You’ve come up with a great new invention and want to patent it to protect your intellectual property. But how can you know if your invention is actually patentable? There are a few key criteria the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) uses to determine if an invention qualifies for a utility patent. This article will walk through the patentability requirements and help you evaluate your invention’s eligibility.
What Is Patentable?
The USPTO grants utility patents for inventions that are:
- Useful: The invention must have a useful purpose and be operable.
- Novel: The invention cannot be identical to existing inventions or patented products.
- Non-obvious: The invention cannot simply be an obvious variation of previous inventions to someone knowledgeable in that field. It needs to be sufficiently distinct.
In addition, the invention must fall into one of the categories eligible for patent protection:
- Articles of manufacture
- Compositions of matter
- New uses of any of the above
Software and business methods may be patentable if they meet all the requirements. Ideas alone and natural phenomena cannot be patented. The invention also needs to be fully described in your application.
Evaluate Your Invention
When assessing your invention’s eligibility, ask yourself these key questions:
Is it useful?
- Does it have a specific purpose or solve a problem? Patents are not awarded for ideas alone. There needs to be a well-defined application.
Is it novel?
- Is this exact invention already publicly known or patented? It must be demonstrably new and not identical to previous inventions.
- Has it been publicly disclosed anywhere prior to your filing date? This includes publications, prior sales, trade shows, websites, and more. These may disqualify you.
Is it non-obvious?
- Does your invention merely combine existing technologies? It needs to be more than an obvious next step that simply aggregates previous innovations.
- Would this be easily conceived by an expert in the field? If so, it is likely ineligible. There must be a non-obvious innovation.
- Does it utilize unexpected results or unconventional techniques? Unique, unpredictable solutions often indicate non-obviousness.
- Can you fully describe the invention in writing? The patent application must completely explain how to make and use the invention to the satisfaction of the patent office.
- Does it fall into one of the eligible categories? Refer to the list above. Some subject matter like abstract ideas cannot be patented.
If you can answer “yes” to the key questions and meet all the criteria, your invention may be patentable!
Next Steps After Evaluating Patentability
If you determine your invention is likely patentable, these are important next steps:
- Do patent searches: Thoroughly search existing patents to ensure you aren’t overlapping with anyone else’s protected intellectual property. The USPTO provides free patent searching tools.
- Document everything: Keep detailed notes, diagrams, descriptions, and records of your invention process, especially documenting dates. These will be necessary for the patent application.
- Hire a registered patent attorney or agent: They can professionally handle your application and correspond with the USPTO. Working with an experienced professional is highly recommended.
The patent process may take upwards of two years, so be patient. But if approved, a utility patent gives you 20 years of exclusive rights to your unique invention! Reach out to the USPTO or an attorney if you need guidance on the application process.