Patent FAQs

What is a Patentable Invention?

The rules governing what is “patentable” vary slightly from one country to another. Most inventions are new machines, products or industrial processes, and these generally can be patented. However aesthetic creations, or scientific discoveries without specified application, cannot be patented. Things that exist in nature, which are discovered and not invented, machines that defy the laws of nature, scientific theories or mathematical methods cannot be patented.

The patent law has been updated in Europe to reflect advances in the fast moving areas of biotechnology and computer software. According to recent changes in the legislation, biological material isolated from its natural environment or produced by a technical process may be the subject of invention even if it previously occurred in nature. However, the human body or human genes cannot be patented. Computer program products could be patentable if they resulted in additional technical effects which went beyond the “normal” physical interaction between software and hardware associated with running the program.

In the USA, one can patent a computer program, an animal and a variety of plant. This is not so in other countries, although alternative protection may be obtained in some cases through Registered Designs or the laws of Copyright.

In general a patent will be granted for an invention so long as it :

  • is new or “novel”: the invention must never have been made in public in any way, anywhere, before the date on which the application for a patent is filed.
  • involves an inventive or “unobvious” step: this step must not be obvious to others with good knowledge and experience of the subject of the invention.
  • is capable of industrial/useful application: an invention must be capable of being made or used in some kind of industry

This document Copyright Thomson Scientific © 2004

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