Qualifying for a Patent

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Regardless of whether a new invention is a drug, a computer program, or a golf club, the U.S. Patent and Trademark office USPTO requires that it meet four patent requirements. The invention must fit into one of the statutory classifications and it must be useful, novel, and nonobvious. In this section, we discuss these legal requirements and an important concept known as “prior art.” We also discuss activities or factors that may disqualify an inventor from obtaining a patent. This section primarily deals with the standards and requirements for utility patents.

Keep in mind that more than half of all inventions submitted to the USPTO don’t receive a patent. These inventions fail to meet one of the four qualifying patent requirements:

  • Statutory Class. The invention must fit into one of five classes established by Congress. (35 U.S.C. Sec.101.) These classes are: processes (method), machines, articles of manufacture, compositions, or “new uses” of one of the first four.
  • Useful. The invention must be useful. (35 U.S.C. Sec.101.)
  • Novelty. The invention must be novel. That is, the invention must have an aspect that is different in some way from all previous knowledge and inventions. (35 U.S.C. Sec.102.)
  • Nonobvious. The invention must not be obvious from the standpoint of someone who has ordinary skill in the specific technology involved in the invention. (35 U.S.C. Sec.103.)

Most inventions meet three of these standards; that is, they fit within at least one statutory class, have utility, and possess novelty. The last requirement, nonobviousness, is a relatively high step for most applicants because most of the inventions that fail to receive a patent are rejected because the PTO believes the invention is obvious. We discuss these standards and more.