First let me say that I am not a patent attorney, yet over the last few years I have learned a great deal about patent law. Patent “lingo” can be really confusing, so hopefully the explanations and examples in this post can make sense of a few things.
Did you know?
Getting an approval or final rejection on a patent takes approximately 1-3 years. In my case, it took just over 3 years! The USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) is selective about issuing patents and it is a lengthy and costly process. However, if they did not adhere strictly to guidelines, patents would eventually lose their significance and value.
To receive a patent, an invention must be non obvious, novel, and useful.
1. Non Obvious – the invention must not be easily perceived by a person of expertise in that invention’s particular field.
What on earth does that mean?!
The concept of “non obviousness” was very confusing at first to me. Let me explain with an example. When the USPTO examiner reviews your application he or she will find all related “prior art” (previously issued patents similar to your idea). The examiner will probably find dozens, even hundreds of possible conflicts and begin reviewing them all. Let’s just say, for example, the examiner zeroes in on one patent from 1935, one from 1967, one from 1986, all of which to the average person seem somewhat similar, yet “different”, than your invention. The examiner can say that if you combine elements of those 3 inventions, your invention would be “obvious to someone skilled in that field or expertise”. Therefore even though those 3 patents are seemingly different from each other and your idea, your invention would likely be rejected because it has to be “nonobvious”.
This seems kind of unfair, doesn’t it? As if people spend hours studying old patents, trying to combine them?
Well, perhaps some people or companies do. That is why non-obviousness is a requirement.
2. Novel – To be given a patent an idea must be novel. Novel does not just mean “different”. It means substantially new and unlike anything ever publicly known. Public knowledge includes anything that has been previously patented, anything that has been written about in a publication, or anything that is already being sold in the open market.
3. Useful. An invention can’t just be an “idea”. It must be functional and serve some type of purpose. For example, you can’t patent the idea for a time machine, just because you have the idea. You have to show that it works.
Questions, or thoughts? Please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!
*Patent laws are complex and change frequently. This information is intended to explain some basic things about patents that I have learned as an inventor. I am not an attorney. Please note that things mentioned in this post are issues that you should discuss in detail with your patent attorney.