In practicing patent law, much of the process focuses on explaining how and why the invention is different from what came before.
Everything that came before is referred to as the “prior art.” The invention cannot be expressly or implicitly disclosed in any “prior art” references.
If there is already a patent for the invention, a patent application for the invention, a description of the invention in a printed publication, or a product in use that already uses the process used by the invention, the invention does not meet the novelty requirement.
Usefulness, also referred to as the “utility requirement,” is—in practice—one of the easier parts of the process. Inventions are almost always solutions to problems. The mere fact that it’s a solution to an existing problem makes it useful.
The utility requirement requires us to answer the questions “Does the invention do anything?” and “Does the invention work?”
Non-obviousness is a different problem from novelty. To some extent, all inventions are combinations of older inventions. The non-obviousness test is asking: Is the combination that comprises the invention in question obvious?
Traditional patents protect tangible scientific inventions, such as circuit boards, car engines, heating coils or zippers. However, over time patents have been used to protect a broader variety of inventions such as coding algorithms, business practices, or genetically modified organisms.
In general, a patent can be granted if an invention is:
● not a natural object or process
● not obvious
Exactly what is eligible for patent protection is a topic of fierce debate and courts often struggle to determine what is a new, nonobvious invention.
Once granted, a patent gives the inventors the exclusive right to sell their invention for 20 years. Sometimes inventors give other companies a license to manufacture and sell the invention in exchange for a fee.
Want to learn more? Tonex offers Patent Law for Managers Training Crash Course, a 3-day course that covers what you need to know about patents from a basic legal and the managerial point-of-view.
Managers, in particular, need to have a fundamental and broad understanding of patents, which are constitutionally-derived rights that serve to legally protecting inventions (e.g., devices, processes, products, materials, software methods, etc.) from unjust infringement by competitors.
For more information, questions, comments, contact us.