The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office defines an invention as “anything made by the hand of man that is a new, useful, and non-obvious process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof…”

So what does that mean? Let’s take a look…

New or novel: The invention must be new or novel in that it has to be different and distinguishable from anything that is publicly known or available. The invention would not be considered novel if:

  • it already had been patented, known or used by others in this country, or patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country before it had been made;
  • a similar invention already had been in public use, on sale, or published more than one year prior to the filing of a new patent application in the United States (immediately in other countries); or it had been invented earlier by another person who did not abandon, suppress, or conceal it.

Useful: An invention must be considered useful, at least to the extent that it offers one specific use, which must be stated in the patent application.

Non-obvious: Today, this has proven to be the most troublesome of the requirements, particularly due to recent court actions surrounding the issue, as obviousness is subjective. In short, the invention cannot be an obvious or trivial extension of another existing invention, as determined by a person “with ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention.”

Process: A process is a method of manipulating certain materials to produce a given result.

Machine: A machine is limited to a particular apparatus designed to accomplish a certain result by distinctive (new, useful, and non-obvious) means.

Article of manufacture: Quite simply, this is a product.

Composition of matter: This refers to chemical and metallurgical compositions and may include specific and unique combinations of ingredients or new compounds.

Discovery vs. invention: It’s important to note that you can’t apply for a patent on a new discovery. Discovering a phenomenon in nature, for instance, does not constitute an invention, nor does simply identifying a new plant species or new biochemical pathway.

However, if you develop a new innovation around that phenomenon or plant species, or create a new way to manipulate or leverage a biochemical pathway to solve a problem, that would qualify as being “made by the hand of man.” New methods for treating a disease or the development of a new computer
software algorithm would constitute a new invention.

If you think you have an invention (resulting from Pitt research), the first step is to protect your innovation by submitting an invention disclosure to the Innovation Institute. If your invention is not from Pitt research, you may benefit from learning more about our student accelerator program, Blast Furnace.

Download our ebook on Licensing Your Innovation for a complete guide for innovators.