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Can a patent be filed if it directly involves an illegal substance? For example, this patent: http://www.google.com/patents/US20130059018

THC is an illegal substance under U.S. federal law. I assume patents such as this must be possible since they exist, but where exactly is the line drawn for patents that involve violating a current law?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Behind the question may be an assumption. It is a widespread misunderstanding that having a patent on something implies you are allowed to make and sell the thing. No, a patent only provides the right to stop others from doing something. A patent doesn't imply the government thinks it is a good idea, is legal to possess, works better than existing things, works well. It may not work at all - as long as it seems like it would work on its face.

I didn't find a good reference on this but I think the line is draw at anything related to atomic weapons. But that is because publishing anything on that topic is outlawed and patenting requires publishing.

There was a time when the USPTO took the position that illegal/immoral things were not patent-eligible although it was never in a statute. This primarily impacted the patentablity of slot machines for decades.

In much of the rest of the world they do have the concept of "contrary to public order and morals".

The EPO rules say:

Any invention the commercial exploitation of which would be contrary to "ordre public" or morality is specifically excluded from patentability. The purpose of this is to deny protection to inventions likely to induce riot or public disorder, or to lead to criminal or other generally offensive behaviour (see also F-II, 7.2). Anti-personnel mines are an obvious example. This provision is likely to be invoked only in rare and extreme cases.

Also, the publication the question started with is not an issued patent, it is a publication of an application for a patent.

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