When B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann announced that they had achieved cold fusion last March, the scientific community understandably clamored for details. But information was not forthcoming, at least in part because patents were rapidly being filed on the work.

Even though scientific secrecy can be maddening in cases such as this, patents are very much a part of science. In today's environment, when even organisms and equations are being patented, filing a patent application can be complicated—especially the first time around. Here, for Scientists faced with the formidable and confusing process of applying for a patent, are some frequently asked questions-along with the corresponding answers.

What is patentable?

According to law, a candidate for patent protection must be "novel, nonobvious, and useful." Patents cover "compositions of matter," such as new superconducting compounds; systems, such as Genentech's specification of the host cell, vector, gene, and genetic controls used to...

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