Invention in Dermatology: A Review

September 2019 | Volume 18 | Issue 9 | Original Article | 904 | Copyright © September 2019

Spencer A. Bezalel MD, Clark C. Otley MD

Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN


Dermatologists are among the most inventive physicians, trained in the multiple disciplines of medical dermatology, surgical dermatology, and dermatopathology. Many of the advances in dermatology practice have been derived from inventive colleagues who identify opportunities for improvement in practice, develop viable prototypes to address these practice opportunities, and persevere through the hard work of developing new technologies to advance the practice of dermatology. In this article, we will review the basic elements of invention, patents, and the range of outcomes associated with the pursuit of invention. Examples of innovative dermatologic technologies and approaches will be reviewed. Opportunities abound for dermatologists to contribute to the advancement of medical care through invention in our specialty. 

J Drugs Dermatol. 2019;18(9):904-908. 


Over the course of many decades, the field of dermatology has advanced significantly due to the inventive spirit of many colleagues within our specialty and of allied specialties. With unique training that encompasses all areas of medicine, including medical approaches, surgical interventions, and dermatopathological analysis, dermatologists have a unique perspective on human disease that affords them powerful opportunities for invention. We will review the basics of invention and patent law, intellectual property protection, and review examples of inventive advances in dermatology in the hopes of inspiring the next generation of dermatologists to contribute to the field through invention and innovation.

What is an Invention?
According to U.S. patent law, an invention is a new, useful process, machine, or improvement that did not exist previously and that is recognized as the product of some unique intuition or genius, as distinguished from ordinary mechanical skill or craftsmanship.1 In practical terms, inventions are a novel solution to a practice gap in medicine that adds to the available technologic approaches to cure or ameliorate dermatologic disease.

Biomedical inventions can be broadly divided into four major categories: (1) Pharmaceutical; (2) Diagnostic and Prognostic Assays; (3) Medical Devices; and (4) Health Care Information Technology. There are unique opportunities within each of these sectors of invention to positively impact human dermatologic disease.

What is a Patent?
A patent is a contract with a national government, which has been provided for within the United States Constitution since
1790.1 Within a patent, the inventor discloses how to make and/or utilize an invention. In return for the disclosure of the details of an invention, the government confers a time-limited right to exclude others from making, using, selling or importing an identical or similar invention. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, there are three types of patents: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. A patent cannot be obtained based on an idea or suggestion but needs a complete description of the actual invention for which the patent is sought.1

Patents encourage the development, public disclosure, and commercialization of new inventions so that society may benefit widely from the dissemination of new technologies. A period of protection is granted to allow an inventor to recover the material and opportunity costs associated with the development of an invention without facing immediate competition from others who have not invested similarly in the development of the respective technology. In the United States, patent protection is generally enforceable for 20 years from the date of patent application, a time during which the invention may be developed and commercialized under the protection of patent law.

Whereas a patent provides the ability to prevent others from practicing the art claimed in a patent, a patent in and of itself does not have inherent value. It is through the commercialization of a technology protected by a patent that the value of an invention is realized. Commercialization is a process through which an invention is fully developed, produced, validated, and introduced into the market for utilization.

Medical Patent History
The first United States medical patent was for the composition of bilious pills, granted to Samuel Lee on April 30, 1796.2