Patents offer an inventor a legally enforceable right to a substance, method, device or process that is new and useful. When authorities grant an inventor a patent, they can stop others from adopting and using the innovative or inventive process by suing them for infringement.
When it comes to patenting, Apple’s portfolio is quite impressive. For example, they have patented the function of remotely disabling iPhone cameras, the sliding function for unlocking the iPhone and the concept of their round and bezel edges on their iPhones. It may then surprise you to learn that their recent US patent application is not associated with their iconic products. Rather, Apple has sought to patent their innovation relating to a paper bag which they provide to consumers upon purchasing their products. Below, we take a closer look at Apple’s new patent application, while exploring the requirements for applying for a patent in Australia and whether Apple would likely face any objections.
Case Study: Apple’s Paper Bag Innovation?
White paper bags that are made of recycled material have a tendency to be weak due to the amount of bleach used when manufacturing them. As a result, Apple sought to remedy this by inventing a new paper bag.
It’s important to remember that Apple is not trying to patent a paper bag. Given that ‘novelty’ is one of the requirements for patenting in Australia and the US, it would not be possible for Apple to do so as paper bags are not a new invention.
Rather, Apple is seeking to protect their innovative process, namely how they intend to hold the paper bag together. According to their patent application, the paper bag will be held together using reinforcements at the folds and gussets of the bag, and one at the bottom which connects to the sides. There will also be a handle that is made of paper fibre yarn and knitted in an 8-stich circular knit pattern.
Standard and Innovation Patents in Australia
There are two kinds of patents in Australia under the Patents Act 1990 (Cth). These include a standard patent and innovation patent.
An innovation patent offers protection for inventions that represent incremental advances for devices, substances or methods and do not necessarily meet the inventiveness threshold required for standard patents. Instead, they need to be innovative.
A standard patent requires a new invention that involves an inventive step which can be made or used in industry. Small to medium businesses typically seek an innovation patent as it provides a relatively cheaper patent right.
Aside from the innovative and inventive difference, the criteria for both are the same. They must:
- Involve a “manner of manufacture” (i.e. they must offer a material advantage which has economic utility);
- Be new;
- Be non-obvious;
- Be useful; and
- Must not have been previously used in secret or public
For Apple to obtain a patent in Australia for their innovation, they must establish that it will offer a material advantage which has economic utility. To support their position, Apple has claimed that their new invention will not only provide for a more robust paper bag but is also environmentally friendly with 60% recycled material.
Innovation patents are for a term of 8 years, whereas standard patents provide 20 years of protection. People often use an innovation patent when an invention has a relatively short commercial life.
You also have the option of applying for a provisional patent which provides you with 12 months to consider whether or not you wish to proceed with a full patent application. A provisional application is similar to a placeholder and can be useful if you still have not fully developed your invention. It does not provide you with the protection of a full patent application but gives you a priority date which establishes that you were the first to file the new invention with IP Australia.
The Requirement for Novelty and Non-Obviousness
As previously mentioned, authorities will not grant you a patent for inventions which lack novelty. Whether you wish to apply for an innovation or standard patent, the test for determining novelty is very much the same.
When you apply for a patent, you are required to set out claims that illustrate how your invention differs from prior art at the time of your application (i.e. existing knowledge).
This means that your invention will be compared against information which has been disclosed by way of publication or through prior use. The US Patent and Trademark Office will certainly scrutinise Apple’s application for novelty.
Furthermore, for authorities to grant a patent, it must not have been obvious to a person who is skilled in the relevant art or equipped with common general knowledge. For example, if you are an engineer and have invented a new process, it is helpful to consider whether this process would be obvious to other engineers with your skill set and knowledge. As such, the fact that Apple was the first to design a bag using this process will not necessarily mean that it was not obvious at the time of their invention.
If the US Patent and Trademark Office grant Apple a patent for their innovation, they will have the legal right to exploit their invention for the lifespan of the patent.
When applying for a patent, it is first important to consider whether you have met the requirements for patenting in Australia. A patent must meet the manner of manufacture test, be new, useful, innovative or inventive, non-obvious and not have been previously used in secret or publicly disclosed.
If you are satisfied that your invention meets these criteria, it is then important to decide which application is right for you. You can choose from either an innovation patent, standard patent or provisional patent depending on your invention.
A patent attorney can provide invaluable guidance and assist you to patent your invention successfully. It will certainly be interesting to learn whether the US Patent and Trademark Office grant Apple a patent for their innovation with their white paper bags!
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