Patent combination of known features

Many years ago, a patent attorney mentioned that he’d just filed a patent for a box containing the following combination of known features:

  • no. 11 spanner;
  • 4mm Allen key; and
  • short Philips screw driver.

His justifications being that: (i) no prior box ever contained only this combination of tools; and (ii) this set of tools was all that was required in the maintenance tool kit for a common consumer product.

South Africa being a non-examining country, this patent proceeded to grant, and some lucky person is now the proud owner of a wholly invalid registered South African patent.

For a combination of known features to be patented, that combination must be: (i) new (worldwide); and (ii) inventive.

Let’s take the following toolbox. Would you expect it to hold a no.11 spanner, 4mm Allen key and short Philips screw driver? I would.

Toolbox combination patent

Sure, it has many more tools. But, that is not relevant. The fact is that, if you looked hard enough, you would certainly find all the above tools. So, if this toolbox existed before the filing date of the above patent, it would constitute prior art, and render the patent invalid on the ground of “lack of novelty”.

Let’s also investigate “inventiveness” (i.e. the combination of features must not be obvious to an expert in the field): would a professional handyman consider the content of the above patented box to be obvious? The questions we typically ask are:

  • does the combination yield an unexpected result / benefit?
  • has the combination been extraordinarily successful in the market?
  • has the combination received industry recognition as being innovative?

In this instance, the answer to all the above must be a resounding “no”. Does the following yield a benefit other than the benefit ordinarily expected to result from a box containing a hack saw, hammer, spanner, saw and screw driver?

Toolbox combination of known features patent

No. So, don’t waste your money patenting it.

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