Most types of inventions (the term we’ll use for innovative ideas) qualify for a patent if they offer something new (are novel) and are particularly clever (that is, nonobvious). However, some types of inventions do not qualify for a patent, no matter how nonobvious they are. For instance, mathematical formulas, newly discovered laws of nature and newly discovered substances that occur naturally in the world traditionally have been considered to be unpatentable.
When deciding whether an invention qualifies for a patent, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) first must determine whether the invention was novel in some way—that is, a new development in at least one or more of its constituent elements—as of the date the inventor conceived it or when the patent application was filed.
If the PTO determines that the invention was novel, it then must make another more difficult decision: was the invention nonobvious? To make this determination, the PTO asks this question: Would someone who was skilled in the particular field as of the invention date consider the invention to be an unexpected or surprising development?
If the invention is found to be both novel and nonobvious, and it fits within one or more of the five statutory categories discussed earlier (question 3, above), it may qualify to receive a patent.
Among the many types of creative works that might qualify for a patent are: biological inventions; carpet designs; new chemical formulas, processes or procedures; clothing accessories and designs; computer hardware and peripherals; computer software; containers; cosmetics; decorative hardware; electrical inventions; electronic circuits; fabrics; fabric designs; food inventions; furniture design; games (board, box and instructions); housewares; jewelry; laser light shows; machines; magic tricks or techniques; mechanical inventions; medical accessories and devices; medicines; musical instruments; odors; plants; recreational gear; sporting goods (designs and equipment).
Related terms: algorithms; anticipation; building and testing an invention; classification of patents; design around; exhibiting an unpatented invention; experimental use of an unpatented invention; field of invention; fully met by a prior art reference; genetic engineering and patents; Graham v. John Deere case; Internet, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office site; laws of nature exception to patents; naturally occurring substances as nonpatentable; nonobviousness, defined; novelty, defined; obviousness, defined; on sale statutory bar; one-year rule; Patent and Trademark Depository Library; patent search; patent search, computerized; patent searcher; patentability search; patents as prior art; person with ordinary skill in the art; preliminary look at prior art; printed publication as statutory bar; prior art, defined; prior art reference; Software Patent Institute; Statutory Invention Registration (SIR); submarine patent; teach; thesis as prior art.