- 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
- 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 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.
- World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
- United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO)
- American Chemical Society Committee on Patents
- What Every Chemist Should Know About Patents (4th edition, 2019)
- Cornell Center for Technology Licensing (CTL)
- PATENTSCOPECovers international Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications and patent documents of participating national and regional patent offices.
- Patent LensIncludes patents from 1976+, over 100 jurisdictions, including US, World.
- Google PatentsQuick search of all U.S. patents, U.S patent applications, and European patents. Easy view and download, cannot sort results by date.
- SciFinderComprehensive database of chemistry literature, including articles, patents, and dissertations. Register for first-time use.
- USPTO (US Patent databases)Search US patents back to 1790 and current patent applications.
- EspacenetMore than 70 million patent documents worldwide, containing information about inventions and technical developments from 1836 to today.
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)
|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.)
|B01F||Mixing (e.g., dissolving, emulsifying, dispersing)|
Chemical and physical processes (e.g., catalysis, colloid chemistry)
|C07||CHEMISTRY: Organic Chemistry|
|C07H||Sugars (and derivatives); nucleosides; nucleotides; nucleic acids|
|C10||CHEMISTRY: Petroleum; gas or coke industries; fuels; lubricants|
Refining mixtures mainly consisting of hydrocarbons
|C10L||Natural gas; liquified petroleum gas|
|C11||CHEMISTRY: Oils, fats, fatty acids, detergents|
|C12||CHEMISTRY: Biochemistry, microbiology, enzymology|
Microorganisms or enzymes; compositions, propagating, preserving; genetic engineering; culture media
Fermentation or enzyme-using processes to synthesize a desired chemical compound or composition
|G01||PHYSICS: Measuring; testing|
Investigating or analyzing materials by determining their chemical or physical properties