Patent requirements novelty refers to the laws that dictate which inventions are eligible for patent protection. In this context, a novel idea must be completely original. You cannot patent an invention that is close to something that is already publicized or used in the U.S., has previously been described in a print publication, was used or sold in the U.S. more than a year before the patent application was filed, or was described in an international publication more than a year before the application file date. To be patentable, the entire invention doesn't need to be novel; an improvement to an existing invention may also qualify for patent protection.

Meeting the Novelty Requirements

Just because a novel modification to an existing invention is small doesn't mean it's not patentable. For example, even a small change to a paper clip could qualify for a patent if it substantially upgrades the strength or design.

Before applying for a patent, you should thoroughly review prior art to make sure your invention does not already exist. You may want to consult an experienced patent attorney with knowledge in your industry so he or she can help you conduct a comprehensive search and advise on whether your invention will likely qualify for a patent.

In some cases even a novel invention may not qualify for a patent. The laws are designed this way in order to:

  • Protect those who have been using the invention prior to the patent application file date.
  • Discourage inventors from creating a monopoly by gaming the system to protect their patent for longer than 20 years.
  • Encourage inventors to immediately disclose new and useful information.

Examples of Novel Inventions

Because most inventions combine aspects of prior art with new innovations, it can be challenging to determine which, if any, parts of a specific creation are novel. Under patent law, an invention is not novel if all components have been used in a single prior art item. If each component is used in separate prior art items, however, it may be considered novel.

This point may be argued in court, as demonstrated by a patent awarded to Broadcom Corp. for technology involved in sending and receiving data via radio frequency between mobile devices and a central terminal. These products are often used in warehouses and other large facilities.

When Broadcom applied for patent protection in 1991, examples of prior art were plagued with power issues and the inability to interface with certain applications. Broadcom improved on existing systems by using a single module to increase versatility and decrease power requirements.

Broadcom earned a patent on this invention and sued competitor Qualcomm for infringement. The defense argued that the patent was not novel since it was similar to the GSM system created by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute.

Other Patent Requirements

In addition to novelty, patent claims must also be non-obvious and useful. Each of these terms has a specific meaning under federal patent law. You may want to consult with an experienced intellectual patent attorney who can help you determine if the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is likely to find your invention non-obvious, novel, and useful.

Under the law, useful indicates that the invention must have a function and be able to perform the purpose for which it is designed. The USPTO uses these guidelines to determine whether an invention can be deemed useful:

  • A person with standard skill in the industry would appreciate the usefulness of the invention.
  • The purpose of the invention is credible, substantial, and specific in at least one way.

When an application is rejected because the invention is not useful, the patent examiner must provide a detailed explanation as to why.

Non-obviousness means that the differences between the new invention and one that is already patented would not be easily determined by a person who has typical skill in the industry in question. For example, potassium chloride and sodium chloride are interchangeable types of salt. Therefore, an improvement to road salt that would swap the former for the latter would be too obvious to be patentable even though it is technically unique.

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