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From Cloning to Perpetual Motion Machines: What Cannot Be Patented

Is there anything these days that can’t be patented? The answer is yes. There are many things that fall under the patent-ineligible subject matter, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). These include:

Laws of Nature

Because these are considered to be basic tools of technological and scientific work, granting any such patent rights could impede further innovation. One example of this is gravity. Additional examples identified by the Supreme Court include:

  • cloned farm animal such as a sheep
  • electromagnetism to transmit signals
  • mathematical equations (not even Einstein was able to patent his equation on relativity)

Physical or Natural Phenomenon

As with Laws of Nature, physical or natural phenomenon is naturally occurring (volcanos, wave actions) or is similar to what occurs in nature, and therefore part of common knowledge and free for all to know and use. These are also referred to as scientific principles, natural laws, and products of nature. For example, a newly discovered mineral cannot be patented by any one person or company.

Abstract Ideas

Ideas alone cannot be patented. According to the USPTO, patents can be provided for processes, machines, articles of manufacture, the composition of matter, and improvements to any of these. An idea must be expanded into a process, or one of the other mentions in order for it to be patentable.

Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works

These types of works require a different kind of registration for protection and involve a separate application process in the U.S. Copyright Office.

Inventions which are not useful

Patentability depends on if there is a specific, substantial, and credible use for the invention. In other words, the invention must provide some type of identifiable benefit and is capable of being used. This prevents hypothetical type devices or processes, such as perpetual motion machines, from being patented.

Inventions that are Offensive to Public Morality

Inventions that are deemed offensive to public morality will be rejected by the USPTO. This restriction may be used to curtail controversial biotechnology invention patent applications, as well as others.

Patent Law and patentability parameters are constantly being reviewed, and are often challenged in court. However, guidelines for the patent-ineligible subject matter, as described above, guide the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in their review of patent applications. Keep these in mind before applying for your first, or your next patent. If you have any questions or concerns, reach out to your patent attorneys or patent agent for advice.