What Can You Patent? The Landscape of Possibility
3 minute read
April 18, 2024


Companies and innovators have a natural and understandable instinct for protecting their inventions. Once your innovation is ready, you may consider obtaining a patent to protect it. But what sort of innovations can you patent, and which ones are not patentable? 

This is a question we get asked all the time. Just what can you patent, anyway? 

The fundamental issue of patentability 

It’s not just a good question; it may be the fundamental question to ask. Understanding what can be patented is often the key factor for innovators looking to protect their inventions. 

There is a broad scope of subject matter that is considered patentable, yet specific criteria must be met. 

Here, we’ll break down the types of inventions that can be patented, explaining the criteria of patentability and, finally, some of the most common misconceptions about what you can patent. 

Schedule your free consultation with Stanzione & Associates PPLC

What ideas can you patent?

Ideas alone, in their abstract form, cannot be patented. 

However, if an idea is developed into a concrete, useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter that is novel, non-obvious, and has a specific utility, it can be patented. 

This is the distinction to understand in terms of whether an idea is patentable.

What works can be patented?

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recognizes several categories of inventions that can be patented.


These are acts or methods that perform a specific function. This category includes software algorithms, business methods, and technical processes.


Inventions that consist of a combination of parts to form a functional apparatus fall into this category. This can range from simple mechanical devices to complex machinery.


This category encompasses articles that are made by humans or machines. It includes everything from textiles to electronics.

Compositions of matter

This category includes chemical compositions, such as pharmaceuticals and new materials.


Any new and useful improvements of existing inventions in the above categories can also be patented.

Design patents

Apart from these, design patents protect the ornamental design of a functional item, highlighting the visual aspects rather than the utility.

Plant patents

New and distinct varieties of plants that are asexually reproduced can also be patented.

Criteria for patentability

For an invention to be patentable, it must meet three key criteria:

  1. Novelty: Your invention must be new + not previously disclosed to the public
  2. Non-obviousness: The invention must not be an obvious development to someone with ordinary skill in the relevant field
  3. Utility: The invention must be useful

Common misconceptions

It’s important to clarify common misconceptions about what cannot be patented:

  • Natural phenomena: Discoveries of natural substances or laws of nature cannot be patented unless significantly altered or applied in a novel way.
  • Abstract ideas: Mathematical models, theories, or plans without a concrete application are not patentable.
  • Artistic creations: Works of art or literature are protected under copyright law, not patent law.

Expertise in patent law goes a long way

If you’re looking to secure protection for your inventions, the best first place to start is by determining if they can be patented and what kind of patent protection you need. 

A deeper understanding of the broad categories of patentable subject matter means inventors like you can more effectively develop your ideas into patentable inventions. 

The proper protection can help ensure your future innovations as well as your financial future.

Reach out to Stanzione & Associates, PLLC, for a no-obligation consultation about what kind of patent protection your innovations need.

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