Patentable Subject Matter

Patent law specifies the general field of subject matter that may be patented
as well as the conditions under which a patent may be obtained. In the language
of the applicable statute, any person who “invents or discovers any new and
useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and
useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent.” Under law, patents are granted
on new inventions of — or useful improvements on — things in the following
categories:

Process – A process is an act or method, which primarily
includes industrial or technical processes. This is a mode of treatment of
materials to produce a result. It is an act or series of acts performed on the
subject to be transformed and modified to a different or improved state.

Machine – A machine is a mechanically, electrically, or
electronically operated device for performing a task. In patent law, the term is
synonymous with mechanism, device, engine, or apparatus.

Manufacture – Manufacture refers to an article that is
human-made from raw materials. This covers products other than machines and
compositions of matter, including all manufactured articles.

Composition of Matter – Composition of matter refers to
chemical and metallurgical compositions and may include certain mixtures of
ingredients as well as new chemical compounds.

The above classes of subject matter taken together include nearly everything
that is made by man and the processes for making the products.

Exclusions

  • The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 excludes the patenting of inventions used
    solely in the utilization of special nuclear material or atomic energy for
    atomic weapons.
  • The laws of nature, physical phenomena and abstract ideas are not patentable
    subject matter.
  • A patent may not be obtained upon a mere idea or suggestion. A patent is
    granted upon the new machine, manufacture, etc., not upon the idea or suggestion
    of a new machine. A complete description of the actual machine or other subject
    matter for which a patent is sought is required.
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