In general, patents cover the creations most people call "inventions." However, biotechnology has added a new dimension with the decision that it is possible to patent life forms if they have been synthesized by human efforts and do not exist in nature without human intervention.
In general, to be patentable, an invention must be proven to be novel, not obvious, and useful. These criteria all must be supported in written documentation, requiring you to carefully search and read the literature on your subject. You must also keep careful records, preferably dated and signed by witnesses, to be able to prove that you invented it first.
An important related question concerns when to publish information about the invention. If it is described to the public before you have registered the patent, it will be considered public information and will probably not be patented.
(Incidentally, note that the US. patent literature is said to be the largest and most comprehensive collection of technical information in the world. Certainly, disclosures on how inventions are produced and how they function can be a storehouse of information for other scientists. When doing a literature search, don't forget to explore your research subject in this area if it seems at all appropriate.)
General information on U.S. patents can be obtained from the government website <www.uspto.gov>. The laws regarding patents can be complex, and are somewhat different in different countries. If you are thinking of patenting an invention, get the best help you can find and afford.
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