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6 things you cannot patent

A patent is a very useful tool to protect inventions and other such developments. It ensures that the person who actually made that development has a right to it and cannot see their ideas stolen by a third party for profit when that third party did none of the work to create it in the first place. In this sense, patents are a way to drive innovation in the United States. For many companies, most of their value actually comes from the patents they hold.

That said, you cannot patent everything. Per the U.S. government, here are six things you cannot patent:

  1. A law of nature
  2. An abstract idea
  3. Physical phenomena
  4. An invention that is not useful
  5. An invention that is "offensive to public morality"
  6. A work that is artistic, dramatic, musical or literary

Now, a few notes about the above. First of all, it is clear that there is some room for interpretation. Someone has to decide if an invention is offensive to public morality, and not everyone is going to agree on exactly what that means. This can lead to disputes.

Secondly, just because you cannot patent artistic works does not mean you can't protect them. Instead of a patent, what you need is a copyright. This gives you the exclusive right to that work. Though similar, there are some stark differences between patents and copyrights, which is why they are divided up in this fashion.

Do you have any questions about how patent law works? Make sure you know what steps to take and exactly what legal options you have.

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