Lemelson-MIT Program
Who We Are Awards Outreach News
Invention Dimension Search Site Map Contact Us
Inventor's Handbook

Chapter 2:
What Can Be Patented?

Patents are products of the legal system. As such, they apply only to inventions, and then only if the invention falls within legally defined categories. Anything outside these categories cannot be patented. The U.S. has a “first to invent” policy regarding invention, meaning that the first originator of an invention receives credit for it. The first person to patent an invention will not receive credit unless they were also the first to invent it. Also, in the United States you have 12 months from the first enabling disclosure, in which you describe your invention in significant detail so that someone reasonably skilled in your field can reproduce your invention, without undue experimentation to actually claim your invention in a patent application.

In the United States, the date that is 12 months from the date of the first enabling public disclosure is the bar date for filing a patent application. If an application is not filed before or on the bar date, the invention is generally no longer patentable. In most foreign countries, however, patent rights to an invention are generally destroyed if an inventor does not file a patent application before the invention’s first enabling public disclosure, in the United States or overseas. The three legal classes of patentability are:

Utility Patents: Granted to inventions that involve a new and useful process, device, machine, manufactured item, chemical compound or formula. Utility patents, which apply to virtually anything that can be made, are granted for a period of 20 years from the date of filing a patent application, after which the patent to an invention becomes public property.

Design Patent: Granted to a new, original or ornamental design for a manufactured item. Patents on ornamental designs last 14 years, and they protect only the appearance of the item.

Plant Patent: Granted to an invented or discovered new plant variety that can be asexually reproduced. Plant patents are granted for a 20-year period.

Also, the United States allows its inventors to file provisional patent applications. Provisional patent applications are described in Chapter 6.


Invention Dimension
Inventor of the Week Inventor of the Week
Inventor's Handbook Inventor's Handbook
Games & Trivia Games & Trivia
Links & Resources Links & Resources