Poland: Innovation Is Not Necessarily New

Nowadays, everyone wants to be modern. We create modern interiors, we dress in futuristic clothes, we enjoy using the trendiest gadgets. It's hardly a surprise that this approach is also reflected in business. Long gone are the times when factories endlessly mass-produced identical car parts, as they were still good and usable. Today, automotive companies are expected not only to produce a car that is usable, but also good-looking and functional in order to match our lifestyle. Such expectations make it necessary to implement new solutions – innovation. Companies are innovating in order to meet the needs of their customers as well as ever changing environmental and social conditions.

Understanding the novelty of innovation

What is innovation? A broad definition may be found in the Oslo Manual, according to which an innovation is the "implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organisational method in business practices, workplace organisation or external relations". The definition features the term "new", which may be misinterpreted in the light of the criteria for the assessment of intellectual property inherently linked with innovation.

It goes without saying that innovation comes together with modernity. For example, the odds are small for a start-up, i.e. an entity that creates a business based on an innovative solution, technology or service, to achieve commercial success if it attempts, using a technically advanced method, to solve a technical problem with no merits for society at large.

A patent attorney, when working with start-ups and advising on intellectual property, often wants to see novelty in innovation. After all, its very name implies that innovation should be new. A patent attorney defines novelty in the light of the premises of patentability, that is to say the parameters to be met by the solution in order to be patentable. The invention has to be new on a global scale, which means that no public publication, being part of a patent or scientific literature or internet resources, may include any reference whatsoever to an identical solution.

"Old" innovation

Let us consider an example of a solution that addresses the major socio-environmental problem faced by many Polish cities, namely smog. Let's assume that an innovative solution to this problem would be to rent electrically powered vehicles (cars, motorcycles) in cities. Accordingly, car owners would leave their vehicle in the suburbs and change for an electric vehicle, free of any noxious emissions, to move within the city. Electric cars are already known, and so are the methods for charging them, while vehicle rental systems are currently implemented in many cities in Poland, for example for bicycles. So would a patent attorney find novelty in such a solution? The chances are that even a smartphone application informing users that such a vehicle is available could be based on well-known algorithms. But would the entire system be new?

Although the described approach for eliminating the effects of car emissions in Polish cities could be considered to be innovative, it would consist of known elements that would be regarded as non-novel within the meaning of the rules adopted for the assessment of industrial property items for inventions or utility models. Moreover, if inventions concerning an electric car or a method for charging it were covered by a patent applicable in Poland, then the administrators of Polish cities would have to face the necessity of, for example, licensing such rights in order to be able to use such solutions without violating the law.

And what if an identical system is already implemented in another region of the world, and the innovation involved implementing such a system in Poland, as it is only now that it has become needed? This will also constitute an innovation, though on a national level, i.e. for Poland, though none of the components, nor even the entire system, could be regarded as new. Hence, it could not be patented.

Understanding is key

Innovations and new technologies are now a popular topic of discussion in Poland and Europe alike. It seems that the concept of innovation is rather well defined and correctly used, and yet it could be controversial to regard innovative solutions as "new". When intellectual property is increasingly talked about, and the concept of "novelty" is gradually being associated with a specific parameter, the notion needs to be approached with caution. Seeing "innovation" in innovation just to gain a patent does not always work. Moreover, such a far-fetched novelty makes a poor patent. And yet a non-novel innovation may be of the utmost importance!

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.

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