Define: Absolute-Novelty Requirement

Absolute-Novelty Requirement
Absolute-Novelty Requirement
Quick Summary of Absolute-Novelty Requirement

The absolute-novelty requirement states that an invention must be completely new and not previously known or used by others in order to be eligible for a patent. This means that if someone else has already patented, described, sold, or used the invention, it cannot be considered new and cannot be patented. In countries like Canada and Mexico, the inventor must file a patent application before publicly using, selling, or disclosing the invention. However, in the United States, the inventor has a one-year grace period to file a patent application after any public use, sale, offer of sale, or publication by the inventor or their agent.

What is the dictionary definition of Absolute-Novelty Requirement?
Dictionary Definition of Absolute-Novelty Requirement

The absolute novelty requirement mandates that inventors must always submit a patent application before publicly using, selling, or disclosing their invention. This requirement ensures that the invention is entirely new and has not been previously known or used by others. For instance, if someone creates a novel phone charger, they must file a patent application before commencing sales or showcasing it to others. Failure to apply first may result in losing the opportunity to patent the invention. The absolute novelty requirement holds significance as it guarantees that only genuinely new and innovative inventions receive patents. This fosters innovation and prevents the unfair exploitation of someone else’s ideas.

Full Definition Of Absolute-Novelty Requirement

The absolute novelty requirement is a cornerstone in patent law, serving as a fundamental criterion for granting patents across various jurisdictions. This legal principle dictates that for an invention to be patentable, it must be entirely new and not previously disclosed to the public. The requirement ensures that patents are only granted for truly innovative advancements, fostering innovation and protecting genuine intellectual property. This overview examines the absolute novelty requirement from a legal perspective, detailing its significance, application, and implications within the patent systems of different jurisdictions, with a particular focus on the United Kingdom.

Historical Context and Evolution

The concept of novelty in patent law can be traced back to the early days of patent systems in the 15th and 16th centuries. However, as it is understood today, the absolute novelty requirement has evolved significantly over time. Early patent laws were more lenient, allowing some form of public use or prior knowledge without necessarily invalidating a patent. Over the centuries, as industrialization progressed and the complexity of inventions increased, the need for a stricter novelty criterion became apparent. The absolute novelty requirement was formally codified in various national and international patent laws to ensure a uniform standard for patentability.

Definition and Scope

Under the absolute novelty requirement, an invention is considered novel if it has not been made available to the public before the patent application date. This encompasses any prior art, which includes anything published in written form, presented orally, publicly used, or otherwise disclosed. The absolute nature of this requirement means that even if the disclosure occurred outside the applicant’s home country or in a different language, it could still be considered prior art and negate the novelty of the invention.

Jurisdictional Approaches

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the absolute novelty requirement is enshrined in the Patents Act 1977, which aligns with the European Patent Convention (EPC). Section 2 of the Act stipulates that an invention is novel if it does not form part of the state of the art. The state of the art is defined as comprising all matter (whether a product, a process, information about either, or anything else) made available to the public before the priority date of the invention. This definition embraces a global perspective, reinforcing the absolute nature of the requirement.

European Patent Office (EPO)

The European Patent Convention, under Article 54, establishes the novelty requirement similarly to the UK’s Patents Act. The EPC’s broad definition of prior art ensures that any public disclosure, regardless of geographical location or form, is considered. The EPO’s rigorous examination process includes a comprehensive search for prior art, underscoring the importance of absolute novelty in the European patent landscape.

United States

Contrastingly, the United States adopts a slightly different approach under the America Invents Act (AIA). The AIA introduced a first-inventor-to-file system, harmonising U.S. patent law with international standards to some extent. Under 35 U.S.C. § 102, an invention is not novel if it is patented, described in a printed publication, in public use, on sale, or otherwise available before the effective filing date. While the U.S. system recognises global disclosures, it allows for a one-year grace period for disclosures made by the inventor or derived from the inventor, which is not a feature of the absolute-novelty requirement in jurisdictions like the UK and EPO.


Japanese patent law also embodies the absolute novelty requirement, as Article 29 of the Japanese Patent Act outlines. The Act specifies that an invention lacks novelty if it has been publicly known, used, or described in a publication anywhere in the world before the filing date. Japan’s approach aligns closely with the EPO and UK, emphasising the global scope of prior art and the stringent standards for novelty.

Practical Application and Challenges

The application of the absolute novelty requirement involves meticulous examination processes by patent offices to identify any prior art that might compromise an invention’s novelty. Patent examiners conduct thorough searches in various databases, scientific journals, and other sources to ascertain whether the invention has been previously disclosed.

However, challenges arise in interpreting what constitutes a public disclosure. For instance, the nuances of what is considered “made available to the public” can be contentious. Disclosures in obscure journals, presentations at closed conferences, or limited distribution of documents might complicate the determination of novelty. Additionally, technological advancement and the proliferation of digital information present further complexities in ensuring comprehensive prior art searches.

