What, Exactly, is Novel?
Encouraging and protecting innovation investments.
According to the Oxford English dictionary, Innovation is defined as follows:a
• the action or process of innovating.
• a new method, idea, product, etc.
From a business perspective innovation can be described
as: The process of translating an idea or invention into a good
or service that creates value, or for which customers will pay.
Throughout the various segments of industry there are companies that create something truly unique, companies that innovate
by adapting from these unique ideas but still creating something
which is novel in its own right, and companies that simply copy
these novel concepts or make obvious variations—the flavor and
fragrance industry is no exception. These different approaches
to what once was called “new product development,” each have
their merits, their risks and their rewards. However, without real
and true innovation, markets and products die.
The companies and organizations within the flavor and fragrance market that really innovate invest heavily in the belief
that their investment will yield greater returns in the future.
The question is, “As an industry, how do we encourage and
The Difficulties of Innovation Protections
One way which the industry has looked to protect its investment
in innovation is through legal protection. Patenting a product
or process should, in most cases, prevent others from directly
copying an invention as a patent allows protection to novel discovery. In order to do this successfully, however, the patent must
be sufficiently strong to allow it to be defended. This is often
a gray area, with many companies filing patents that are weak,
but obscured by clouds of rhetoric. This essentially stifles rather
than encourages innovation.
This is particularly applicable in the flavor and fragrance
industry when a molecule—or, more often, a combination of molecules—is formulated to perform a specific function. There is a
great deal of skill involved in formulating a number of products
to reach an end point, but is the formulation which is created
novel enough to warrant a patent?
These patents are often written in such a way as to deliberately not show what the exact invention is as there is often the
opinion that should they directly indicate the exact invention,
Throughout the various segments of industry
there are companies that create something
truly unique, companies that innovate by adapt-
ing from these unique ideas but still creating
something which is novel in its own right, and
companies that simply copy these novel con-
cepts or make obvious variations—the flavor
and fragrance industry is no exception.
and only the exact invention, then the competition will adapt
the idea and come up with their own variant, and any competitive advantage gained from the innovation process is lost.
These vague patents are often self-defeating in that the patent
does not offer sufficiently broad protection, as it is often easily
replicated and adapted, or so incremental in its thinking that it
offers nothing truly novel—one often wonders why a company
or inventor bothered to patent the invention in the first place.
Determining What Should Be Protected
The difficulty here seems to be in a genuine understanding of
what, exactly, is novel? If a company creates something slightly
different, can that really be described as novel? As far as the use
of a material—or combination of materials—in an application is
concerned, then novel is very difficult to protect, so would the
inventor company be better off keeping its technology secret?
However, when it comes to finding a new molecule that exhibits
novel properties, or coming up with a new synthetic pathway
to an old or new molecule, a different situation presents itself.
There are many examples over the last 20–50 years of a chemical being synthesized that creates something truly novel. For
example, trademarked materials like Helvetolide and Furaneol
from Firmenich, or Ambrocenide and Globanone from Symrise,
Join the Discussion
Innovation protection is a critical issue facing the flavor
and fragrance industry. How should protections be
defended, while ensuring legitimate innovations continue
to benefit the market? Join the conversation in the
Perfumer & Flavorist (P&F) Magazine group on