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  • Writer's pictureTiera Fletcher, Esq.

Understanding Patentability Criteria: Novelty, Non-obviousness, and Utility Explained

Inventors and innovators seeking to protect their creations should be well-versed in the criteria that make an invention patentable.

The United States Patent & Trademark Office grants a patent under the Patent Act. The owner of a patent has the right to exclude others from practicing the invention claimed in the patent in the United States for a limited time. Assuming an invention is patent eligible, an inventor's entitlement to a patent depends on whether the invention satisfies the other requirements of the Patent Act. Primarily, those requirements are that (i) the invention is novel, nonobvious and not subject to a statutory bar, (ii) the invention is useful, and (iii) the inventor satisfies the Patent Act's disclosure requirements. See 35 USCS § 101-103

In this blog, we will explore each of these criteria, providing examples to help illustrate the requirements for a patentable invention.

Criterion 1: Novelty

To meet the novelty requirement, an invention must be new, and not previously disclosed to the public. The invention must not have been known or used by others, published, or patented before the inventor's filing date. This ensures that patents are only granted to genuine innovations, rather than existing ideas or minor modifications.

Consider this Example: Suppose an inventor develops a new type of engine that significantly reduces fuel consumption, by utilizing a unique combustion process. This invention could be considered novel if no similar engines have been previously disclosed or patented.

Criterion 2: Non-Obviousness

The non-obviousness criterion requires that an invention not be obvious to a person with ordinary skill in the relevant field. This means that the invention should display ingenuity or inventiveness that would not be readily apparent to someone knowledgeable in the area.

For Example: Let's assume that the fuel-efficient engine mentioned in the Novelty Example employs a combination of existing technologies to enhance its performance significantly. Even if each technology is individually known, the inventive combination may be considered non-obvious if it would not have been apparent to someone skilled in engine design.

Criterion 3: Utility

The utility requirement stipulates that an invention must have practical, real-world use. In other words, the invention must be capable of solving a problem or fulfilling a need, rather than being a mere theoretical concept or abstract idea.

An Example: Returning to the fuel-efficient engine example discussed in Novelty and Non-Obviousness, if the invention demonstrates a tangible improvement in fuel consumption, and can be practically implemented in real-world vehicles, it would fulfill the utility criterion.

Additional Considerations

In addition to meeting the criteria of novelty, non-obviousness, and utility, inventions must also fall within the scope of patentable subject matter. Generally, patentable subject matter includes processes, machines, articles of manufacture, and compositions of matter. However, some exclusions apply, such as laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas.

A patent application must provide a detailed and enabling disclosure of the invention. This means that the application should describe the invention in sufficient detail, enabling a person with ordinary skills in the relevant field to understand and reproduce the invention.


Understanding the patentability criteria of novelty, non-obviousness, and utility is crucial for inventors and innovators looking to protect their creations. By ensuring that an invention meets these requirements and is accompanied by a comprehensive patent application, inventors can secure valuable intellectual property rights and foster innovation in their respective fields.

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