What can be patented?

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Updated: 4/13/2007 3:36 pm
According to patent law, you can receive a patent if you create a 'new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter.' Let's look at each of those terms: A process applies mostly to manufacturing. If you figure out a more efficient way to make something, whether it's furniture or peanut butter, you could be eligible for a patent. If you invent a machine that does it, that can also be patented. 'Composition of matter' generally refers to a mixture of ingredients or a new chemical compound. If you discover a more effective cleaning product, fertilizer, or gasoline additive, it might qualify for a patent. Recent advances in genetic engineering have even resulted in patents being granted for genetically altered life forms. In order to qualify for a patent, your product or process must be useful, even in the most trivial sense. It has to have novelty, meaning that it must be different in some way from existing products. A fairly recent development is that the product must be non-obvious. Merely changing the size or material from which a current product is made seldom qualifies. Finally, the Atomic Energy Act prohibits you from patenting an atomic bomb or other nuclear device.
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