Say two companies are working on some software that does essentially the same thing: Can one of the companies patent the idea before it's finished to prevent the other company from working on it, or can they only patent the software once they have a working product?

  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's a better fit on patents.stackexchange.com Mar 9, 2018 at 22:56
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    @BlueDogRanch As the question is about the general law of patents, rather than a specific patent, I believe it's on-topic for this site. There is a fair amount of overlap between the scope of the two sites, as discussed here: law.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/662/… Mar 9, 2018 at 23:10
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    @BlueDogRanch -I recently joined Law and started answering patent related questions, but have been active on Ask Patents for several years. Am I messing up the system? Mar 9, 2018 at 23:10
  • It's my opinion that the question should be moved; that's why we vote on closing/moving questions and closing one normally requires five votes; Mar 9, 2018 at 23:23
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    @GeorgeWhite et. al. – per discussion on meta: please continue to answer on-topic patents here!
    – feetwet
    Mar 9, 2018 at 23:30

2 Answers 2


Patenting does not require a working product in fields where the performance is predictable before hand. Chemistry and biology do have criteria regarding real results. The description in the patent application needs to be detailed enough that someone of ordinary skill in the field could make and use the invention.

After company A gets a patent (might be 3 years or never), it can try to stop company B from making, selling, offering to sell, using, or importing whatever is claimed in the issued patent. You say "does essentially the same thing". If you accomplish the identical goal (speaker identification from noisy audio, for example) but accomplish it by following very different steps, then there may be no infringement at all.

  • One thing to add is that if company B can prove in court they invented it independently, prior to A's patent submission, A's patent claims may be tossed out. Mar 10, 2018 at 15:57
  • No longer true. This was true in the US before the AIA was put into effect. Now the U.S.,like the rest of the world, is a "first-to-file" jurisdiction. The only way A's patent can be tossed out is if B can prove that it was derived from B's rather than independently invented. Mar 12, 2018 at 6:25
  • @whatsisname - or if B published its work prior to A's filing. Apr 11, 2018 at 20:57

(I am no lawyer but an engineer).

As far as I know, you can patent inventions but you can not patent products and you can not patent ideas. An invention is rarely the whole product, but a description of how to build some technical construction that can be used in products.

  • A product might embody one invention, many inventions or no inventions. There would be nothing wrong with saying a particular product is patented as long as it embodied at least one patented invention. Mar 12, 2018 at 20:34
  • @GeorgeWhite it can be confusing to non-lawyers as they may think it is the product itself that is protected by the law so that similar products are not allowed to be built when in fact it is the inventions it contains which are protected by the law. Mar 12, 2018 at 20:38
  • @mathreader - my view is that it could be confusing or worse to say "you can't patent products". For a paperclip, the distinction between the "invention" and the "product" would be very abstract. If a layman hears that a can opener is patented they don't think that means all products that produce the same result are covered. They, correctly, think there is something special about that can opener and that the something special is what its covered. Mar 12, 2018 at 20:49
  • Okay, then I guess we have differing views. Mar 12, 2018 at 22:13

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