Many a times, a great invention is a combination of two (or more) existing products. In these cases, inventors often wonder if they can actually patent their invention idea since products used in their idea already exist and may have already been patented by other inventors.
Yes, you can, of course file for a patent for a “combination” invention, however, the law is quite strict when it comes to patentable combination inventions.
The Definition of An Obvious Invention
For any invention to receive a patent, the creation or design of the idea must not be obvious. What does obvious mean in this context? Well, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has very clear standards for what they consider an obvious invention. A determination of obviousness basically boils down to whether or not there is a sufficient difference from the previous invention and how it was crafted and whether the technology has been used prior and if the owner of the original patent would not find that new use predictable.
The methodology behind determining if an invention is obvious is actually very complex. If you want to learn more about this, you can read these standards in the US Code Title 35 - Patents Section 103 on their website at: https://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/mpep-9015-appx-l.html#d0e302450.
How Obviousness Can Impact a Combination Patent
There are several ways the laws on obviousness can impact the ability to patent a combination invent. A combination patent will be considered obvious by the USPTO if:
The invention combines preexisting art elements to yield predictable results
The invention was created through substitution of elements yielding predictable results
The invention was made by using a known manufacturing technique yielding predictable results
The invention was improved by a known technique yielding predictable results
The invention was not two products simply aggregated together that are not unique
So when considering patenting a combination invention, you need to really understand the laws about obviousness and make sure that your invention idea is NOT obvious. Essentially, a combination of two inventions that use the original manufacturing techniques and functions of the original underlying inventions cannot be patented.
On the other hand, if the two inventions are combined to create a novel and unique use for both inventions resulting in the combined invention, you may receive a patent. Since the laws surrounding obviousness are very complex, it is best to consult with a patent attorney or a patent services firm or organization before filing a patent for a combination invention.