What types of inventions cannot be patented?

Some types of inventions will not qualify for a patent, no matter how interesting or important they are. For example, mathematical formulas, laws of nature, newly discovered substances that occur naturally in the world, and purely theoretical phenomena-for instance, a scientific principle like superconductivity without regard to its use in the real world-have long been considered unpatentable. This means, for example, that you can't patent a general mathematical approach to problem solving or a newly discovered painkiller in its natural state.

In addition, the following categories of inventions don't qualify for patents:

  • processes done entirely by human motor coordination, such as choreographed dance routines or a method for meditation
  • most protocols and methods used to perform surgery on humans
  • printed matter that has no unique physical shape or structure associated with it
  • unsafe new drugs
  • inventions useful only for illegal purposes, and
  • non-operable inventions, including "perpetual motion" machines (which are presumed to be non-operable because to operate they would have to violate certain bedrock scientific principles).

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