Contrary to popular belief, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel in order to patent an invention. Instead, patents are awarded based on the demonstration of three key qualities, which we’ll explore in further detail below. 

What is a patentable invention?

By definition, a patentable invention is a product or process that  is industrially applicable, novel and involves an inventive step. Examples of patentable inventions may include: 

  • An innovative method for recycling plastic waste to produce eco-friendly building materials. 
  • A new type of flexible display technology for foldable electronic devices. 
  • An anti-corrosive chemical formula for protecting metal surfaces in harsh marine environments. 
  • New pharmaceuticals such as novel vaccines.

Certain inventions, such as aesthetic creations or scientific theories, do not fall into the patentable category in the UK. More examples of non-patentable inventions are discussed below. 

What are the three key patent criteria?

For an invention to be patentable, it must be novel, inventive, and industrially applicable. 


As defined by UK patent law, novelty refers to the notion of originality or in other words your idea must be new. For your invention to be considered novel, there should be no enabling public disclosure of your idea before the date of your application, in patent law known as forming part of the state of the art. Enabling disclosures may include published patents and patent applications, commercial products in other regions, publicly available information found online, and more. Importantly, an inventor’s own public enabling disclosure can destroy the novelty of any later filed patent application.


Your idea must also be inventive, meaning that the product or process must provide a solution to a technical problem that is non-obvious to a person skilled in the art. This is different from novelty, as a patent applicant must prove that their concept is not only new, but that a theoretical skilled person would not arrive at their invention from any other previous disclosures without taking an inventive step.  

Another way of looking at inventive step is that the novel part of your invention (the bit that makes it different) cannot simply be an obvious or routine modification to earlier examples or similar products.  

Industrially applicable  

Lastly, your product must have practical applications in an industry, be it commercial, manufacturing, or other areas. If your invention is purely abstract, theoretical, or unfeasible, it will not be patentable. For example, you could patent a new kind of wind turbine, but you couldn’t patent a  perpetual motion machine (unless you show it is feasible, for example by building a working prototype!). 

How do patent requirements differ by region?

Before filing a patent, it’s important to check the requirements that are unique to your region. For example, while the European Patent Office (EPO) follows a near identical patentability criteria to the UK, the US patent office have a smaller list of excluded, non-patentable inventions. A computer programme or method of doing business that may not be patentable in the UK or at the EPO may be patentable in the US.  

The United States follows a “first-inventor-to-file” system in which the first inventor to file a patent application  is granted the patent.  There is also one year grace period applicable in the USA in which an inventor’s own disclosure before the patent application is filed will not be detrimental to the novelty of the patent.  Small nuances in patent requirements could affect your outcome so don’t hesitate to conduct a thorough investigation and enlist the help of a professional. 

Inventions that can’t be patented

Last but not least, certain inventions cannot be patented due to their subject matter. The following is a non-exhaustive list of exclusions in the UK: 

Methods of diagnosis or treatment of the human or animal body by surgery or therapy

Methods related to medical treatment or diagnosis of disease of the body are generally not patentable to prevent the hindrance of healthcare access and innovation. This includes some ways of performing surgery, administering treatments, and diagnostic methods. Treatment outside of the body, such as methods for purifying donated blood, may be patentable as are the pharmaceuticals themselves. 

Presentation of information 

Inventions related to the presentation of information, without any technical innovation, are typically not patentable. For example, you cannot patent the layout of information on a screen or app, even if the layout is novel.. 

Aesthetic creations  

Aesthetic creations, such as works of art, literature, music, and design, are protected by copyright or design right law rather than patents. This includes music, literary compositions, and visual artworks as well as the way new products look. 

Schemes, rules, or methods for performing a mental act, playing games or conducting business 

Abstract ideas or methods for mental activities, games, or business processes are not eligible for patent protection. For example, you cannot patent a card game, business methods without a technical process, or mental exercise routine. 

Computer programs 

While software code itself is not patentable, certain technical innovations or methods implemented by computer programs may be patentable. For example, basic word-processing software is not patentable but an innovative algorithm that adjusts font size based on reading behaviours may be. 

Scientific theories or mathematical methods 

Discoveries of scientific principles or mathematical formulas are not patentable, as they are considered not to be new, natural phenomena or abstract ideas, for example if a new mathematical formula is developed. However, the application of a discovery or theory, such as the use of a new mathematical formula or an algorithm in a process which has a technical effect may be patentable. 

Natural phenomena 

Natural phenomena, such as natural laws, physical processes, and naturally occurring substances, are not considered novel or new and are therefore not patentable. For example, you could not patent the process of photosynthesis in plants if you were the first to discover it.  However, if you devised a new product that used the photosynthetic process you discovered, that would be a technical application of the discovery or natural phenomena and would be patentable.

Taking your idea forward

We have a highly experienced team of professionals, including fully qualified UK and European Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys, Litigators and Formalities Officers. Simply get in touch here and one of our patent experts will help steer you through the process.