What inventions can be patented?

This is not an easy question to answer briefly! You are always welcome to use our contact page, or to contact us by email or telephone, for a free and confidential reaction from us on any practical question of patentability, but let us try to give some guidance.

Firstly, don’t be put off by the word invention itself.

There is a tendency to think of inventions as being necessarily ground breaking and somehow different in kind rather than degree from anything that has gone before. This is not the sense in which the word is used in patent law. The vast majority of patents are granted for inventions that are evolutionary rather than revolutionary – incremental improvements to existing technologies rather than new fields of technology altogether. Often the development that justifies patent grant is in fact relatively minor.

One good guide is to ask whether there is some technical problem that has been solved in a new way. If so, there may well be a patentable invention.

Inventions can lie in improvements to a physical product but they can equally well relate to a method or process for doing something.

To be the subject of a valid patent, an invention must – among other things, and at the time of filing of the patent application – be new, in the strict sense that it has never been made available to the public anywhere in the world. It must also be more than just an obvious modification of any such publicly known technology. This question of obviousness is the subject of much legal argument but it is worth saying that the bar is not set all that high.

There are some categories of subject matter that are not to be patented. In the UK and Europe these include methods of treatment of the human or animal body, mathematical methods, discoveries, scientific theories, methods of doing business, and rules for playing games as such. However these exclusions need very careful consideration. Their scope has been considered in case law over some decades and is much less clear than one might first assume. We recommend taking expert advice – which we are happy of course to provide – rather than assuming that any particular development is excluded.

An extreme example of this is the field of software. In Europe and the UK the letter of the law states that computer programs as such are not patentable inventions. In truth, however, software that solves a real problem, even a problem solely related to the computer’s function, can be the subject of a valid patent. Again, expert advice should be taken before decisions are made.

Working with us

We know the law but it’s you that best understands your technology and your market. Strong patents that serve your commercial goals are typically the result of a close and lasting collaboration between patent attorney and client. Client relationships are all important to Bartle Read and in order to foster them we are:


 …in the way that we work with you. Lines of reporting should be set up for your convenience, not ours.


We will often need you to take decisions or to give technical input, but in matters of patent law it is always us that should be proposing solutions to problems.

Plain Spoken

Patents and patent law are ridden with jargon but it’s our job to make sense of it for you, not to bamboozle you with it.
Got a question? Please don't hesitate to ask it Contact us

Bartle Read
Liverpool Science Park
131 Mount Pleasant
Liverpool L3 5TF
United Kingdom

Follow Bartle Read on LinkedIn Follow Bartle Read on Twitter