Protecting an Idea: Can I Patent It?

The short answer to the question is “No.” Ideas by themselves aren’t something that you can patent. However, you can patent something that makes an impact in the real world. When most people mention patents, they’re talking about what the legal profession knows as a utility patent. Protecting an idea with a utility patent can […]



The short answer to the question is “No.” Ideas by themselves aren’t something that you can patent. However, you can patent something that makes an impact in the real world. When most people mention patents, they’re talking about what the legal profession knows as a utility patent. Protecting an idea with a utility patent can be done in four specific cases:

  • If you develop a process that combines steps or methods
  • If you create a machine
  • If you combine materials to make something completely new
  • If you create a drug or a compound that isn’t like anything anyone else has ever seen

If you fit any one of these categories, you can apply for a patent to protect an idea.

The Delineations of What Can be Patented

When protecting an idea, certain things are prime candidates for a patent. However, each patent must follow specific stipulations, such as:

  • The patents you develop can’t be too abstract. For example, if you come up with a particular equation, it can’t be patented by itself. If the equation is used in a process, the process can be patented.
  • Patents don’t cover natural discoveries. For example, an explorer in the Bwindi Impenetrable forest can’t patent a rare flower he/she may discovered. However, if he/she takes that flower back to the lab and crosses it with another rare flower found in a different part of the world and successfully creates a new hybrid flower from it. Then, he/she can patent the hybrid flower because it didn’t exist in nature, and could have only happened through human intervention.
  • You need to have a scope for your patent. If one of your discoveries has the potential to do something, unless you can prove that it can be done, your patent shouldn’t allude to those suggestions as facts.

Requirements for a Patent

Protecting an idea with a patent also carries some other stipulations in addition to what was mentioned above. Patents need to be novel and non-obvious. If an idea is a novel one, it means that no one has ever come up with it before. It must have never been described in a publication or another patent previously filed. A non-obvious invention is one that isn’t immediately apparent to anyone who sees it. There must be a new element to combining the features that make up your invention, or how those aspects are combined.

What About If Another Similar Item Exists?

If your invention or idea isn’t novel, then you have a few recourses:

  • Fight it: If the other invention isn’t designed for the same purpose or isn’t the same as yours, you can fight the decision if someone brings it up.
  • Dodge it: You don’t have to solve the same problem the other patent did. Narrow down your idea, and you’ll manage to avoid running afoul of their concept.
  • Accept it: Sometimes, you just end up inventing something that already exists. You have to accept it and go back to the drawing board.

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