How to Patent a Formula

Rich Goldstein

Founder & Principal Patent Attorney
Black magnifying glass on top of a math textbook

As you already know, math is a very useful tool that helps us understand and explain many things in our world and the universe. It’s been used for centuries by scholars of all sorts, and still, today is used by manufacturers to create all sorts of important products, services, and applications. Math guides most of the world in business, finance, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and more–and this includes, of course, mathematical formulas.

When inventors create new intellectual property such as a new invention, they want to protect their investments of money, time, and intellect. They turn to patent law, which gives them the exclusive right to use and profit from their invention. However, there is a general rule that you cannot patent a mathematical formula itself, as it is not considered a new and useful process, or individual intellectual property. 

While you can’t patent formulas, there are other ways you can seek protection for applied mathematical formulas or mathematical calculations. It all depends on the ways in which the math formula is used, and what other patents exist. Schedule a free strategy call about patents with Goldstein Patent Law today–we’ll take the time to help you understand what can and can’t be patented in the context of formulas. 

What Is a Patent?

According to Cornell Law School, a patent “grants the patent holder the exclusive right to exclude others from making, using, importing, and selling the patented innovation for a limited period of time.  The U.S. Patent Act was enacted by Congress under its Constitutional grant of authority to secure for limited times to inventors the exclusive right to their discoveries.”

Woman holding a white chalk after writing formulas on a small blackboard

Can Patent Law Protect a Mathematical Formula?

Math formulas, algorithms, and similar methods are treated like languages. Applied math helps us express ideas and understand the world. Just like language, applied math is precise and highly useful for explaining things in a clear way. However, these formulas and relationships themselves cannot be patented in the United States. Applied math cannot be patented because it is considered a form of expression.

A math formula, for example, is not a tangible invention according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Rather, a math formula is like a tool that people use to build or create something, or to make sense of the world. You can’t patent a formula, because you can’t patent tools or ideas that are obvious. Even though math concepts are fundamental to many inventions, and may not seem obvious to the average person, they are excluded from the patent protection process.

What Can Be Patented?

In order to get a patent, you need to have a new and useful process that you created all on your own. You can’t patent things that already exist in nature or abstract ideas. Mathematical formulas are considered abstract ideas by the patent and trademark office because they are concepts that explain how things work. Allowing people to patent these formulas could hinder innovation and progress, and would, technically, simply be unfair. Therefore, getting such a patent is not possible.

Many famous math formulas in history did not receive patents from the patent office because they explain concepts that are not patentable themselves. For example, Albert Einstein’s formula, E=mc2, simply provides an explanation of a natural law of the universe, it didn’t create the law or physician phenomena itself. Math formulas that predict or measure sociological behavior, like financial equations, fall into the category of abstract concepts as well and are not patentable.

Lawyer holding a piece of document while consulting with his assistant

How Does the Patent and Trademark Office Protect Math Formulas?

It is still possible to protect mathematical formulas in certain ways. With the help of a lawyer, you can sometimes patent formulas when they are applied to inventions and useful products. In the context of patenting formulas, the math formula is just one component of the invention. For example, software and machines that rely on mathematical calculations or formulas for navigation can be patented. There are many examples of patentable applications of math calculations, such as encrypting and medical imaging.

If you are looking to patent formulas for a software invention, a patent examiner looks at whether the software is necessary to perform the calculations. If the same calculations can be done without the software, then it is considered an abstract idea and not patentable. As we mentioned previously, it’s not possible to patent formulas. You can’t patent formulas because they are not proprietary information–they belong to the world.

But if you still have questions about how to patent formulas or a mathematical calculation, contact our law firm. At Goldstein Patent Law, we take your formula or invention seriously. We know patents can be crucial to the success of an idea or invention, so we’ll help you see if your concept is patentable and see how we can protect it.

Why Is It Important to Patent Something With Mathematical Formulas?

When you patent something, you protect it from being copied, stolen, or used without your permission. Being able to patent something with a formula is important because it gives the inventor exclusive rights and can be a valuable asset. Patents can be bought, sold, or used to attract investment for a business. So, even though you can’t patent a mathematical formula by itself, you can patent the intellectual property or product that uses the formula.

Black magnifying glass on top of a math textbook

If you wish to be granted a patent for your mathematics invention or another type of intellectual property, contact our law firm right away. At Goldstein Patent Law, our law firm is skilled in navigating the complexities of patent law. We’re experts in patent law and have represented many successful inventors in the past.

Can You Patent a Mathematical Discovery?

No, you cannot file a patent application for mathematical discovery. You cannot patent a mathematical discovery because, in the eyes of the law, it already existed before you found it. Discoveries are not something you create; they were there all along. However, if you use discovery to create something new and inventive, then you can file a patent application to safeguard intellectual property.

You cannot get a patent for any kind of physician phenomenon. A physical phenomenon is described as something that already exists and functions all on its own in nature. Mathematical discoveries are considered a kind of physical phenomenon, so since they aren’t a new and useful process, they aren’t patentable intellectual property.

Schedule a free strategy call with Goldstein Patent Law today to learn more about what can be patented and what can’t be. At our law firm, we’re experts in patent law and exceptional client service. Patent law can be challenging to understand, but we help make it easy by answering any questions you have and providing sound advice at every step. If you have a patent, need a patent, have questions, or are a combination of all three, schedule your math formula patent strategy call today. 

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