The patent law specifies the general field of subject matter that can be
patented and the conditions under which a patent may be obtained.
In the language of the 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,” subject to the
conditions and requirements of the law. The word “process” is defined by law as
a process, act or method, and primarily includes industrial or technical
processes. The term “machine” used in the statute needs no explanation. The term
“manufacture” refers to articles which are made, and includes all manufactured
articles. The term “composition of matter” relates to chemical compositions and
may include mixtures of ingredients as well as new chemical compounds. These
classes of subject matter taken together include practically everything which is
made by man and the processes for making the products.
The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 excludes the patenting of inventions useful solely
in the utilization of special nuclear material or atomic energy for atomic
The patent law specifies that the subject matter must be “useful.” The term
“useful” in this connection refers to the condition that the subject matter has
a useful purpose and also includes operativeness, that is, a machine which will
not operate to perform the intended purpose would not be called useful, and
therefore would not be granted a patent.
Interpretations of the statute by the courts have defined the limits of the
field of subject matter which can be patented, thus it has been held that the
laws of nature, physical phenomena and abstract ideas are not patentable subject
A patent cannot be obtained upon a mere idea or suggestion. The patent is
granted upon the new machine, manufacture, etc., as has been said, and not upon
the idea or suggestion of the new machine. A complete description of the actual
machine or other subject matter for which a patent is sought is required.
According to the law, only the inventor may apply for a patent, with certain
exceptions. If a person who is not the inventor should apply for a patent, the
patent, if it were obtained, would be invalid. The person applying in such a
case who falsely states that he/she is the inventor would also be subject to
criminal penalties. If the inventor is dead, the application may be made by
legal representatives, that is, the administrator or executor of the estate. If
the inventor is insane, the application for patent may be made by a guardian. If
an inventor refuses to apply for a patent or cannot be found, a joint inventor
or a person having a proprietary interest in the invention may apply on behalf
of the non-signing inventor.
If two or more persons make an invention jointly, they apply for a patent as
joint inventors. A person who makes a financial contribution is not a joint
inventor and cannot be joined in the application as an inventor. It is possible
to correct an innocent mistake in erroneously omitting an inventor or in
erroneously naming a person as an inventor.
Officers and employees of the Patent and Trademark Office are prohibited by law
from applying for a patent or acquiring, directly or indirectly, except by
inheritance or bequest, any patent or any right or interest in any patent.
(Excerpted from General Information Concerning Patents print brochure,
Matthew G. McKinney, Attorney
121 S. Orange Ave., Suite 1500
Orlando, FL 32801