What Is a Composition of Matter?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

In patent law, composition of matter is one of the four types of patentable inventions, referring to a novel mixture of two or more components. Chemical compounds are an example of inventions commonly classified in this category. In the process of preparing a patent application, the individual or company applying for a patent must consider which category it falls into so it can be classified appropriately. The patent office will consider the classification when assigning an inspector to the case.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

In addition to composition of matter, it is also possible to patent a machine, a process, or an article of manufacture. There can be some confusion between a composition of matter and an article of manufacture; Formica, for example, is a composite material, but it is also an article of manufacture. Most commonly, this classification is applied to new chemicals, including pharmaceutical products and other novel chemical inventions.

As with other patentable concepts, a composition of matter must meet a number of standards to receive a patent, including one for novelty. It must be a new compound that is not already in common use; lemonade, for instance, is a composition of matter, but it cannot be patented because it is not an original idea. It is possible to patent both the composition and the process for making it as part of the same application, if the compounding method is unique.

The length of protection provided under a patent for a composition of matter depends on regional laws. It may be possible to apply for a patent extension in a case where a novel use is discovered; this is a common tactic with pharmaceuticals, where companies want to keep drugs on patent as long as possible in order to effectively profit from their inventions. The patent office will review the material carefully to determine if additional protection is warranted.

Patent law varies around the world, and it is important to be aware that it is necessary to apply for separate patent protections if international protection is desired. A company filing for patent protection in Australia, for example, does not automatically receive protection in other places. With different applications, the process can be different, and it can be helpful to consult a patent attorney for assistance with filing patents correctly. In the case of a composition of matter, it is necessary to provide details about the nature of the compound, as well as evidence that it is truly unique in nature.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I must have misread the article title. I thought it was about the composition of matter, and that it was going to get into physics and existential questions like what is the universe really made of.

I didn’t realize that there is such a thing as “composition of matter” for patent purposes. That’s the first I’ve heard of that, but then again, I think it does have some bearing on the larger questions of the properties of matter.

I had been taught that mass and volume are some of the most important physical properties of matter, and these would certainly affect how matter would combine with something else to create something new or novel –something that can be patented.

I guess I should dust off my chemistry set and see what I can come up with.

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