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Is it possible to protect a method which is otherwise patentable but which has so far been developed only in broad lines? In other words it is novel and applicable, but not fully teach-able yet.

As a fictional example suppose that an engineer comes across an unusual way to increase the efficiency of a cooling cycle in the lab of his small enterprise. He is not entirely sure of the engineering reasoning, but in dozens of trials he measures a significant increase in efficiency four times out of five. As we speak he has formed a solid idea of how to modify the cycle in order to improve it, but he is not able to describe a sequence of steps that would reproduce the process every time. Still, it's obvious that the main ingredient in the increase of efficiency is his novel approach.

In this example would it be possible to patent, or otherwise protect, the new way of modifying the cycle?

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I'm not a lawyer, but I do have a fair number of patents. In my experience there is no burden to prove an invention actually works. Thus if you have an invention and it isn't fully developed, you can still apply for and receive a patent assuming it still meets the requirements of patentability. You do need to disclose the best embodiment in the application. If, as the invention is further developed, significant improvements are discovered, you should consider filing additional additional patents.

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    There is a supreme court case that ruled that an inventor does not need to know why something works in order to patent it. – George White May 28 at 19:16
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    @GeorgeWhite I’ve encountered patents that I’ve proven experimentally don’t work. At all. – Eric Shain May 28 at 21:23
  • Sad but true. If it seems plausible you can get a patent. Examiners do not do any experiments, of course. Fortunately, keeping others from doing something that doesn't work shouldn't have much of a negative impact. – George White May 29 at 5:43
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    @GeorgeWhite Except when something that doesn’t work is combined with a second patent and used as prior art against an application for something that does work. – Eric Shain May 29 at 10:12
  • You are correct - I had a client screwed by that. An issued patent is presumed to be enabled and someone patented an impossible superset of my client's invention. I recommended he get an affidavit from an expert stating that what the patent described was wildly impossible at the time. – George White May 29 at 21:03

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