Law - Product or Phenomenon of Nature

In interpreting U.S. patent law, the courts have decided that "products of nature" and "physical phenomena" are not patentable (35 U.S.C. 101). Thus, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, "a new mineral discovered in the earth or a new plant found in the wild is not patentable subject matter" [Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 206 USPQ 193 (1980)]. However, the same court made it clear that "the relevant distinction was not between living and inanimate things but between products of nature, whether living or not, and human-made inventions." The court noted that Congressional committee reports have stated that patentable subject matter is "anything under the Sun that is made by Man."

On this basis, particular man-made chemical elements (substances that consist of atoms of only one kind) are patentable because they do not exist in nature. Similarly, pure cultures of microorganisms and purified proteins are patentable because these compositions of matter do not exist in nature in a pure form. Genetically-engineered living organisms are also patentable in the U.S. Examples of unpatentable inventions are as follows: a mixed culture of microorganisms and a shrimp with the head and digestive track removed.

The position of the USPTO on this issue is described in the following section(s) of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP):

MPEP 706.03(a) - Rejections under 35 U.S.C. 101
MPEP 2105 - Patentable Subject Matter - Living Subject Matter

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