Machine (patent)

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In United States patent law, a machine is one of the four principal categories of things that may be patented. The other three are a process (also termed a method), an article of manufacture (also termed a manufacture), and a composition of matter. In United States patent law, that same terminology has been in use since the first patent act in 1790 (with the exception that processes were formerly termed "arts").[1]

In In re Nuitjen, 500 F.3d 1346 (Fed. Cir. 2007), the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said:

The Supreme Court has defined the term "machine" as "a concrete thing, consisting of parts, or of certain devices and combination of devices." Burr v. Duryee, 68 U.S. (1 Wall.) 531, 570 (1863). This "includes every mechanical device or combination of mechanical powers and devices to perform some function and produce a certain effect or result."

— Corning v. Burden, 56 U.S. 252, 267 (1854).[2]

To this it might be added that the parts must interact (usually dynamically) with one another, for otherwise they might be parts of an article of manufacture. It has been considered grounds for rejecting or invalidating a machine claim as being directed to a "mere aggregation" if the parts were merely associated with one another without interacting functionally.[3] An illustration of a mere aggregation would be the "combination" of a bathtub and a pencil sharpener. More recently, the "mere aggregation" ground of invalidity for a machine claim has been subsumed under obviousness.[4]

Examples of machines are steam engines, sewing machines, and TV sets. Electronic circuits have usually been considered machines, although they may lack moving parts.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The first patent statute permitted a patent on "any art, manufacture, engine, machine or device." Patent Act of 1790 § 4, 1 Stat. 109, 111 (1790). In 1793, Congress amended the patent laws, changing the language to allow a patent for "any new and useful art, machine, manufacture or composition of matter." Patent Act of 1793 § 1, 1 Stat. 318, 319 (1793).
  2. ^ 500 F.3d at __.
  3. ^ See Pickering v. McCullough, 104 U.S. 310, 318 (1881) "It must...produce a result due to the joint and cooperating action of all the elements, and which is not the mere adding together of separate contributions. Otherwise it is only a mechanical juxtaposition, and not a vital union."; Hailes v. Van Wormer, 87 U.S. (20 Wall.) 353, 368 (1873) ("But the results must be a product of the combination, and not a mere aggregate of several results each the complete product of one of the combined elements. Combined results are not necessarily a novel result, nor are they an old result obtained in a new and improved manner. Merely bringing old devices into juxtaposition, and there allowing each to work out its own effect without the production of something novel, is not invention. No one, by bringing together several old devices without producing a new and useful result the joint product of the elements of the combination and something more than an aggregate of old results, can acquire a right to prevent others from using the same devices, either singly or in other combinations, or, even if a new and useful result is obtained, can prevent others from using some of the devices, omitting others, in combination.").
  4. ^ See 35 U.S.C. § 103; Sakraida v. AG Pro, Inc., 425 U.S. 273, 282 (1976); Anderson's-Black Rock, Inc. v. Pavement Salvage Co., 396 U.S. 57, 60 (1969).