What can a patent cover? What does it not cover?A guide to what can or cannot be patented.
A granted patent gives the right to prevent another from practising the invention covered in the patent claims. Typically the claims cover how an invention or a product works, what they do, how they do it, what materials they are made from and/or how they are manufactured. A granted patent gives the owner the right to prevent others from making, using, importing or selling the invention without their permission and is a legally enforceable document typically renewable for up to 20 years.
To qualify for patent protection in much of the world the invention must:
- be new
- have an inventive step that is not obvious to someone with knowledge in the subject
- be capable of being made or used in some kind of industry
- a scientific or mathematical discovery, theory or method
- a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work
- a way of playing a game or doing business
- a method of medical treatment or diagnosis
- against public policy or morality.
In addition the invention must not be:
- nothing more than an abstract idea
- law of nature
- or natural phenomenon
In some cases a registration of the design (a Design Patent in the US) may be more helpful and also cheaper. If the visual appearance is the most (or only) important factor in your new idea or for how it does its job then there are unlikely to be any other ways of visualising the idea this could be applicable.
Many new ideas are launched with very little protection but under a strong trademark. Confidentiality (or ‘non-disclosure’) agreements are also likely to be of use but may be difficult to get signed or to enforce.
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