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Four Things To Know About Patents and the MPEP

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Patents are the method inventors use to protect their rights to their discoveries and creations. The Constitution of the United States authorizes Congress to enact laws to enable creative people to protect their inventions from others who might try to steal their discoveries. Today, the patent laws and the process for protecting inventions has become so complex that the “Manual of Patent Examining Procedure,” or MPEP as it is also known, has become the go-to guide for anyone attempting to obtain a patent in this country.

Broad language makes patents obtainable on many things

The first patent laws passed by Congress in 1790, just three years after the adoption of the Constitution, have undergone many revisions over the years. The most recent revision was in 1999 when the American Inventors Protection Act was signed into law.

The law allows a person to obtain a patent for any invention or discovery of a process, manufacture, composition of matter, or machine that is useful and new. Manufactured items are those which are made through a manufacturing process. Almost anything that a person can make or create, and the processes involved in its creation, can be the subject of a patent.

Inventions must be useful

The law specifies that the subject of a patent application must be useful. The creation must have a useful purpose. For example, to obtain a patent on a machine that cuts cloth, the machine must operate and must perform the task for which it was intended; namely, to cut material. If it does not, then the inventor could not obtain a patent.

Patents are not allowed on nuclear materials

The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 prohibits the granting of a patent for inventions used exclusively for nuclear material utilization. It also prohibits patents related to inventions associated with nuclear weapons.

Something must be novel to be patented

Inventions must be new in order to be patented. The term “new” as defined in the MPEP excludes items that were in public use prior to the filing of the patent application or which were referred to in a previous patent application filed by another inventor.

An example of an invention that might not be patentable might occur if an application is filed describing a device similar to one currently available to the public with only slight size or color modifications. Chances are that the application for a patent on the modified device would be denied.

Researching, preparing and presenting an application for a patent can be a complex and daunting task. The MPEP is available from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to assist members of the public, attorneys and others through the difficult process. The book covers everything there is to know about the laws and process for obtaining a patent. It also includes information about filing for patent protection in foreign countries and the process for appealing the denial of a patent application.

As helpful as the information contained in the MPEP can be, inventors might wish to consult with a patent attorney before filing their application. The advice and guidance of an attorney could facilitate the application process.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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