Patent FAQ

What can and cannot be patented?

What can be patented – utility patents are provided for a new, nonobvious and useful:

  • Process
  • Machine
  • Article of manufacture
  • Composition of matter
  • Improvement of any of the above

Note: In addition to utility patents, encompassing one of the categories above, patent protection is available for (1) ornamental design of an article of manufacture or (2) asexually reproduced plant varieties by design and plant patents.

What cannot be patented:

  • Laws of nature
  • Physical phenomena
  • Abstract ideas
  • Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works (these can be Copyright protected). Go to the Copyright Office .
  • Inventions which are:
    • Not useful (such as perpetual motion machines); or
    • Offensive to public morality

Invention must also be:

  • Novel
  • Nonobvious
  • Adequately described or enabled (for one of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention)
  • Claimed by the inventor in clear and definite terms
Patent FAQ

Who can apply for a patent?

A patent may be applied for only in the name(s) of the actual inventor(s).

Patent FAQ

What is a patent?

A patent is a limited duration property right relating to an invention, granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for public disclosure of the invention.

Patent FAQ

How do I apply for a patent?

Inventors may apply for one of two types of patent applications: (1) A nonprovisional application, which begins the examination process and may lead to a patent and (2) A provisional application, which establishes a filing date but does not begin the examination process. Both types of patent applications can be filed either electronically by using the Electronic Filing System (EFS) (for provisional applications, effective January 1, 2002) or in writing to the Commissioner for Patents. You can also request that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) send informational materials providing a broad overview of the process of obtaining a United States patent, including general requirements and a listing of the depository libraries. For a listing of the information available, visit the USPTO Web site at

Patent FAQ

How do I know if my invention is patentable?

First, review the list of what can and cannot be patented and determine if your invention falls into one of those categories.

Second, learn the basics of the patenting process from the materials provided by the USPTO at 800-PTO-9199 or 703-308-HELP or under “General Information.” .

Next, a search of all previous public disclosures (prior art) including, but not limited to previously patented inventions in the U.S. (prior art) should be conducted to determine if your invention has been publicly disclosed and thus is not patentable. A search of foreign patents and printed publications should also be conducted. While a search of the prior art before the filing of an application is not required, it is advisable to do so. A registered attorney or agent is often a useful resource for performance of a patentability search. After an application is filed, the USPTO will conduct a search as part of the official examination process. Conducting a thorough patent search is difficult, particularly for the novice. Patent searching is a learned skill. The best advice for the novice is to contact the nearest Patent and Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) and seek out search experts to help in setting up a search strategy. If you are in the Washington, D.C., area, the USPTO provides public access to collections of patents, trademarks, and other documents at its Search Facilities located in Alexandria, Virginia. These facilities are open weekdays (except holidays) from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

We have provided links to the site below because it has information that may be of interest to our users. The USPTO does not necessarily endorse the views expressed or the facts presented on this site. Further, the USPTO does not endorse any commercial products that may be advertised or available on this site.

It is possible, however difficult, for you to conduct your own search. For an introduction to patent searching for the novice please refer to the Patent and Trademark Depository at the Richard W. McKinney Engineering Library, the University of Texas at Austin . Although some of the instructions given here may be unique to the Austin library and the focus of this introduction is on the Cassis CD-ROM products, the fundamentals of patent searching remain the same for any location.

You should not assume that your invention has not been patented even if you find no evidence of it being publicly disclosed. It’s important to remember that a thorough examination at the USPTO may uncover U.S. and foreign patents as well as non-patent literature.

Patent FAQ

What are the various options for filing a petition for expedited foreign filing license?

A petition for an expedited foreign filing license based on a pending patent application (37 CFR 5.14), or for material not related to any pending application (37 CFR 5.13), may be filed by:  (1) facsimile transmission; (2) regular mail; (3) hand-delivery to the Customer Service Window; or (4) the USPTO patent electronic filing systems (EFS-Web or Patent Center) if an application is on file.  Filing via facsimile transmission (fax) is highly encouraged.

Facsimiles must be sent to: 571-270-9959.

Hand delivery to Licensing and Review in the Knox Building is temporarily unavailable for so long as the USPTO headquarters campus remains closed to the public. Currently, hand deliveries may be made at the Customer Service Window in the Randolph Building, located at 401 Dulany Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.

Requests submitted by regular mail must be addressed to:
Mail Stop: L&R
Commissioner for Patents
P.O. Box 1450
Alexandria, VA 22313-1450

All licenses will be mailed to the appropriate correspondence address, and a courtesy copy may be provided by facsimile if such notification is requested.

If you have any questions about filing a petition for an expedited foreign filing license or the status of such a petition, please call 571-272-8203.