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Blog | Egg of Columbus? Quickly check a patent database | EP&C


In the past week an inventor came to see me with a great invention on no fewer than two occasions. In both cases the inventions turned out to be real eggs of Columbus and solved a very socially relevant problem. There was just one problem: they already existed in patent literature.

Scientific literature

One of these inventors had dedicated his studies to solving a problem associated with ageing. He had allowed himself to be inspired by scientific literature in which researchers recognised the ageing-related problem, but were not yet able to come up with a solution for it.

Contact at an early stage

For his dissertation the inventor developed a concept for a device that would allow him to solve this problem. Because it is important to consider patent protection for an invention at an early stage, he arranged to come and see me, and I instantly liked the idea!

How is it possible?

Unfortunately my enthusiasm soon started to wane when I began to search Espacenet, the European Patent Office's patent database. That is because I came across an earlier patent application from someone else who had not only developed a similar device, but had solved the problem in exactly the same way.

Unfortunately I had to tell my client that the device he had invented was not novel. This meant it could not be patented, despite the fact that there was no scientific knowledge on the matter.

Solution for traffic jams

The second case involved an inventor whose job involved him spending a lot of time on the road. He was constantly having to deal with the problem of traffic jams. On a rainy day he suddenly came up with the answer.

He, too, was sensible enough to come and see me at an early stage in his development process to discuss the possibilities of a patent, and then preferably as soon as possible because the world was clearly waiting for his solution!

I could not really contain my curiosity, so I spent my Friday evening sitting on the couch going through some patent literature. I was amazed to see that someone else had come up with the same invention in the nineteen seventies... Once again this invention had never found its way into everyday practice.


I have used these two examples to demonstrate to you that patent literature - in addition to scientific literature - can form a relevant basis for establishing whether or not your idea is novel. In contrast to scientific knowledge this is freely available via a patent database such as Espacenet or Google Patents.

If you are not sure how to go about this, we are always willing to help you on your way/give you a helping hand/point you in the right direction, or to look for your invention for you.