As the medical field continues to evolve at a rapid pace, so does the complexity of protecting medical inventions.  Patents play a vital role in safeguarding these innovations, but understanding what constitutes patentable subject matter in the medical field can become confusing.  This article aims to shed some light on the concept of patentable subject matter, focusing on medical devices, and to discuss the types of medical inventions eligible for patent protection.

Patentable Subject Matter: A Brief Overview

Patentable subject matter refers to the types of inventions or discoveries that can be legally protected by a patent.  The invention must be new, non-obvious, and useful or industrially applicable.  In addition, the invention should fall into one of the following categories: a process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter.

While these criteria seem broad, not all inventions satisfy the requirements for patentability.  Laws and regulations outline exceptions, and these vary by jurisdiction.  In the medical field, the guidelines around what is patentable can be particularly intricate.

Patentable Subject Matter in Medical Devices

When it comes to medical devices, the invention’s tangible nature often satisfies the requirement of being a machine, manufacturer, or composition of matter.  However, the invention still needs to meet the criteria of novelty, non-obviousness, and utility.

Novelty requires that the medical device have at least one new feature that is not known or used by others in the same field before the inventor (35 U.S.C. Sect. 102).  Non-obviousness implies that the device isn’t an obvious development for those with relevant expertise  (35 U.S.C. Sect. 103).  The utility requirement ensures that the invention serves a beneficial and practical purpose.

A key aspect of patenting medical devices is the detailed description of the device and its function.  This includes structural elements, materials used, methods of operation, advantages of the device, and the unique features that make it novel and non-obvious.  Patent applications for medical devices include diagrams or drawings to aid in understanding the invention.

Medical Inventions Eligible for Patent Protection

A broad range of medical inventions can be patented, provided they meet the patentability criteria. Here are some examples:

Diagnostic Devices

Instruments and devices used for medical diagnosis can be patented.  This includes imaging devices like MRI machines, blood testing devices, or new types of thermometers.

Therapeutic Devices

Devices that aid in therapy or treatment, such as innovative surgical tools, prosthetics, or pacemakers, can be patented.  The invention might include improvements to existing devices or entirely new kinds of therapeutic tools.

Monitoring Devices

Inventions related to monitoring patient’s health, like novel wearable tech that tracks vital signs or glucose levels, can be patent eligible.


Software integral to the functioning of medical devices, like algorithms for interpreting data or controlling device operations, can also be patented.  However, this is a complex area, as software patents must clear the hurdle of not being seen as an “abstract idea,” (35 U.S.C. Sect. 101) which is generally non-patentable.

It’s important to note that while the devices and software related to medical treatment can be patented, methods of medical treatment are often non-patentable, especially in many jurisdictions outside the US.  This includes surgical, therapeutic, and diagnostic methods.  The reason is that in the interest of public policy, it was decided that no one entity should have a 20-year monopoly on medical procedures which would benefit the population.

Navigating the Patent Landscape in the Medical Field

Understanding patentable subject matter in the medical field can be quite challenging due to the intricacies of both the inventions and the law.  However, with careful consideration and possibly the assistance of a patent professional, inventors can effectively protect their medical innovations.

Patents provide a powerful tool for medical device inventors to protect their intellectual property, stimulate investment, and ultimately, to continue pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in medical technology.  So, as you innovate, remember to familiarize yourself with the patent landscape in your field, as this knowledge can serve as a strong foundation for your invention’s success.

Contact Zale Patent Law to discuss your medical patent questions.

Join our newsletter

Sign up for occasional updates.

Get a personal consultation.

Call us today at 570-878-5000