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Significant novelty

Your idea should of course be different from existing products or documented ideas. But being only a little bit different will not be enough. Your idea should offer clear technical or commercial advantages that existing products or other ideas do not offer.

These advantages should also have the potential to be strongly protectable in law, because in most cases only strong intellectual property (IP) has commercial value. We will deal with this more fully in Part 5

To estimate the degree of novelty of your idea, you need to look in detail at the products and patents you have found in your searches. Any element of your idea that can be found in existing products and ideas will reduce its novelty. And anything that reduces the novelty of your idea is likely also to reduce its potential commercial value.

Evaluating patents

Important: This is an exercise that must be done thoroughly, and patents can be complex, highly technical documents. You may therefore need the help of a patent attorney to do some or all of the following. If you think your idea has good commercial potential, this will be money well spent.

  1. List, in order of importance, the novel features of your idea.
  2. Assemble all the patents you have found that seem relevant to your idea.
  3. Search each patent in full for similarities to your idea. Look particularly closely at the claims made or granted for it, and at official search reports. (If a search report cites other patents, you may need to look at them too.)
  4. Whenever you find a feature of your idea covered by prior art, remove it from your list.
  5. At the end of the exercise, how many features of your idea remain on your list? If one or more of its main features are gone, what remains may be too weak to be of significant commercial value.

Is there room for your idea?

If there are large numbers of patents in a particular technology area, there may be few strong prospects for new ideas. For example, there are currently over 60 patents for floating soap - a fairly simple product, so one has to question how strong many of those patents can be. Anyone with yet another idea for floating soap might find it difficult to acquire worthwhile IP.

Who owns what?

It also helps to note who owns the patents that are most relevant to your idea. If major companies have a strong IP presence in ‘your' technology area, it may be difficult to compete with them even if your idea is different from any of theirs. Inventors occasionally win in ‘David and Goliath' encounters, but in such a situation your idea will need to have outstanding commercial potential if you are to stand any chance of success - particularly when it comes to attracting investment.

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