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Utility refers to "the usefulness of the information to its intended users. . . ."[1]


See Utility program.

U.S. patent law[]

An invention must be "useful" (i.e., have utility) to support issuance of a patent. That is, it must produce a "useful, concrete and tangible result."[2] The purpose of this requirement is to limit patent protection to inventions that possess a certain level of "real world" value, as opposed to subject matter that represents nothing more than an idea or concept, or is simply a starting point for future investigation or research.[3]

As it has evolved, the utility standard is relatively lenient and typically is not a significant barrier to patentability. In general, utility is easily shown by the patent applicant. Utility is demonstrated by experimental data, commercial use, or through the drawings or description of the patent application.

The utility requirement reveals yet another element of the patent system’s “careful balance” of rights to exclude with competitive concerns. The Supreme Court’s Brenner opinion addressed this balance at some length:

[A] process patent in the chemical field, which has not been developed and pointed to the degree of specific utility, creates a monopoly of knowledge which should be granted only if clearly commanded by the statute. . . . Such a patent may confer power to block off whole areas of scientific development without compensating benefit to the public. The basic quid pro quo contemplated by the Constitution and the Congress for granting a patent monopoly is the benefit derived by the public from an invention with substantial utility. Unless and until a process is refined and developed to this point — where specific benefit exists in currently available form — there is insufficient justification for permitting an applicant to engross what may prove to be a broad field.[4]

Thus, concerns with patenting too close to the laboratory bench and with blocking off scientific development and follow-on research are part and parcel of the utility inquiry.


  1. Guidelines for Ensuring and Maximizing the Quality, Objectivity, Utility, and Integrity of Information Disseminated by Federal Agencies, at 8453.
  2. State Street Bank & Trust Co. v. Signature Financial Group, Inc., 149 F.3d 1368, 1373-74, 47 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1596, 1601-02 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (full-text).
  3. Brenner v. Manson, 383 U.S. 519, 528-36, 148 U.S.P.Q. (BNA) 689, 693-96 (1966) (full-text); In re Fisher, 421 F.3d 1365, 76 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1225 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (full-text); In re Ziegler, 992 F.2d 1197, 1200-03, 26 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1600, 1603-06 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (full-text).
  4. Brenner v. Manson, 383 U.S. 519, 534-35 (1966)(full-text).