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Good ideas are a dime a dozen, but they generally can't be patented. Although you don't have to have a working prototype to apply for a patent, you do have to  be able to describe the invention in detail and show how it will work. The idea alone isn't enough; you must be able to demonstrate the usefulness and functionality of your idea.

Patents are granted for inventions or designs that meet four general criteria. Different industries and types of products may have slightly different requirements, but all patent applications must:


  • Demonstrate aesthetic design or functional utility, depending on whether you're applying for a design patent or a utility patent.
  • Show novelty compared to existing products, inventions, or designs.
  • Prove uniquenesss and non-obviousness to individuals with ordinary skills in the field of the patent.
  • Provide a complete explanation of the design or invention, with full details and specific examples.

Certain things can never be patented, regardless of how well they meet these four standards. They include the elements, theoretical plans, laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas. So patenting fire or the wheel is out, though some people have tried.

When trying to patent something that is still in the theoretical stage, you'll have to make sure that you are as precise as possible. Otherwise, the USPTO will not grant the patent even if you're trying to patent a great idea. Providing diagrams can help you significantly, as they provide specificity. Remember to include more than one diagram, and also provide as many examples as you can. Don't be afraid of seeming to be repetitive if you list multiple specific uses and forms in which the invention is distinct and novel.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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