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Hmm. Can that be patented?

You've just invented the greatest thing since the dawn of man. Now what? If you're an inventor or small business owner in Minnesota or South Dakota, your next step should be to find out if your creation is patentable.

In essence, a patent protects a product or invention from being made, sold, used or imported into the U.S. without the inventor's express consent or license. A patent is the best - and sometimes only - way to protect the hard work you've put into your invention.

But not everything can be patented. Let's take a look at a few rules regarding what can and cannot be patented.

What things cannot be patented?

To help understand what can be patented, let's first look at what cannot be patented.

  • Anything that is already patented -- Because the number of existing patents is so astronomical, it's important to perform a thorough patent search before investing time and money into applying for a new patent. Conducting a patent search can be a daunting undertaking, and it's often best to have a patent law firm perform the search for you to make sure it's thorough and complete.
  • Anything that is obvious or already in use -- If your invention claim is already in use, has been described in the "prior art," or is in any way available to the public, it's not eligible for a patent.
  • Ideas cannot be patented -- Even if your idea is completely new and novel, it is not patentable. Ideas by themselves -- no matter how ingenious -- cannot be patented.

What things can be patented?

As long as your invention claim doesn't fall into one of the categories listed above, the following items may be eligible for patent protection:

  • Processes and methods -- Descriptions of a specific process or method of doing something -- such as a new way to mix or pour something -- may be patentable.
  • Machines -- New machines with a utilitarian purpose and working parts or circuitry can be patented.
  • Manufactured items -- Even if an invention has no moving parts, it can be patented as a manufactured item.
  • New composition of existing items -- If the invention claim is a composition of existing items that have been put together in a novel way to perform something new, it can be patentable. For example, if an invention is a collection of nuts and bolts and gears, but they have been changed in some material way and perform a particular purpose, it could be patentable.

The best way to find out for certain if an invention is patentable is to contact an experienced patent attorney who can conduct a patent search to determine whether an existing patent covers your invention. If there is no prior art, the sky might just be the limit.

Don't risk losing your intellectual property rights by failing to act.

Register for patent, trademark or copyright protection by calling Kaufhold & Dix at 612-216-1161.

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Edina, MN 55439

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Sioux Falls, SD 57108

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