Patenting a product made of a new material

Generally, you cannot patent:

An [existing product] made of [a new material]

You can only patent something that is “new” and “inventive”.

“Inventive” means that an expert in the field would not consider your substitution of material to be obvious.

The best way to explain this is by way of example:

Let’s assume that belt buckles have historically been made out of metal. You decide to make a buckle out of recycled plastic. There may be many “benefits” associated with recycled plastic buckles:

  • they don’t rust and mark your shirts;
  • they’re cheaper and easier to make;
  • they are lighter;
  • they consume less energy to make, and are more environmentally-friendly;

Patent new material

To be inventive, one of the “benefits” must be exceptional / unexpected. A long list of expected / unexceptional benefits gets you no closer to your goal – a valid patent. To get a granted complete patent, you must convince the examiner that substituting metal with plastic when making a belt buckle would not have been obvious to an expert / yields a benefit that would have surprised an expert.

In practise, the examiner will collect hundreds of examples where a metal product has been substituted with a plastic product, and argue that substitution of metal with plastic is generally considered an obvious option / alternative. What makes yours different? If you cannot show that, in your application (i.e. belt buckles), substitution of metal with plastic yielded an unexpected benefit that did not apply in the examples provided by the examiner, you are in for an uphill ride.

For instance, if you could show:

  • that you were replacing metal with ABS plastic; and
  • that ABS plastic reacted with salt in a user’s perspiration to generate a gloss finish.

Well, that would be unexpected; and substitution of metal with ABS plastic may be patentable. But, merely substituting metal with plastic to yield the expected benefits (e.g. resistance to rust, ease to manufacture, weight-saving, environmental concerns) would not get you very far.

For further tips on how to draft a patent, see our Patent Template.

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