Anticipation of Invention: Patent and Latent Threats

A patent is representative of a quid pro quo arrangement and on the basis thereof patentees are granted a monopoly over their inventions. However, the process of securing such a monopoly can be complicated by ‘anticipation.’ Any invention anticipated in a prior art is most likely to be invalidated or made ineligible for a patent grant. This is because anticipation signifies a lack of ‘novelty’ in the claimed patent.

The concept of anticipation varies across jurisdictions, generally differing on the offering of the grace period. For instance, in the US a one-year grace period is provided to an individual for filing a disclosure in the event of obtaining the confidential subject matter of the invention directly or indirectly by the inventor or the joint inventor. Here, the principle of relative novelty governs the consideration of anticipation. Whereas in Europe, only a six-month grace period is provided, only in cases where the information is obtained by deceit or has been made public through an official international exhibition.

The law in India has taken an alternative route. The Indian Patent Act, of 1970 has identified conditions in which the grace period is afforded to evaluate anticipation. The Act defines what does not constitute anticipation under sections 29-34.

This article aims to provide the reader with a better understanding of the concept of anticipation under the Indian Patent Act, 1970.


What Amounts to Anticipation for Patents in India?


As highlighted above, the term anticipation is not defined in the Indian Patent Act,1970 however, the Act specifies what is not considered anticipation under Chapter VI, Section 29-34.

In the case of M. C. Jayasingh vs Mishra Dhatu Nigam Limited,[1] the Madras High Court while examining the provisions pertaining to “Anticipation” under the Indian Patents Act 1970, observed inter alia, “Though Section 13(1) refers repeatedly to “anticipation”, the expression “anticipation” is not defined in the Act. But, Chapter VI, containing Sections 29 to 32, deals with anticipation by previous publication. Here again, there is an element of confusion. Sections 29 to 32 do not stipulate as to what constitutes anticipation by publication. Rather, these sections merely point out what would not constitute anticipation. While Section 29 indicates what is not anticipation by previous publication, Section 30 indicates that a mere communication of the invention to the Government may not constitute anticipation. Similarly, Section 31 indicates when a public display would not constitute anticipation, and Section 32 indicates when the public working of a patent would not constitute anticipation.”

The Court proceeded to observe that a conclusive meaning of anticipation could be deciphered by examining the expression “new invention” under section 2(1)(l). Hence, the anticipation by publication would simply mean “that the subject matter had either fallen into the public domain or had become part of the state of the art.” This understanding of anticipation is further circumscribed by the exclusions mentioned under Sections 29 to 32.

It is pertinent to note that the concept of anticipation does not necessarily prevent an inventor from doing something purely because it would be an obvious/anticipated extension of what had been known in the art before the priority date. It rather demands a deep deliberation and analysis of what would have been obvious or already in use at the priority date to an individual skilled in the art who had access to what was known in the art at that date.

Anticipation by Previous Publication (Section 29)


This section provides that any publication of the invention made in India or abroad without the prior consent of the applicant or patentee is not considered anticipation and the ground for rejection of the patent. The patentee must establish that he filed an application for the patent as soon as he found out about the publication. This section does not mention about the time period of filling the application after such a publication.

The law on anticipation by prior publication has been summarised by Sachs LJ in the case of General Tire & Rubber Company v. The Firestone Tyre and Rubber Company Limited And Others,[2] as, “If the prior publication contained a clear description of, or clear instructions to do or make, something that would infringe the patentee’s claim if carried out after grant of the patentee’s patent, the claim would be anticipated. If, on the other hand, the prior publication contained a direction which was capable of being carried out in a manner which would infringe but would be at least as likely to be carried out in a way which would not do so, the patentee’s claim would not be anticipated, although it might fail on the ground of obviousness. To anticipate the claim, the prior publication had to contain clear and unmistakable direction to do what the patentee claimed to have invented.”


Anticipation by Previous Communication to the Government (Section 30)


Any disclosure of the invention to the government prior to the filing date of a patent application for the purpose of the investigation is not considered anticipation.

Moreover, in Shogun Organics Ltd. Vs. Gaur Hari Guchhait & Ors[3], the Delhi High Court clarified that the language of Section 30 now makes it clear that the disclosure to a government department or to any other authority, not just of the patentee, but by any other person, would not constitute prior publication. The language is person-neutral. It cannot be said from a reading of the provision that only disclosure by the patentee/applicant is covered under Section 30. 


