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Identifying the invention

invention-bulbBy David French 

In preparing materials for a recent presentation I boldly summarized the patenting process as follows:

It’s very easy to obtain a patent. Just file an application … for a useful idea that includes a description on how to make it happen, and which specifies a feature that is new (done in one or more “claims”).

Easily said, but challenging to fully understand the consequences of these requirements.

The patent novelty requirement

Discussing these issues with aspiring inventors, I’ve come to realize that one of the sticking points in going forward is appreciating the feature that is being patented. This is the feature referenced above that must be “new.”

Inventors often do not fully appreciate the novelty requirement of patent law. Patents are not issued simply because an inventor has conceived of something which is useful. Patents only issue for things which are new. The Golden Rule of patent law is that a patent cannot take away from the public anything that was previously available. “Previously available” includes “obvious variants” on what was already known, disclosed, or put into use anywhere in the world, in any way, at any time prior to the filing of a patent application.

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