you will not get a patent if your invention is not different enough from similiar inventions that are already out there. A patent maybe refused if the differences between your invention and another invention are too obvious. Your invention must be sufficiently different from what has been used or described before that it may be said to be nonobvious to a person having ordinary skill in the area of technology related to your invention. For example, the substitution of one material for another, or changes in size, are ordinarily not patentable. You can't paint it red and make it twice as big and expect a patent.

Another example of "nonobvious to a person having ordinary skill in the area of technology related to your invention" could be the following. An electronics engineer looks at a circuit board and observes that it is just like another circuit board except that a few parts are substituted. Someone who is not familiar with circuit boards may not understand that the two boards are very similar, however, someone with training thinks that it is obvious. You would want the electronics engineer to look at the circuit board that you want to patent and say, "heah, why didn't I think of that!"

Next - Who may apply for a patent?

  1. About.com
  2. Money
  3. Inventors
  4. Need a Patent or Trademark?
  5. Patents
  6. Understanding Novelty Useful and Nonobvious Patents

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