You Think You Can Patent That? Know The Conditions For Patentability

By Fatih Ozluturk:

Section 101 of the U.S. Patent Act sets forth the general requirements for a utility patent: “Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvements thereof, may obtain a patent, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.” In other words, in order for an invention to be patentable, it must be: (1) Patentable Subject Matter; (2) Novel; (3) Useful; and (4) Nonobvious.

(1) Patentable subject matter refers to what types of things are eligible for patent protection (sometimes referred to as “statutory subject matter” or “patent-eligible subject matter.” The U.S. Patent Statute states that processes, machines, manufactures, or compositions of matter are patentable. Although this requirement has historically been interpreted broadly to include almost anything, there are exceptions. Additionally, the boundary between patentable and non-patentable subject matter are not as clear for certain technologies. A more detailed description on what is and is not patentable is presented below.

(2) Novelty basically means the claimed subject matter is not patentable if it has been disclosed prior to the filing date (or the date of invention if filed before March 16, 2013) of the patent application (with some minor exceptions). In other words, novelty asks the question “Has this already been invented?” A more detailed explanation of novelty, including some exceptions, is discussed below.

(3) Usefulness (or Utility) basically asks if the claimed invention provides some identifiable benefit and is capable of use. The most common example of something that is considered non-useful is a perpetual motion machine.

(4) Nonobviousness requires that an invention not be obvious to “a person having ordinary skill in the art.” In other words, the nonobviousness inquiry asks “Would a person having ordinary knowledge and skill in the field of invention have found this invention to be obvious based on what is already known in the field?”