Anticipation by Public Display (Section 31)


 An invention that has been displayed or published publicly is not eligible to be patented on the account of lacking novelty. However, under certain circumstances, a publicly displayed patent can be considered ‘novel’ in the following cases:

  1. The display or use of invention at an industrial or other exhibition is notified by the Central Government in the Official Gazette;
  2. Publication of any description or portion thereof as a result of the exhibition’s display or use of the invention;
  3. Usage of the invention by anyone, after the aforesaid display in exhibition, other than the inventor or a person deriving title from him; and
  4. Description of the invention in a paper read by the inventor before a learned society.

It is important to note that, an application for a patent can only be granted in the abovementioned circumstances if it is filed within 12 months of such public display/publication.

In Ralph M. Parsons Co (Beavon’s) Application[4], it was observed that learned societies would disseminate the relevant learning without consideration of economic gain. Thus, a learned society would normally be a non-commercial body of people and would not typically be associated with commercial exploitation. For a publication to be regarded as a “transaction” of a learned society, it must be published under the auspices of and finally be the responsibility of the learned society. Therefore, a publication that occurs via a third party, such as a reporter who is present at the conference, would not be regarded as a publication by society. Moreover, the publication by a society of an abstract of a paper is considered to be a publication of a paper.[5]


Anticipation by Public Working (Section 32)


An invention filed in a patent application is not considered to be anticipated due to the working of the invention in public by the patentee or person deriving title from him or any person authorized by him, subject to the meeting of the following criteria:

  1. The working of the invention should not be public prior to 1 year from the date of filing of the patent application; and
  2. The working of the invention in public is performed for the purpose of reasonable trial.
  3. The nature of the invention needs the invention to be worked in public.

Hence, the 12 months time period mentioned in the provision can be regarded as the ‘grace period’ for the inventor to file an application for the grant of the patent after public use. This is an opportunity for the inventor to apply for the grant of patent in an event of him mistakenly or in good faith using the invention in the public domain.

It is pertinent to note that, the section draws a significant distinction between public use and mere public publication.

In the case of Poysha Industries Ltd v. Deputy Controller of Patents and Designs[6], the Calcutta High Court adjudicated upon the issue of distinction between public use and public knowledge. The issue was whether the invention was publicly used or publicly known in a part of India. The Appellants, in support of their contention, stated that the method used by them to crimp the top portion of the containers did not require special skills or techniques. The said containers had been supplied by the appellants to M/s Zandu Pharmaceuticals and another company since 1960. However, the appellants failed to establish that the invention was publicly used and known, hence the appeal failed.

The same has been further clarified in Monsanto Co v. Coramandal Indag Products (P) Ltd.[7] by the Supreme Court, wherein it was held that, “It is clear from the facts narrated by us that the Herbicide CP 53619 (Butachlor) was publicly known before Patent Number 125381 was granted. Its formula and use had already been made known to the public by the report of the International Rice Research Institute for the year 1968. No one claimed any patent or any other exclusive right in Butachlor. To satisfy the requirement of being publicly known as used in clauses (e) and (f) of [s 64(1)], it is not necessary that it should be widely used to the knowledge of the consumer public. It is sufficient if it is known to the persons who are engaged in the pursuit of knowledge of the patented product or process either as men of science or men of commerce or consumers. The section of the public who, as men of science or men of commerce, were interested in knowing about herbicides which would destroy weeds but not rice, must have been aware of the discovery of Butachlor. There was no secret about the active agent Butachlor as claimed by the plaintiffs since there was no patent for Butachlor, as admitted by the plaintiffs. Emulsification was the well-known and common process by which any herbicide could be used. Neither Butachlor nor the process of emulsification was capable of being claimed by the plaintiff as their exclusive property. The solvent and the emulsifier were not secrets; they were admittedly not secrets and were ordinary market products. From the beginning to the end, there was no secret and there was no invention by the plaintiffs. The ingredients, the active ingredient, the solvent and the emulsifier, were known; the process was known, the product was known, and the use was known. The plaintiffs were merely camouflaging a substance whose discovery was known throughout the world and trying to enfold it in their specification relating to Patent Number 125381. The patent is, therefore, liable to be revoked.

