Patent Basics

Patent terms

  • Scope: new product or process (novel and non-obvious), reducible to practice (useful)  
  • Protection:  exclusive property granted by a patent authority to an inventor "to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention" in a legal territory for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted. (USPTO)
  • Jurisdiction (territory): patent regulation varies internationally, and many patents are filed in multiple authorities. Information on multiple filings (patent families) can be found in most patent databases. 
  • Duration: 20 years from date of filing (in US and most authorities) 

Patent types (USPTO): 

  • Utility patents: process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or improvement thereof. (Note, chemistry related patents are generally of this type.)
  • Design patents: new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
  • Plant patents: distinct and new variety of plant (through asexual reproduction).
  • Provisional patents: early “claims” (e.g., “patent pending”), must file non-provisional patent within 12 months 

Key concepts

  • Prior art: previously described technology (a patent claim lacks novelty and non-obviousness if it is anticipated by a reference) 
  • Disclosure: public disclosure prior to filing a patent application can potentially limit the patentability of an invention
  • Freedom-to-operate: determination if an existing patent overlaps with plans for technology development and/or commercialization  

Patents & Innovation

Freedom-to-Operate (FTO) analysis: when developing new technologies or products, it is important to search existing patent coverage and prior art to determine freedom-to-operate:  

  • Do product designs involve protected technologies? 
  • Would production, marketing and use infringe on other patent holders' rights?
  • Is there an opportunity to license specific technologies in commercializing a product? 
  • Are there technologies that have passed into the public domain that can be leveraged? 

Options when existing patents limit FTO

  • Purchasing the patent or licensing the option to commercialize.
  • Cross-licensing to use patents owned by other parties. 
  • Inventing around the patented invention (e.g., develop an alternate process). 
  • Patent pools among companies practicing related technologies. 

Limitations on patents balance opportunities for innovation:

  • Patent protection is territorial and may be in the public domain outside the main market area. 
  • Patents have a limited duration and after 20 years become part the public domain and may be freely used by anyone.
  • Patents have limits of scope and any aspect of an invention not covered by the claims is not considered to be protected.

(Note, considerable experience is involved in interpreting patents and ultimately these determinations involve legal opinion.)  
(WIPO article on FTO analysis)

Chemistry Patents

Chemistry related patents in general are granted in the following areas:

  • pure chemistry, inorganic compounds, organic compounds, macromolecular compounds, methods of preparation;
  • applied chemistry, compositions of these compounds, such as: glass, ceramics, fertilizers, plastics compositions, paints, products of the petroleum industry, explosives, dyestuffs, adhesives, lubricants, and detergents;
  • certain marginal industries, such as the manufacture of coke and of solid or gaseous fuels; production and refining of oils, fats and waxes; fermentation industry; sugar industry;
  • certain operations or treatments, purely mechanical (e.g., mechanical treatment of leather and skins), or partly mechanical (e.g., treatment of water or the prevention of corrosion in general);
  • metallurgy, ferrous or non-ferrous alloys.

Patent Databases

Patent Classes

The International Patent Classification (IPC) defines codes for filtered searching and analysis. 

Key classes of interest 

A61 HUMAN NECESSITIES: Medical or Veterinary Science; Hygiene 

Drug or other biological compositions; body treating compositions generally intended for deodorizing, protecting, adorning or grooming (e.g. cosmetics)

  • A61K 8/00 = Cosmetics or similar toilet preparations   
  • A61K 31/00 = Medicinal preparations containing organic active ingredients   
  • A61K 38/00 = Medicinal preparations containing peptides  
  • A61K 39/00 = Medicinal preparations containing antigens or antibodies
A61P Therapeutic activity of chemical compounds or medicinal preparations (for different types of disorders) 
B01 OPERATIONS: Physical or Chemical Processes or Apparatus

Separation (evaporation, distillation, crystallization, filtration, dust precipitation, gas cleaning, absorption, adsorption, etc.)

  • B01D 3/00 = Distillation   
  • B01D 9/00 = Crystallization    
  • B01D 11/00 = Solvent extraction
B01F Mixing (e.g., dissolving, emulsifying, dispersing) 

Chemical and physical processes (e.g., catalysis, colloid chemistry) 

  • B01J 31/00 = Catalysts comprising hydrides, coordination complexes or organic compounds
  • B01J 38/00 = Regeneration or reactivation of catalysts 
  • B01J 47/00 = Ion-exchange processes in general; apparatus 
C07 CHEMISTRY: Organic Chemistry
C07D Heterocyclic compounds 
C07H Sugars (and derivatives); nucleosides; nucleotides; nucleic acids 
C07J Steroids
C07K Peptides 
C10 CHEMISTRY: Petroleum; gas or coke industries; fuels; lubricants 

Refining mixtures mainly consisting of hydrocarbons      

  • C10G 5/00 = Recovery of liquid hydrocarbon mixtures from gases (e.g. natural gas) 
  • C10G 7/00 = Distillation of hydrocarbon oils   
  • C10G 50/00 = Production of liquid hydrocarbon mixtures from lower carbon number hydrocarbons (e.g. by oligomerization)
C10L Natural gas; liquified petroleum gas 
C11 CHEMISTRY: Oils, fats, fatty acids, detergents 

Detergent compositions 

  • C11D 1/00 = Detergent compositions based essentially on surface-active compounds
  • C11D 9/00 = Compositions of detergents based essentially on soap   
  • C11D 17/00 = Detergent materials or soaps characterised by their shape or physical properties 
C12 CHEMISTRY: Biochemistry, microbiology, enzymology 

Microorganisms or enzymes; compositions, propagating, preserving; genetic engineering; culture media   

  • C12N 1/00 = Microorganisms, composition     
  • C12N 5/00 = Undifferentiated human, animal or plant cells, e.g. cell lines; tissues; composition; culture media    
  • C12N 7/00 = Viruses; composition, preparation, purification 
  • C12N 9/00 = Enzymes; composition 

Fermentation or enzyme-using processes to synthesize a desired chemical compound or composition     

  • C12P 7/00 = Preparation of oxygen-containing organic compounds
  • C12P 13/00 = Preparation of nitrogen-containing organic compounds    
  • C12P 21/00 = Preparation of peptides or proteins
G01 PHYSICS: Measuring; testing

Investigating or analyzing materials by determining their chemical or physical properties