Things You Can and Cannot Patent

If you are an aspiring inventor, you will need to know what exactly you can and cannot patent. This will allow you to protect the results of your hard work and legally prevent anyone else from making money by stealing your ideas.

Under the current U.S. laws, the patentability criteria are:

  • Novelty: The invention that you want to patent must be original. This means that it may not simply be a mildly altered version of an existing item.
  • Nonobvious: Your invention must not be obvious. This means that you cannot patent something that alters an existing item in an obvious way. You also cannot combine two old inventions and patent the resulting item. This can only work if this combination provides some unexpected and nonobvious results.
  • Utility: The main purpose of every patented invention is usefulness. Even if you manage to create a new and original item, you won’t be granted a patent if it doesn’t benefit anyone.

Patenting an Idea

Ideas are the main cause of misconceptions about patents in general. Every inventor wonders whether they will be able to patent an idea of an invention, thereby protecting it even before the item is created.

The answer to this question is no. Ideas aren’t physical, and therefore cannot be protected by law. This means that it would be wise to keep your thoughts and notes secret until you manage to create a working model of your invention.

If you need to share your idea with someone else, perhaps to get funding, you should draw up a confidentiality agreement in order to protect it from being stolen. It is always best to entrust the writing of the agreement to a specialized attorney. A legal professional will know how to word the document in a way that leaves no loopholes that can be exploited against you.

Once you come up with an idea, you should do a patent search and market study. The results of the patent search will let you know whether there is another invention that is similar to the one you’ve come up with. Studying the market will tell you whether your invention is indeed useful and can fill a void that currently exists.

If the results of your research show that your invention is either not unique or not very useful, you should focus on developing other ideas or improving the one you already have. It will be pointless to keep working on an invention that will not be patented in the future.


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