According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (), and patent laws that date back to 1790, a patent can be granted to any person who “invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.” There’s a lot to break down there, so let’s talk about the specifics.
- A “process” is any process, act, or method, and is primarily used at this point to cover industrial or technical processes.
- A “machine” and a “manufacture” refers to, well, machines and all manufactured articles. Those are pretty self-explanatory.
- A “composition of matter” has been understood to mean chemical compositions, and may also include mixtures of ingredients as well as new chemical compounds.
This list essentially includes anything man-made, as well as the processes for making the products.
On the flip side, there are a few things that have been found by the courts not be patentable. Laws of nature, for example, are not covered, since no one can patent something that is accessible to everyone. Same with physical phenomena. Inventions which are considered not useful or possible cannot be patented, because one of the requirements to be granted a patent is that the item is useful. Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works are not subject to patents because they are covered by other areas of intellectual property law.