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Usefulness (officially referred to as utility) is the second of five requirements for patentability. Usefulness simply requires that the invention be “useful” for almost anything now. Applicants often can easily meet this goal by writing some way in which the invention helps achieve something. Many issues regarding the utility requirement are caused by the invention being described as useful but only with further development.

The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has developed guidelines for determining compliance with the utility requirement. The guidelines require that the utility asserted in the application be credible, specific, and substantial. These terms are defined in the Utility Guidelines Training Materials. Credible utility requires that logic and facts support the assertion of utility, or that a person of ordinary skill in the art would accept that the disclosed invention is currently capable of the claimed use. The utility must be specific to the subject matter claimed; not a general utility that could apply to a broad class of inventions. Substantial utility requires that the invention have a defined real world use; a claimed utility that requires or constitutes carrying out further research to identify or confirm a use in the context of the real world is not sufficient.

For more information on patents, see patent law. 

[Last updated in November of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]