Therefore, for information to be publicly known, it is not essential that it should be used widely or be in the knowledge of the general public only. It would satisfy the legislative purpose if the information was known to individuals engaged in the research of the patented product or operating within the same industry or science.


Anticipation by Use and Publication after Provisional Specification (Section 33)


The objective of this section is to clarify that the information disclosed in public or the invention worked in public is not considered for anticipation between the filing of:

  1. A patent application with a provisional specification and a complete specification (within 12 months from the provisional filing); or
  2. A priority application in a convention country and a convention application in India.

This means that if the invention is used or published after the provisional application is filed, a complete specification filed later is not deemed to have been anticipated. Therefore, the Controller cannot refuse to grant a patent, revoke or invalidate it by citing that the subject matter of the provisional specification was used or published in India or in another jurisdiction at a time after the filing of said specification.

It is important to note that the provision applies only if the complete specification of the patent is filed within 12 months of the provisional specification.

Further, in cases where the complete specification has been filed in pursuance of a convention application, the Controller cannot reject the grant of patent on the grounds that the subject matter of the application was filed for protection in India within 12 months from the date of priority application filed in the convention country.

This section essentially seeks to safeguard the interests of the inventors between the periods of filing of provisional and complete specifications, and between the periods of filing the priority application in the convention country and the filing of the complete specification in India, in an event where the subject matter of the invention is placed in the public domain.


The Doctrine of Inherent Anticipation


The doctrine of inherent anticipation refers to a kind of anticipation wherein anticipation is found even in the absence of appropriate disclosure in a prior art reference.

In general, anticipation can be of two types: explicit anticipation and implicit anticipation (i.e., the doctrine of inherent anticipation). The term explicit anticipation refers to anticipation wherein each technical element disclosed in the claim is disclosed in a single prior-art document. According to the explicit anticipation, a claim is rejected by the patent office if all the technical features are found in a single prior art document. According to the doctrine of inherent anticipation (i.e., implicit anticipation), a claim is rejected by the patent office even if all the technical features are not disclosed in a single prior art subject to the presence of the missing technical features inhere in the prior art. 

Generally, there are two accepted tests to appropriately understand the doctrine of inherent anticipation. According to the first test, a check is performed to determine that the inherency of anticipation is not established only based on the probabilities or possibilities. A technical feature is considered to be inherent only if said technical feature is the “natural result flowing from” the invention description and invariably leads to the outcome. According to the second test, a check is performed to determine that an accidental or unintentional outcome, not appreciated as inherent to the claim by a person of ordinary skill in the art, does not constitute anticipation.

The IPAB in Enercon (India) Limited vs. Aloys Wobben[8] held that “patent is invalid for anticipation if a single prior art reference discloses each and every limitation of the claimed invention. The prior art reference may anticipate without disclosing a feature of the claimed invention if that missing characteristic is necessarily present, or inherent, in the single anticipating prior art. It is not necessary that inherent anticipation requires that a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time would have recognised the inherent disclosure. But it is necessary that the result be a necessary consequence of what was deliberately intended in the invention.”


Overcoming Anticipation Rejection


In view of the above, it is always advisable to file a patent application before placing it in the public domain. If the nature of the invention requires the invention to be placed in the public domain or worked in the public domain, the inventor(s) must ensure compliance with the requirements outlined in Section 29-30 in order to maintain the novelty of the invention and avoid patent rejection due to anticipation.


[1] Civil Suit No.562 of 2007

[2] [1972] R.P.C. 457

[3] CS (COMM) 201/2017: (14.08.2019 – DELHC):MANU/DE/2598/2019: 2019 SCC OnLine Del 9653:Delhi High Court

[4] [1978] FSR 226

[5] Ethyl Corporation’s Patent [1963] RPC 155

[6] AIR 1975 Cal 178

[7] AIR 1986 SC 712

[8] ORA/6/2009/PT/CH ,ORDER (No. 18 of 2013)]



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Anticipation can be of two types: explicit anticipation and implicit anticipation (i.e., the doctrine of inherent anticipation). The term explicit anticipation refers to anticipation wherein each technical element disclosed in the claim is disclosed in a single prior-art document. According to the explicit anticipation, a claim is rejected by the patent office if all the technical features are found in a single prior art document. According to the doctrine of inherent anticipation (i.e., implicit anticipation), a claim is rejected by the patent office even if all the technical features are not disclosed in a single prior art subject to the presence of the missing technical features inhere in the prior art.