Utility patents cover processes, machines, articles of manufacture, compositions of matter, or improvements thereof. Methods of doing business are generally not patentable unless they involve a process of handling some material or pieces of information. In order for an idea to be patentable it must be:
- Novel as defined by the U.S. patent laws (U.S. Code, Title 35);
- Unobvious; that is, it would not have been obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the art at the time the invention was made;
- Not known or used by others in this country, or patented or described in a printed publication in any country prior to the invention; and
- Not have been patented or described in a printed publication in any country, or in public use or on sale in this country more than one year prior to the filing date of the patent application.
Section 101 of Title 35 of the United States Code states that “any new and useful process, machine, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof” can be the subject of a patent. This can include new devices, new methods or processes, improvements in existing devices or methods, methods of doing business, software, new uses of existing technology, Internet methods of doing business, recipes, formulas, and systems.
Section 100 of Title 35 of the United States Code defines the word “process” as meaning a process art or method, and includes a new use for a known invention.
Things which do not qualify for patent protection include: scientific principles, mathematical processes, mental steps, printed matter, naturally occurring articles, mere aggregations of unrelated parts (a pencil with an eraser at one end is considered such an aggregation), and “any invention or discovery which is useful solely in the utilization of special nuclear material or atomic energy in an atomic weapon.” (42 USC § 2181(a)).