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, can be obtained to protect many ideas that are not physical objects. In this post, we discuss several types of inventions which has potential to get a patent.
A device: A physical item that most people relate to as an invention. A teleporter, time machine, ray gun. You can patent an the components of the device and how it is put together.
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.
It is important to note, however, that an idea without details in generally cannot be patented. For example, “time travel” is an idea but unless you know exactly how it will work, it is still an undeveloped idea with no concrete details. The Patent Office will require full disclosure of exactly how the idea works in order to determine if the invention warrants a patent. Without such detail, the idea will be considered indefinite and not eligible for a patent.
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. A patent search is often the first step to determining the patentability of an invention before deciding to proceed with a patent application.