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I know "it depends..." But what are some general principles on what is patentable and what isn't?

I have various ideas, as do we all, some of them good, as do we all, but I don't want to keep running to a patent attorney to see if something is a defensible patent.

I know I'll always need advice, but I'd at least be able to triage my ideas...

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    It depends on your locality. Software is not patentable in the UK, though mathematical algorithms are (needs citations) Sep 20 '12 at 21:05
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    this is a tough question to answer generally. if you add either a subject area (e.g., "software," "computer hardware," "board games," etc.) or a jurisdiction (e.g., US, Europe, Japan, etc.) it would definitely be easier to get a general overview. Side note: the Google phrase for this in patent law is "patentable subject matter" or "patent subject matter," which, combined with a country/subject, usually will yield a few helpful blog posts etc.
    – aosik
    Sep 20 '12 at 21:17
  • I'm in the US, and thinking primarily inventions/toys/games. Thanks very much for the Google help, I'll have a look...
    – Dave
    Sep 20 '12 at 21:20
  • Start with Wikipedia: patent, patentability, patentable subject matter Sep 23 '12 at 1:48
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Since you are in the US, I would suggest you start by reading the United States Code, specifically 35 U.S.C. 100-103. You can find the law and some explanations, as well as the upcoming changes, on the website BitLaw, or the website for The United States Patent and Trademark Office.

That said the answer will almost always be it depends. You can't patent laws of nature, abstract ideas, physical phenomena, or things that are not useful, or impossible, or even possibly offensive to public morality.

So whatever you are trying to patent must be: useful, novel, not obvious, and not anticipated by the prior art. Each of these criteria have been interpreted by US courts over the years to mean particular things, but knowing that those are the general criteria is a good starting point for you.

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