Patents — What Can and Cannot be Patented?

Under the British government law, you can patent an idea or an invention if it follows these three basic criteria:

  • It is new
  • It can be created or utilised
  • It is innovative

Let us delve deeper into the details about the patent regulations.

What Can be Patented?

Patents can cover areas like machine tools, a production process, a composition, or a better upgrade to an invention that currently exists. However, the patents should meet the legal definition of ‘novel’, have a useful purpose and patentable subject matter, and be inventive. There are certain requirements that should be met in order to receive a patent.

What Legal Requirements should be Met in Order to Get a Patent?

When you are applying for a patent, you will be asked to follow certain rules. In order to comply with them, you need to describe or display your invention in an easily comprehensible format. You don’t need to provide a prototype—a blueprint that outlines all details will work just fine.

Here are some things that you need to know.

1. Patentable Subject Matter

Ideas in an unstructured form cannot be patented. For instance, if you have an innovative solution to a recurring problem in a certain industry, you cannot simply have it patented. You first need to convert it into a patentable subject matter. These are the five areas considered “patentable subject matter” and your idea should be embodied into any one of these:

  • A plat type existing through asexual reproduction
  • A novel composition
  • A machine
  • A process
  • A tool   


These are a few examples of what can be patented:

  • Advancements in the internet
  • Computer accessories and hardware
  • Computer software
  • Corporate methods
  • Games
  • Jewellery
  • Machines
  • Magic tricks
  • Makeup
  • Musical instruments
  • Perfumes
  • Plants
  • Sportsitems

2.The Requirement of Novelty

Your idea must be new in order to be considered patentable. It should differ from prior art, which includes:

  • Ideas/methods listed in the public domain
  • Items on sale
  • Previous patents
  • Publications, or published applications

Another requirement in novelty of a patent is the one year rule: if you sell your invention or publish it in the public domain, you are required to apply for a patent no longer than one year after the first sale or the date it was first published.

3. The Requirement of Useful Purpose

The invention must have a useful purpose in order to be considered as a patent. This means that an invention must accomplish something—it must produce a productive result.

Generally, almost all inventions pass this test. The only exceptions being:

  • When the underlying logic is seriously flawed
  • When the invention is illegal or highly dangerous

Note: Design patents are exempt from this requirement.

4. The Requirement of Inventive

The invention must meet the requirement of being inventive, i.e., the people skilled in the field that the idea is presented, should not consider it as an obvious solution. For instance, an idea that makes use of combining two inventions would not be considered inventive, but an invention that provides an innovative solution which is not included in prior art would be considered as inventive.

This is the most difficult standard to meet due to its subjective nature. Something that seems novel to one expert in the field may not be inventive to another expert in the same field. Moreover, time can also be a factor in considering which patents are inventive and which are not.

What Cannot be Patented?

As mentioned above, an unstructured idea cannot be patented, irrespective of its usefulness and innovation. It should be put to paper or created in a format that can be considered as verbal or visual proof of a concept.

However, if an idea is converted into a blueprint, they can still be rejected if they are the following:

  • Mathematical formulae
  • Laws of nature
  • Substances found in nature
  • Scientific principles
  • Processes that comprise of physical activity
  • Surgical procedures
  • Dangerous drugs
  • Inventions that can be used for criminal purposes
  • Inventions that violate any existing scientific laws

Note: One exemption to this rule is the mathematical formula. While you cannot get a patent for creating a formula, you can get one for its usage in a specific area. For instance, if you create a formula that can be applied in a mechanical industry, you can get a patent for it being used in the automotive industry.

Getting a patent is no walk in the park. You need to make sure that your invention does not match any prior act, and can stand the test of being inventive. Improve your chances of getting a patent by hiring a patent attorney. They will ensure that you follow all guidelines, and the process goes as smoothly as possible. And our experts will be happy to alleviate all your patent-related troubles.

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Disclaimer: The information and commentary on this website is provided for information purposes only. The information, and commentary on this website does not, and is not intended to, amount to business or legal advice. We aim to make sure the information on our website, whether provided by ourselves or contributed by third parties, is accurate at the date of publication. However, some information you find on our website, particularly information relating to the law, may be time sensitive and can sometimes change after the date of publication.

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