A patent provides the patent holder with the right to prevent other people from using his or her invention. In order to be patentable, it is first necessary that the invention is an "invention" within the meaning of the relevant patent law. Thus, for example, in Europe, it cannot be an idea or a scheme or method of playing games, doing business or performing mental acts. Specifically, the invention must be an article or a process or method, which is capable of being made or used in any kind of industry (including agriculture). This is a very broad definition, since it covers most items which are capable of being manufactured in some way, provided that a technical advance is involved.
The two most important requirements, which must be fulfilled for a patent to be granted, are the requirements of novelty and inventive step. For an invention to be novel, it must not have been made available to the public by written or oral description, by use or in any other way prior to the filing of a patent application. It is important to note that novelty is an absolute requirement; even if the inventor only describes his or her invention orally to one other person who is not bound to keep the invention confidential, this will destroy the novelty of the invention. Accordingly, one should be very careful not to disclose his/her invention before a patent application has been filed.
For an invention to involve an inventive step, it must not be obvious to the skilled worker in the technical field to which the invention relates. This question is more difficult to assess than that of novelty, but it generally means that minor modifications of known products or processes are unpatentable, unless an unexpected effect results from such modification.
You should note that the patent literature contains a large number of published inventions, so the fact that a particular item is not available on the market is no guarantee that it is novel and inventive, since somebody else may have previously applied for a patent but, without subsequently commercialising the invention.
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