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The “Non-Obvious” Way to Know If Your Idea Is Patentable

Rich Goldstein

Founder & Principal Patent Attorney

When you invest your time and energy developing an idea, it’s natural to want to protect it. When it comes to protecting an idea, a patent is the highest level of protection. The question becomes… How do you know if your idea is original?  Or if your invention is too close to somebody else’s? 

How Different Does It Need to Be? 

The short answer is, there are three requirements for how distinctive an invention must be to be patented.  Specifically, your invention must be novel (or unique), useful, and non-obvious. 

Business owners, inventors, and entrepreneurs often get hung up on the idea that their invention must be non-obvious.

What Does Non-Obvious Mean?

Even if your invention is novel (or unique), it needs to have something different about it to be non-obvious. If someone can say “that’s something I could have done, I just haven’t done it yet,” then it may not be patentable. 

For example, let’s say your idea was to make “kid-sized” clothes hangers. 

While hangers in a smaller size may be new, clothing manufacturers could have made them long ago. Instead, they chose a standardized size that fits most clothing. Essentially, this idea would change the size of a previous invention.  As a result it is not patentable.

Where Patenting Gets Confusing

To get your invention patented, it must be both novel and non-obvious. There can be (and often are) differing opinions about what is and what isn’t obvious. Because of this, to the untrained eye, patentability can be confusing. 

To determine if your invention is non-obvious, and move past some of the confusion, you must first examine the closest already patented inventions. 

This research can help determine if your invention would qualify as a non-obvious improvement. 

Invest time to research patents in your field. Ask for feedback to gather differing opinions. As you get to know other similar ideas and patents, you’ll be able to find out if your idea is patentable. 

If you are ready to start the research phase and have questions about exactly where to start, or if you would like our team of patent experts to do the research for you, a patent evaluation is the first place to start.

Your Patent Evaluation Process

Most patent attorneys skip this critical first step, which we feel is a tremendous flaw. Our process starts with this signature step because it ensures we do not waste your valuable time and resources on a patent you may in fact not need. It also ensures our research is aligned with your business goals.

The patent evaluation gives the Goldstein Team the opportunity to collect the right information from you about your idea. This informs our research so that we can give you the best advice about how and whether to proceed with a patent.

During this initial phase, we’ll also learn about your goals. We want to understand your reasons for seeking patent protection. Together, we’ll talk about how owning your intellectual property can help you achieve those goals.

We take the time to learn as much as possible about your idea and your goals. We’ll also guide you through the types and extent of patent protection that would be ideal for you.

We recognize that every client’s situation, motivations, and goals are unique. Our patent evaluation helps us understand the nuances of your situation so that together we can develop an appropriate strategy.

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While intellectual property protection might be difficult and confusing, we patiently listen to you, help you understand all your options, and then follow the best path to protect your valuable idea.

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