An invention is something that solves a problem. For example, an invention could be a new product, process, chemical compound, material composition, or a new use of a known product. Patents may be used to protect inventions that are novel (new), inventive, and which can be made or used in any kind of industry, including agriculture.
The legal texts for the UK and European Patent Offices do not provide a definition for an invention, but they do provide a non-exhaustive list of things that are not inventions and so are excluded from patentability.
What is excluded from patentability?
The following are not considered to be inventions and are therefore excluded from patentability:
discoveries, scientific theories, and mathematical methods;
aesthetic creations, such as a literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works;
schemes, rules, and methods for performing a mental act, playing a game or doing business, as well as computer programs; and
the presentation of information.
Inventions that are considered contrary to morality or public policy, such as anti-personnel mines, are also excluded from patentability.
However, the exclusions apply only to the extent that the invention relates solely to that excluded subject matter. This means that inventions which include both excluded and non-excluded elements will be allowable if the non-excluded features are patentable themselves.
For example, an invention concerned solely with an abstract mathematical method would be excluded from patentability. However, a method of enhancing digital images by software processing that implemented a mathematical method would not be excluded from patentability.
As another example, a computer program would not be excluded if the program provides a technical effect. For example, a program that results in better operation of the computer, or has a technical effect outside the computer, or makes the computer operate in a new way may be patentable.