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Patent ideas must be concrete

As a businessperson, innovator and entrepreneur, you know that much of your day is spent making big ideas into reality - a business plan becomes a standard operating procedure, a goal breaks down into quantifiable objectives and the like. This same "idea to reality" principle applies to patent law in the United States. How are you turning your big ideas into reality?

Ideas are essential to your business because their very existence and creation are what makes you an innovator and entrepreneur. You can take steps to protect your ideas through non-disclosure agreements and similar tools, but in order to qualify for a patent, your idea has to be a tangible and concrete.

More to the idea?

This notion was put the test recently by big-name companies like Nike, Fitbit and GoPro recently after a smaller tech company claimed they had infringed on a data uploading patent, according to the Northern California Record, a publication owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform. The big-name companies prevailed in this contest after the judge ruled that the patent did not describe an inventive concept. How does this relate to modern day business?

It's no secret that data is vital to business today. You may even have a proprietary system in place to store and aggregate it - but is this system patentable? The irony is that systems used to handle data may not be so quantifiable, as the aforementioned case points out, especially as technology continues to change the way we do business.

When is an idea patentable?

Ideas themselves are not patentable, but they can be once they become tangible. When examining whether or not an invention is eligible for a patent, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) asks the following questions:

  • Is the invention useful?
  • Is the invention new or novel?
  • Does it have utility?
  • Is it already public knowledge?

According to the USPTO, business processes and methods, in addition to computer hardware and software, may all be eligible for a patent. Therefore, while one data uploading patent was deemed "too abstract," that doesn't mean your data-related invention won't be patentable in the future. For some, it could be a matter of using technology to make the method less abstract.

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