What is an invention?

An invention uses technology to solve a specific problem. The technical features of an invention have a function through which the problem – the purpose of the invention – is solved. The technical character necessary for patenting requires that the laws of nature are used to achieve the objective. An invention is also known as "a technical teaching".

The invention can be a product or a process.

Products include:

  • Goods and tools
  • Equipment such as production facilities and machinery
  • Materials such as chemical substances or textiles


Processes describe activities for specific purposes such as:

  • Manufacturing processes (work or production steps for manufacturing a product)
  • Control procedures (process steps for using an apparatus or machine)
  • Measuring methods

The three requirements for patentability

Your invention can be protected by patent if it meets the following requirements:


  1. The invention is new
    Your invention must not form part of the state of the art (also known as prior art). The state of the art means all knowledge that has been made publicly available anywhere in the world prior to applying for a patent. This includes printed and online publications, as well as public lectures and exhibitions. As a rule, anything you yourself make known about your invention is considered prior art – and your invention is no longer considered new. Therefore, before applying for a patent, make sure you keep your invention a secret.
  2. The invention is inventive
    The invention must not be obvious to a person skilled in the art. In patent law, a "person skilled in the art" is a hypothetical person who knows the prior art in his specialist field but is unimaginative. If you show the purpose of your invention to a person skilled in the art and he readily comes up with the same solution as you, then your solution is not inventive.
  3. The invention is industrially applicable
    The invention must be industrially applicable and practicable, and it must be possible to replicate its implementation.

A perpetual motion machine – a machine that constantly performs work without an energy source – is, for example, not patentable because it is not feasible and therefore can't be used commercially.

There is no examination for novelty and inventive step, which are required for a patent, in the Swiss granting procedure. When applying for a patent, you can have a search carried out in order to check these requirements yourself.


What cannot be patented in Switzerland

  • Abstract ideas without specific technical solutions, discoveries of natural processes or phenomena, scientific theories such as the theory of relativity, and mathematical methods, e.g. methods in combinatorics
  • Game rules and teaching methods
  • Diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical procedures that are used on humans or animals, e.g. an operative treatment to correct vision
  • Plant sorts, animal breeds, and other biological procedures for breeding plants or animals. Biotechnological inventions such as the extraction of human insulin from yeast cells, however, can be patented
  • Computer programs as such – they are protected under copyright. Program-related technical inventions such as electronic control systems can, however, be patented
  • Inventions whose use would be contrary to public policy or morality, e.g. processes for cloning human beings


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