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The act or process of modifying an object to render it suitable for a particular or new purpose or situation.

In the law of patents—grants by the government to inventors for the exclusive right to manufacture, use, or market inventions for a term of years—adaptation denotes a category of patentable inventions, which entails the application of an existing product or process to a new use, accompanied by the exercise of inventive faculties. Federal law provides: "Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefore, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title." 35 U.S.C.A. §101.

The adaptation of a device to a different field can constitute an invention if inventiveness exists in the conception of new use and with modifications necessary to render the device applicable in the new field. The progressive adaptation of well-known devices to new, but similar, uses is merely a display of an expected technical proficiency, which involves only the exercise of common reasoning abilities upon materials furnished by special knowledge ensuing from continual practice. It, therefore, does not represent a patentable invention. Ingenuity beyond the mere adaptation of teachings as could be done by a skilled mechanic is required to achieve a patentable invention; inventive talent, rather than skill in adaptation, must be manifested. To entitle a party to the benefit of the patent statute, the device must not only be new; it must be inventively new. The readaptation of old forms to new roles does not constitute invention where there is no significant alteration in the method of applying it or in the nature of the result obtained. No invention will be recognized if the new form of the result has not previously been contemplated and, irrespective of the remoteness of the new use from the old, if no modifications in the old device are necessary to adapt it to the new use.

Invention is generally not involved where an old process, device, or method is applied to a new subject or use that is analogous to the old or to a new use or the production of a new result in the same or analogous field. If the new use is so comparable to the old that the concept of adapting the device to the new use would occur to a person proficient in the art and interested in devising a method of changing the intended function, there is no invention even though significant alterations have been made. The application of an old device to a new use is normally patentable only if the new use is in a different field or involves a completely novel function. In addition, the physical modifications need not be extensive, as long as they are essential to the objective.

In the law of copyrights the exclusive right of the author of a literary project to reproduce, publish, and sell his or her work, which is granted by statute, adaptation refers to the creation of a derivative work, which is protected by federal Copyright laws.

A derivative work involves a recasting or translation process that incorporates preexisting material capable of protection by copyright. An adaptation is copyrighted if it meets the requirement of originality, in the sense that the author has created it by his or her own proficiency, labor, and judgment without directly copying or subtly imitating the preexisting material. Mere minor alterations will not suffice. In addition the adapter must procure the consent of the copyright owner of the underlying work if he or she wants to copy from such work. The copyright in a derivative work, however, extends only to the material contributed by the adapter and does not affect the copyright protection afforded to the preexisting material.

The rise in the use of digital media has caused new dilemmas in the area of copyright law with respect to adaptations. Even average technology users may make copies and adapt the original works to their needs. Recent issues in this area have focused upon intellectual property rights in the context of the Internet and computer programs.

Even average computer users are now capable of copying digital music files and modifying them through the use of software. The Internet now allows these users to prepare these modifications and distribute them to a wide audience using the Web, E-Mail, and other methods of distribution. The Copyright Act of 1976 continues to protect the copyright holders, generally requiring those who prepared derivative works to obtain permission from the copyright holder (17 U.S.C.A. § 114(b) [1996]). However, enforcement of these provisions has proven difficult and led to a number of efforts, including those by the Recording Industry Association of America, to find new methods for protecting the rights of the copyright holders.

A second cause of concern among copyright owners is the ability of computer users to make copies of computer program and adopt these programs to serve the users' purposes. The Copyright Act provides an exclusive right to the copyright holders of computer programs and allows owners of copies of these programs to make additional copies only in limited circumstances (17 U.S.C.A. § 117 [1996]). Like sound recordings, protection of these copyrights has proven difficult, leading lawmakers to consider a number of new options to protect these rights.

In the law of real property, with respect to fixtures (articles that were Personal Property but became part of the realty through annexation to the premises), adaptation is the relationship between the article and the use that is made of the realty to which the article is annexed.

The prevailing view is that the adaptation or appropriation of an article affixed to real property for the purpose or use to which the premises are devoted is an important consideration in ascertaining its status as a fixture. According to this theory, if the article facilitates the realization of the purpose of the real property, the annexor presumably intends it to be a permanent Accession. Numerous other cases, however, allude to the adaptation of an item to the use to which the premises are designated, as merely one of the tests or factors that should or must be evaluated in determining that it constitutes real property. Other cases view the character of the use of the article annexed as significant.

The special construction or fitting of an article for location and use on certain land or in a particular building, which mitigates against use in another location, indicates that is was intended to constitute a part of the land.

The adaptability of an annexed article for use in another location is sometimes viewed as demonstrating the retention of its character as personalty (personal property), but this characteristic is not conclusive. Articles not designed to comprise the realty retain their character as personalty.

Further readings

Benn, Marvin N., and Richard J. Superfine. 1994. "§ 117—The Right to Adapt into the Fourth Generation and the Source Code Generator's Dilemma." John Marshall Journal of Computer and Information Law 537.

Miller, Arthur R., and Michael H. Davis. 2000. Intellectual Property: Patents, Trademarks, and Copyright in a Nutshell. 3d ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Group.Plotkin, Mark E., ed. 2003. E-Commerce Law & Business. New York: Aspen.

See: accommodation, adjustment, compromise, habituation, innovation, modification, propriety