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You can potentially patent any idea that is novel, non-obvious, and useful.
We like to use the term idea instead of invention because many people strictly interpret the word invention as a physical item such as a light bulb. Patents, however, are used to protect many ideas that are not directly connected to a physical object. Everything below has the potential to obtain a patent through a patent application.
A device: What most people easily relate to as patentable. A teleporter, time machine, ray gun. You can patent an item that performs a function.
A design: You can patent the look, form, and structure of a functional item. A few things you could patent include designs for jewelry, clothing, furniture, a beverage container, even a computer icon. Thought of a new design for a watch faceplate? A creative outfit? A modern-looking chair? With design patent rights, nobody can use or import your design for 15 years unless you sell or license those rights. A famous design patent is Coca-Cola's unique bottle shape. Read our article on design patents for more information.
A business method: You can patent a way of doing business. A famous business method patent is Amazon's 1-click buying which allows customers to purchase items and have them shipped with just 1 click. MercExchange LLC sued eBay for infringing on a business method patent with eBay's 'Buy-it-Now' feature. Netflix sued Blockbuster Online for using a patented business method for having an online queue of movies to rent. These examples of famous business methods show that a method of doing something can be patented as well.
A software: Software for computers or for other hardware has a unique process of performing a function and can be patented.
A formula: A formula could be the underlying process that creates a new drug or substance. It could cure a disease, be a stronger glue, or simply output an informational calculation. The formula and the process behind using the formula can be patented.
A process: A process of performing a task or function which creates a result has potential to be patented. It may need to be applied to something tangible such as a machine or computer. A patent professional would help you develop such an idea.
A recipe: A recipe involves a method of creating a product and therefore can be patented as long as it includes a unique process which makes it novel and non-obvious.
An architectural building design: The design of a building fits the criteria for a design patent and can be patented.
Other Ideas: Any idea that does not seem to readily fall in one of the categories above could still be patented. If it is novel, non-obvious, and useful, a patent professional may be able to help you develop it in a way that can be patented.
Do not give up on your idea because you think it is out of the scope of patent protection. Furthermore, do not make a preliminary decision as to whether your idea meets the patenting requirements of being novel, non-obvious, and useful. Many times, an individual's interpretation of patentability is completely different than that of the US Patent Office or a patent professional. Give us a call and we will be happy to set you up with a free consultation with a professional.