Does My Idea Qualify for a Patent?

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Is your idea appropriate for patenting? Here are six questions to ask yourself to help you find out if your idea might qualify for a patent, and some tips to help you out. (Note: this applies to utility patents, which cover the majority of inventions.)

1. Is My Idea Too Natural or Too Abstract?

Determine that your idea is not one of the following: a law of nature, physical phenomena or abstract idea. This means, for example, that you can't patent math, herbs as a new medicine or lightening.

2. Is My Idea a Work of Art, In the Literal Sense?

Determine that your idea is also not a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work. These can be copyright protected but not patented.

3. Does My Invention Make Sense?

Decide if your invention is useful. The term useful means that your idea will have a useful purpose and will be operative. That is, a machine which will not operate to perform the intended purpose would not be called useful.

4. Is My Idea Too Offensive?

To the best of your ability, decide if your invention is not offensive to public morality. If it is intended for only illegal purposes it will fall into this category.

5. Is My Idea Truly New?

Determine if it is novel. No one else can have known, used, patented or described in printed publication the invention before you did, in the U.S or abroad.

6. Does Anyone Else Know About My Idea?

Ditto for yourself for step 5—no public disclosure more than one year prior to your application for a U.S. patent.

7. Is My Idea Unique? 

The invention must be sufficiently different (non-obvious)—a surprising and significant development to a person having skill in the same technology field as your product. You can invent another mousetrap, if it is a better one.

8. Is My Idea Realistic?

Ask yourself if your invention can be adequately described or enabled—can someone in the same field make and use it?

9. Is My Clear and Complete?

Can you make your claim to the invention in clear and definite terms? A patent cannot be obtained upon a mere idea or suggestion and to obtain a patent, you need to be able to describe all aspects of your invention.

10. Did I Invent This Myself?

Only the inventor can apply for the patent. There are some exceptions—if the inventor is dead, insane or refuses to file and is under contract to others.

Other Tips to Determine Whether Your Idea Qualifies for a Patent

  1. Utility patents are for either a: process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter or an improvement of any of the above.
  2. Patent protection is also available for (1) ornamental design of an article of manufacture (design patent) or (2) asexually reproduced plant varieties by design and plant patents (plant patent).
  3. Determine if your invention is novel by doing a "prior art" or patent search, find out if someone else has already patented your idea. An inventor or hired professional can conduct a search of the USPTO records.