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What is an invention?    

Inventions include new processes, products, apparatus, compositions of matter, living organisms, or improvements to existing technology in those categories.

A process is a method of producing a useful result. A process can be an improvement on an existing systems, a combination of old systems in a novel manner, or a new use of a known process. A machine is an apparatus that performs a functions and produces a definite result or effect. It can range from a simple device to a complicated combination of many parts. A manufacture is an article that is produced and has a usefulness. Compositions of matter include chemical compounds, mixtures such as drugs and, more recently, living matter.

Abstract ideas, principles, and phenomena of nature cannot be patented.
What are the criteria for a patent? In the United States, patentability is determined by novelty, utility, and

nonobviousness:

1. Novelty: An invention is novel if nothing identical previously existed. How does your invention differ from what already exists? In what ways might it not be unique?

2. Utility: An invention is useful if it produces an effect, if the effect is the one claimed, and if the effect is desired by society, at least in principle. Who might find your invention useful, and why? What companies might be interested in making or selling it, and why? Is there other technology that currently provides similar utility? If so, what is the unique advantage of your invention?

3. Nonobviousness: Nonobviousness measures the degree to which an invention differs from the totality of previous knowledge, and the degree to which an invention could not have been anticipated from that knowledge. At the time it was conceived, why might your invention not have been obvious to people reasonably skilled in the field? Are there ways in which it might be an evolutionary step? What is the difference between the proposed invention and what has previously existed?

Can you publish while applying for a patent? Publishing and applying for patent protection are not mutually exclusive: they can be done simultaneously under the proper circumstances. U.S. patent laws allow one to apply for a patent no later than one year after a public disclosure, such as a published paper, a widely available abstract, or an offer of public sale. However, the moment a public disclosure or publication is made, rights to foreign patents are lost unless a U.S. filing has been made within the preceding twelve months. Foreign protection is important to many international licensees, so inventors are urged to use discretion, take advantage of Confidential Disclosure Agreements available from this office, and file invention disclosures with the University well in advance of presentations or publications.