New Zealand: Don’t re-invent the wheel: Use the patent super-library

Last Updated: 1 April 2014
Article by Jonathan Lucas

Need a solution for your latest technology project? It might already exist.

Finding solutions to problems

Companies around the world invest huge budgets in R&D to develop solutions to problems, or new products, systems and processes. Sometimes this leads to an advance in technology, in which case the innovator may elect to seek patent1 protection to help provide a return on the investment.

But what if the solution already exists? If the answer to the problem is out there somewhere then the obvious2 question is: why re-invent the wheel? Wouldn't it be quicker, cheaper and easier to leverage the existing solution and get on with business?

Someone out there may have the answer. The tricky bit is finding it.

But where to look? Textbooks, academic research? These resources are usually not sufficiently focused to provide practical, commercial solutions. Many companies rely on institutional knowledge such as the know-how of their employees. But even a highly skilled workforce has gaps in its knowledge.

Sometimes it is assumed that, if the solution has already been developed, someone else would be doing it or it would be already on the market. But that is not always the case – what if whoever else developed it was unsuccessful in commercialising it – for whatever reason – or did not know the potential of what they'd found?

One place to look is: patents.

Patent literature: a vast resource

The global patent literature is a vast library documenting over a century of technological endeavour. Around 82 million patents have been published3 worldwide.

Each individual patent was originally filed with a purpose in mind; usually to secure protection for a unique idea to support the commercialisation4 of that idea ahead of actual or would-be competitors. Most patents that have ever existed are no longer enforceable or put to any use, but what remains is a collection of documents making up a fantastic resource full of clever, remarkable and sometimes bizarre solutions to technological and scientific problems.

A patent is an innovation instruction manual

The basic principle of the patent system is that an inventor5 is given a monopoly6 in the right to use an invention7 for up to 20 years in return for documenting how the invention works so that the invention is available for the benefit of the public once the period of monopoly has ended. That way, inventors are incentivised to publish advances in technology rather than keeping them secret.

A patent is the document the inventor creates to explain what the invention is and how to put it into practice. The explanation is required by law to explain to someone else, of reasonable skill in the same field, how to put the invention into practice. A patent is therefore an instruction manual for a technological innovation.

Another reason companies conduct R&D themselves is because existing solutions might not be suitable or compatible with their particular situation. But patents do not only describe specific implementations of the invention but the fundamental concept itself. This makes it possible for an expert to adapt the solution to any situation.

Patent solution searching could save time and money

Looking for a solution in the patent literature at the start of a new development project could save a lot of time and money. The cost of this kind of information mining will pale in comparison with a research project that could last months or years, and it might deliver the solution within a matter of weeks, saving valuable time getting the solution to market.

James & Wells has a highly skilled team of patent attorneys who have extensive experience in searching8 patent databases for technologies of all kinds and deep-diving into the immense amount of information available in patents all around the world.
Come to us with a technological problem and we may be able to find the answer somewhere in this invaluable resource.

Not only that, what we find might help your R&D move forward faster than intended, or lead it in a completely unexpected direction. In turn, this might open up new markets and opportunities for your business.


1A proprietary right in an invention which provides the owner with an exclusive right for up to 20 years to make, sell, use or import the invention. In exchange for this monopoly the patent is published so that others can see how the invention works and build on that knowledge. The patented invention may also be used by the public once the patent lapses.

2For a New Zealand patent to be valid, it must not be obvious, and must involve an inventive step, over known technologies. See novelty, anticipation and inventive step for further details

3At some point a patent application is published, meaning its contents are available for anyone to read. In New Zealand publication occurs when a patent application is accepted. However, in most countries publication occurs 18 months after the application is filed.

4Refers to the process of introducing a new product or service to the marketplace (whether in New Zealand or overseas). For the purposes of a patent application commercial working can include taking orders for a product or service (even if in confidence). It is important to understand that commercial working of an invention before a patent application is filed may invalidate that patent application (see validity below).

5The developer of an invention. In the field of intellectual property the word "inventor" is a legal term to describe the person (or group of people) who made the inventive step to arrive at the invention. It is important to understand that this will not necessarily be the person who developed the invention to proof of concept or prototype stage. If the concept itself is inventive then the inventor will be the person who conceived the concept. Ascertaining the correct inventor(s) is important as he or she will need to be named in any patent application and there could be adverse consequences for omitting an inventor or adding someone who is not a true inventor.

6A patent grants the patentee a monopoly in the invention that is the subject of the patent. The monopoly extends to the exclusive rights to make, sell, use or import the invention.

7The product of the creative process of inventing. In intellectual property law "invention" is a legal term usually describing patentable subject matter. Under current New Zealand legislation that subject matter includes any manner of manufacture which is new and involves an inventive step. However, certain types of invention are excluded from patentability. They include inventions which are contrary to morality (for example weapons of mass destruction) and methods of medical treatment (on public policy grounds that such methods should be available for health practitioners to use to the benefit of all society).

8A review of patent databases to look for relevant published patent specifications. Typically the search will be performed with respect to particular jurisdictions. Patent searching can be carried out for a number of reasons. The most common reason is to determine whether a party has freedom to operate in particular countries, in which case the search will only be concerned with patent applications and granted patents which remain in force in those countries. Patent searching may also be conducted to identify relevant prior art which can be used to support a patent opposition/revocation, or by an examiner during examination of a patent application.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

James & Wells Intellectual Property, three time winner of the New Zealand Intellectual Property Laws Award and first IP firm in the world to achieve CEMARS® certification.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.