The patent law specifies the general field of subject matter that can be
patented and the conditions under which a patent may be obtained.
In the language of the statute, any person who “invents or discovers any
new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any
new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent,” subject to the
conditions and requirements of the law. The word “process” is defined by law
as a process, act or method, and primarily includes industrial or technical
processes. The term “machine” used in the statute needs no explanation. The
term “manufacture” refers to articles that are made, and includes all
manufactured articles. The term “composition of matter” relates to chemical
compositions and may include mixtures of ingredients as well as new chemical
compounds. These classes of subject matter taken together include practically
everything that is made by man and the processes for making the products.
The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 excludes the patenting of inventions useful
solely in the utilization of special nuclear material or atomic energy in an
atomic weapon 42 U.S.C. 2181 (a).
The patent law specifies that the subject matter must be “useful.” The
term “useful” in this connection refers to the condition that the subject
matter has a useful purpose and also includes operativeness, that is, a machine
which will not operate to perform the intended purpose would not be called
useful, and therefore would not be granted a patent.
Interpretations of the statute by the courts have defined the limits of the
field of subject matter that can be patented, thus it has been held that the
laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable
A patent cannot be obtained upon a mere idea or suggestion. The patent is
granted upon the new machine, manufacture, etc., as has been said, and not upon
the idea or suggestion of the new machine. A complete description of the actual
machine or other subject matter for which a patent is sought is required.