Obtaining a patent is one of the most effective ways to protect a new idea. The problem is that not only do new inventions have to meet strict, well-detailed criteria, but the process involved in getting a patent can also be very expensive, very time-consuming and, at times, very irritating. Here are ten items that can be either difficult or impossible to patent:
Natural laws or processes. Just because you discover or can scientifically explain a process or event authored by Mother Nature does not mean that you can get a patent for it.
Theories, ideas, and concepts of an abstract nature. An idea that is merely conceptual in nature–i.e., cannot be put together or substantially diagrammed on a piece of paper–simply cannot be protected.
Systems for doing business. You may, for example, come up with a more efficient way to manage the place where you work. Even if you can list the steps in a logical sequence, this type of systems architecture cannot be patented.
Constant motion machines. Since the beginning of time, people have been trying to invent a device that can keep going once started without the aid of a power source. Needless to say, if achieved, this would be a major breakthrough in physics but, in the mean time, the US Patent Office will not grant you a patent on it.
Cloning processes or apparatuses. Unfortunately, because of the many caveats and ethical concerns, cloning has not yet been fully blessed by developed countries, including the US. Until legal and ethical hurdles are overcome, it would be difficult, it at all possible, to obtain a patent for cloning purposes.
Stem-cell-use processes and apparatuses. Because embryonic stem cells require the use and destruction of human embryos, there are simply too many legal and ethical concerns involved. Somatic stem cells and stem cells from animal embryos, however, present less of a problem, although their scientific usefulness may not be as expansive and promising.
Any new invention for which you refuse to provide detailed diagrams. Your invention may be so unique and so financially promising that you may hesitate to give anyone, including the Patent Office, the ins and outs on the idea. Unfortunately, however, even if your invention is indeed obviously unique and you do an excellent job of providing a rough-sketch description, it will not be accepted unless you provide full details.
Any new invention you may have stolen from someone else. If another inventor, for example–even one without a patent on the idea–alleges that you stole his idea, the patent office would at the very least authorize an investigation. The same may happen if there is documentation or common knowledge that someone else was selling or marketing your idea before you, though not connected to that party, filed for a patent.
Any device obviously designed to perform an illegal activity. If you, for example, design a better marijuana smoking pipe, while that may make you popular with your friends, it may not thrill anyone at the patent office–at least not to the point of getting you a patent. Another such un-patentable device would be a better chastity belt.
New weapons of mass destruction. If you, for example, came up with a new type of bomb, explosive device, a new destructive use for a commonly-used chemical, or an as-yet unidentified, discovered, or recently-enhanced lethal biological weapon, you may not find it easy to get a patent for such an invention. In fact, just to avoid legal trouble, you may be better off seeking legal assistance to see the best way to approach this situation. Maybe the military might be interested in your invention and, assuming that they do not suspect you of being a potential terrorist, or that maybe you obtained or stole the idea from an unfriendly source, they might make you an offer and you might then be able to apply for a patent, assuming the government does not just confiscate your idea (especially if you cannot prove that you are the original inventor or have been advised not to take credit for the invention).