Legal Implications and Case Law

Legal disputes often arise over the interpretation and application of the absolute-novelty requirement. The courts play a crucial role in adjudicating these disputes, setting precedents that shape the understanding of novelty in patent law.

United Kingdom Case Law

One landmark case in the UK is Synthon BV v SmithKline Beecham plc [2005] UKHL 59. This case involved the validity of a patent for a pharmaceutical compound. The House of Lords held that for a prior disclosure to negate novelty, it must disclose the invention clearly and unambiguously. The ruling reinforced the principle that any prior art must provide sufficient information to implement the invention.

European Case Law

In the EPO, the Mobil/Friction Reducing Additive case (T 595/90) set a significant precedent. The Technical Board of Appeal held that for a disclosure to be novelty-destroying, it must be enabled, meaning it must provide enough technical information for a skilled person to carry out the invention. This decision highlighted the importance of the quality and clarity of prior disclosures in assessing novelty.

United States Case Law

In the United States, the case of In re Hall (781 F.2d 897) illustrated the application of the novelty requirement under U.S. law. The court ruled that a single copy of a doctoral thesis shelved in a university library constituted prior art, as it was accessible to the public. This case underscored the broad interpretation of what constitutes a public disclosure in the U.S. patent system.

Policy Considerations and Reforms

The absolute-novelty requirement serves several key policy objectives. It incentivizes inventors to file patents promptly, ensuring that only genuinely new inventions receive protection. It also promotes transparency and dissemination of knowledge by discouraging the withholding of information. However, the stringent nature of this requirement has prompted discussions about potential reforms.

Grace Periods

One area of debate is the introduction of grace periods, similar to those in the U.S., allowing inventors a limited period to disclose their inventions without losing novelty. Proponents argue that grace periods can support academic and collaborative research, where early disclosure is often necessary. Opponents, however, caution that grace periods could introduce uncertainty and complicate the examination process.

Harmonisation of Standards

As globalisation continues to influence innovation, there is a push towards harmonising patent laws across jurisdictions. Aligning the absolute novelty requirement globally could simplify patenting for inventors seeking protection in multiple countries. Efforts by international bodies like the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) aim to standardise patent laws, though achieving consensus remains challenging.

Future Directions

The absolute novelty requirement will continue to evolve as technological advancements and globalisation reshape the innovation landscape. Patent offices are increasingly leveraging artificial intelligence and advanced search algorithms to enhance prior art searches, ensuring more accurate assessments of novelty. Additionally, the ongoing dialogue about grace periods and international harmonisation suggests that future reforms may balance the need for rigorous novelty standards with the practicalities of modern innovation.


The absolute novelty requirement is a pivotal element of patent law, ensuring that only truly novel inventions are granted patent protection. Its stringent criteria and global scope uphold the integrity of the patent system, fostering innovation and protecting intellectual property. While challenges and debates persist, the evolution of this requirement reflects the dynamic nature of patent law and its critical role in advancing technology and knowledge. As jurisdictions refine their patent laws, the absolute novelty requirement will remain a fundamental principle guiding the grant of patents worldwide.

Absolute-Novelty Requirement FAQ'S

The absolute-novelty requirement is a legal principle that states an invention must be completely new and not disclosed to the public in any form before filing a patent application.

The absolute-novelty requirement ensures that only truly innovative and original inventions are granted patent protection. It prevents inventors from obtaining patents for ideas that have already been disclosed or made available to the public.

If your invention does not meet the absolute-novelty requirement, it may not be eligible for patent protection. In such cases, you may need to explore other forms of intellectual property protection or consider keeping your invention as a trade secret.

To determine if your invention meets the absolute-novelty requirement, you should conduct a thorough search of prior art, which includes existing patents, published articles, and any other publicly available information related to your invention. This search will help you identify if your invention has already been disclosed.

Disclosing your invention to potential investors or partners before filing a patent application can jeopardize its absolute novelty. It is advisable to file a patent application before any public disclosure to ensure your invention remains eligible for patent protection.

If someone else has already disclosed an invention similar to yours, it may impact the absolute novelty of your invention. However, it is essential to consult with a patent attorney to assess the specific circumstances and determine if your invention still meets the absolute-novelty requirement.

Yes, you can apply for a patent in multiple countries if your invention meets the absolute-novelty requirement in one country. However, it is crucial to file your patent applications within the specified time limits to ensure your invention remains eligible for patent protection in each country.

After filing a patent application, you can publish your invention without affecting its absolute novelty. However, it is advisable to consult with a patent attorney to understand the specific rules and regulations regarding publication during the patent application process.

If you discover prior art that could impact the absolute novelty of your invention after filing a patent application, you should inform your patent attorney immediately. They can assess the situation and guide you on the best course of action, which may include amending your patent claims or withdrawing the application.

The absolute-novelty requirement lasts until the filing date of the patent application. Any public disclosure or prior art that occurs before the filing date can potentially impact the absolute novelty of the invention.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th June 2024.

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