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Can You Patent Your Invention?

Suppose you’ve created an innovative product — a “better mousetrap” — and now you want to have the invention patented to protect your rights. To qualify for a utility patent, which is the most common type granted, the invention must be:


 Historical  Patents 


 Years  Granted


1st U.S. patent for manufacturing potash, used in soapmaking (Samual Hopkins)


Cotton gin (Eli Whitney)


Firearm (Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson)


A process of brewing beer and ale (Louis Pasteur)


Electric lamp (Thomas Edison)


Cash register (James Ritty and John Birch)


Ballpoint pen (John Loud)


Washing machine (Mildred Lord)


“System of distribution by alternating current” or A/C power (Charles Steinmetz)


Acetyl salicylic acid or aspirin (Felix Hoffman)


Self-starting automobile engine (Charles Kettering)


“Diver’s suit” (Harry Houdini)


1st fruit tree patent for a peach tree (James Markham)


1st electric razor (Colonel Jacob Schick)


Television (Philo Farnsworth)


“Monopoly” game (Charles Darrow)


Antibiotic for typhoid (Crooks, Rebstock, Controalis and Bartz)  


Hula-hoop (Arthur Melin)


Calculating apparatus, basic component of computer technology (An Wang)


Combination smoke-heat detector alarm (Sidney Jacoby)


Artificial heart (Robert Jarvik)


Digital voice mail system (Matthews, Tansil and Fannin)


Method and apparatus for painting highway markings (William Hartman)


Design patent for swimming pool leaf/ debris removal net (Ross Clay)

  • A process or method for producing a useful, concrete, and tangible result.
  • A machine (a device having moving parts or circuitry).
  • A manufactured product.
  • A composition of matter (such as a chemical compound).

In addition, any improvement of an existing invention within one of the above four categories may qualify for a patent.

If your invention meets one of these definitions, it may be approved as a patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office if it has utility (some usefulness), is unique in some important way, and is “non-obvious” to an expert in the field.

On the other hand, certain inventions do not qualify for patent approval, no matter how creative they are. Generally, you can’t patent applications or scientific principles that are purely theoretical in nature. The list of non-patentable inventions includes:

  • Processes relating entirely to human motor coordination (such as choreographed dance routines).
  • Most methods for human surgery.
  • Printed matter with no unique physical shape or structure associated with it.
  • Non-operable inventions.
  • Inventions used for illegal or unlawful activities.

Business method patents: If your company does business in a way that’s unique, you may be able to patent your methods with a relatively new form of intellectual property protection.

By filing a business method patent, you can prevent rivals from stealing your novel approach. And if you are granted the patent, you have the exclusive right to the business method for the regular patent life-span. This type of protection is generally sought by companies that have developed processes using the Internet and technology.

In addition to types of patents described above, there are also design and plant patents. Design patents guard the unauthorized use of new, original, and ornamental designs for manufactured articles. For example, the look of an athletic shoe could be protected by a design patent.

Plant patents protect certain varieties that are invented or discovered. Examples are Hybrid tea roses and Better Boy tomatoes.

Do two people ever have the same idea and both apply for patents? The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reports that it sometimes happens. It two patent applications are received for the same invention, the cases goes into an interference proceeding. There, a board determines the first inventor, who may be entitled to a patent, based on information from the applicants. This is one of the reasons why inventors should keep good records.

Since the first patent was granted in the U.S. in 1790, American inventors have improved lives in countless ways. If you are interested in joining them, your patent attorney can provide an assessment of whether a specific invention can be patented or not.