To meet the USPTO’s standard of novelty during the patent application process, your invention has to be different than all others that have come before it. If your invention has been publicly disclosed or sold anywhere in the world, it isn’t patentable. But don’t get discouraged! Your concept can be similar to an existing product ” you don’t need to literally reinvent the wheel ” but it must have at least one distinguishing feature.

What is novelty?

Novelty means that nobody else has ever created something that is exactly the same as your invention. For your invention to be considered novel, it either needs to be a complete original and unlike anything the world’s ever seen, or (and more likely) it’s an improvement to an already existing product or service that boosts efficiency, lowers cost, uses fewer parts, or has a different structure. Some examples might include the cotton gin, which sped up the process of removing cotton seeds from the product. Or take the example of a musket that was enhanced by introducing interchangeable parts. Even the function of a retractable pen, as opposed to one that uses a cap, is an instance of a small tweak that earns novelty.

Whatever the difference is between your invention and similar inventions in the past, even if it’s small, you can meet the novelty requirement with the USPTO.

How to know if your invention is novel?

Using a novelty search, you can possibly find out if your invention has been created before or if there are any existing patent applications for it. While you can perform the searches on your own, it’s helpful to have an IP attorney do this for you, and some buyers require verification of patentability from a lawyer before they’ll even consider purchasing your invention. Because of their extensive work with IP, patent attorneys will know the line between a novel and plain old ideas. They’ve also got more experience with these types of searches and are better trained to find small exceptions and possibilities for infringement. Hiring an IP attorney saves you time and money through the filing process with thorough checks for prior art. They can also better anticipate and prepare for hurdles that can come in the way of pushback from the USPTO.

What to do if your invention isn’t novel enough:

If you find your invention isn’t new, there are a few things you can do to step up your game. The first is to alter your invention in a way that makes it different. Take a Keurig for example. At its core, it’s a single brew coffee station, something already in existence and being used widely. The inventors of the Keurig wouldn’t be able to secure a patent application based on this information alone. So, they added a pod system for their single servings. This was considered an upgrade from earlier versions of the personal coffee maker, therefore novel and potentially eligible for a patent.

Why do you need a lawyer to help you define the novelty of your product?

Based on their expertise and direct dealings with the USPTO, a lawyer will know exactly what the examiner will be looking for and be able to play to those expectations. Although every examiner is different, the guidelines they use come from the same page.

An IP lawyer can look at things objectively. If you can only think about your invention as your brain baby, it’s hard to get through the choppy waters of patent application filing. An objective approach will save you time and keep more money in your wallet because you’ll be making clear and cohesive decisions rather than playing at the mercy of something that “feels right.”

Knowing that the USPTO requires novelty means inventors need to arm themselves as they prepare to file patent applications. Start by doing your own novelty research. Then, pass it off to your IP attorney when you think you’re ready to begin filing and remember to stay hopeful as the small difference that makes your invention new is likely enough to overcome this requirement.