The Latest News & Events

Meeting the Non-Obvious Standard

Meeting the non-obvious requirement for patentability
Pushing the Boundaries: Meeting the Non-Obvious Standard with Your Invention

When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone in 2007, integrating a touchscreen, apps, internet access, and more into a single device, it revolutionized the smartphone industry. But before Apple could obtain the patents that would protect the iPhone, Jobs needed to prove that this groundbreaking combination of elements was more than just an obvious next step. Like all inventions, the iPhone had to surpass the non-obvious bar to be patentable. So how can inventors evaluate whether their inventions are a novel leap or merely an incremental hop?

Under 35 U.S.C. § 103, an invention cannot be patented if the differences between it and the prior art are obvious to a person skilled in the field. With over 11 million U.S. patents already issued, tying your invention back to some existing technology is practically guaranteed. The key question becomes – does your invention do enough to push the boundaries beyond what is already known?

Keys for Meeting the Non-Obvious Standard

According to patent practitioners at Global Patent Solutions LLC (GPS), assessing the following can help establish non-obviousness:

  • Identify any unique unexpected benefits, capabilities, or results of the invention compared to the prior art. Document why these differences would not have been obvious.
  • Has the invention yielded commercial success? Evidence of fulfilling a long-felt but unsolved need can demonstrate non-obviousness.
  • Do the combined references disclose all the claimed elements? Tying specific components together in new ways can overcome obviousness.
  • Would combining prior art require drastic modifications or counterintuitive changes? Alterations that disrupt primary functions indicate non-obviousness.

By evaluating where your invention stands relative to predecessors through the lens of a patent examiner, you can make the case for pushing forward the boundaries of what is considered obvious in your field. With assistance from IP experts, you can also obtain the documentation, data, and analysis needed to substantiate non-obviousness.


Don’t assume patentability – meeting the non-obvious standard is critical for ensuring patentability. Be sure to prove your invention surpasses what could be considered obvious to skilled experts. Because if your idea is just a small step, and not a leap, should you really be awarded a patent?

This article is part of a series entitled “A Guide to Protecting Your Innovations”.  To start the series at the beginning, click here.

Next up in our series: Crafting Broad Patent Claims to Maximize Protection