What is Novelty?

Novelty is the first patentability requirement and determines whether a proposed invention is new or not.  A patent examiner will study the invention claims in great detail to try and find if every element in the claim is found in a prior art document.  If even a single element of the new invention claims is not discussed in any of the available prior art, then the new invention is novel.

An example could be the following description for a table.  A claim may say “a table, having a circular top mounted on four legs, the legs being arranged evenly around the circumference of the circular top”.  A prior art document may contain a claim saying “a table, having a elliptical top mounted on four legs, the legs being arranged evenly around the circumference of the elliptical top” – can you spot the difference between the two, and thus the novelty of the invention?  As the prior art document states an elliptical top, and the new invention states a circular top, the new invention is novel.

Take a look at the EPO’s Inventor’s Handbook for more information on novelty.