Can you patent an improvement to an existing product?

Almost all inventions make use of existing concepts or products. Whether it is a new type of watch design that improves upon the original design of the watch or an innovative type of water bottle that can keep liquids cold for longer, new inventions are almost always improvements of tangible things or processes that already exist in some form.

One question inventors may have is whether they can obtain a patent for an improvement to an existing product? In short, so long as an inventor can demonstrate to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that their invention is “something new or unobvious as compared to the existing issued patents and/or patent applications” a patent can be obtained for an improvement to an existing product. (1).

In order for an improvement to be considered non-obvious by the USPTO, it does not mean that the invention has to be unconceivable by the inventors of the original design. Rather, a non-obvious improvement is one that is not readily apparent or is one that is not simply a minor improvement over the original design. For example, the invention of the colored TV, improving on the design of black-and-white TV was considered a non-obvious improvement, despite it being a conceivable invention at the time. Similarly, the invention of touch-screen smartphones was a non-obvious improvement of the original analog controlled cell phone.  

A critical aspect of determining whether you can receive a patent for an improvement to an existing product is something called a prior art search. A prior art search is a detailed investigation, often by a patent attorney, into existing inventions which overlap with the improved invention. This necessary step in the patent application process is a great opportunity for an inventor to assess their likelihood of obtaining the patent and to make adjustments to the improvement based on existing prior art.

For improvements that closely resemble existing prior art, inventors will likely experience some friction in the patent application process through the USPTO. Most often, this means that during your first application to the USPTO, the examiner is more likely to reject your claims the greater their similarity to existing ones. (1). However, “[t]his can be overcome by changing the claims to distinguish over the prior art cited by the examiner.” (1).

Interestingly, in addition to making improvements to existing inventions, in rare instances, inventors can obtain a patent for using an existing product for a different use. One example of this was “in 2000, [when] the Federal Circuit allowed a patent for the idea of using Bag Balm - - an ointment normally used to soothe irritated cow udders – to treat human baldness. The court found it patentable because it’s a new use of a known composition.” (2).

With the help of a patent attorney, an inventor can effectively distinguish their improvement from existing prior art and go on to obtain a patent for their invention.



 If you are a startup, small business, or a solo-inventor looking for a high quality & affordable patent or trademark, you've found the right place. Miller IP Law offers transparent and affordable options specifically designed for your business goals. Grab a strategy meeting to kick things off!

About the Firm...

Miller IP Law is a firm that focuses on small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs/solopreneurs. We’re easy to use. We offer affordable pricing that’s transparent and flat-rate. We focus on the little guys who actually need our help. If you’d like an attorney on your team, simply schedule a Zoom call, and we’ll take care of the rest.

Top Blog Articles

1. Cheapest Way To Get A Patent

2. How Long Does It Take To Get A Trademark?

3. Why Are Patents Important?

Miller IP Law

Want to chat more about this topic, or got a burning question? Take advantage of instant chat and send us a direct message


Miller IP Law

Find Us On LinkedIn

About Our Firm…

Miller IP Law is a group of attorney's, based out of Mountain Green, Utah, who are excited to help you build your business and further innovate market places and economies. Please consider looking at our services, billed at flat rate, and be sure to grab a free strategy session to meet with us!

Start Your Journey



Get weekly stories and information about protecting intellectual property with our e-mail Newsletter today!

Need To Get In Touch With Us?➡

Schedule A Free Strategy Session Today…

Miller IP Law

Flat Fee Pricing

Straightforward for Patents and Trademarks

Miller IP Law

Patent Application

Miller IP Law

Trademark Application

Miller IP Law

Copyright Application

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment


Navigating Open-Source Technologies and Patent Considerations for Your Startup or Side Hustle

Navigating Open-Source Technologies and Patent Considerations for Your Startup or Side Hustle

Welcome to our blog on open-source technologies and patent considerations for entrepreneurs looking to protect their inventions and foster innovation within their startups or side...

Read more
Unlocking Success: The Latest Trends in Patent Law for Startups

Unlocking Success: The Latest Trends in Patent Law for Startups

As the entrepreneurial landscape continues to evolve, startups are increasingly turning to innovation to carve their niche in the market. From ambitious tech ventures to...

Read more