Patent law protects inventions (utility patents) and ornamental designs for articles of manufacture (design patents).
Inventions protected by utility patents include any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter. Inventions can be electrical, mechanical, or chemical in nature. Examples of inventions protected by utility patents are a microwave oven, genetically engineered bacteria for cleaning up oil spills, a computerized method of running cash management accounts, and a method for curing rubber.
Internet-related inventions protected by utility patents include communications protocols, data compression techniques, interfaces, networking methods, encryption techniques, interfaces, online payment systems, and information processing and retrieval technologies. In the area of e-commerce, patentable inventions and processes include electronic postage, electronic cash, and e-commerce business methods (discussed later in this chapter).
Examples of manufactured articles protected by design patents are a design for the sole of running shoes, a design for sterling silver tableware, and a design for a water fountain.