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I have an idea. I'm debating with myself whether or not it is obvious. I don't see any evidence of anyone else in the industry doing it. Before I begin doing it I'd like to secure a patent if possible to prevent competitors from copying. How do I know if it can be patented?

I will give you as much as I can of the idea in industry non-specific terms.

Essentially I have a large user base using my software/hardware product. I would like to setup a systematic approach where the user base can submit proposed changes to my product. I have a computer process that automatically analyzes what has been submitted to determine if it should be included. If it is determined that it should be included then it is automatically adding into a patch. That patch will automatically be downloaded and installed by all users of the product. This whole process can be completed within a minute or less. That means that users can have virtually real time impact on improving the product for everyone. Due to the nature of the product, updating that rapidly makes the product/user experience better for everyone.

So, is this obvious? I don't care if the idea is used for other types of applications. I just don't want it to be used by my competitors as it would give me a competitive advantage to be the only one with a system that works like that.

What are your thoughts? Am I nuts to think I could get a patent?

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Welcome to Ask Patents. I edited out the ending "signature". It is the style of all of the Stack Exchange site to not use them. –  George White Oct 19 '13 at 6:55

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You might be able to - it depends on what it is being compared to in an obvious analysis. Obviousness isn't pondering "does it seem obvious to me" in general.

With some simplification, a patent examiner has to find all of the aspects of your system (that appear in a claim) in one or more published documents. If they find one document/embodiment that has all of the aspects of a claim, that claim is not novel. If they can't find all aspects in one reference they try to find a single reference that is close and then locate others that fill in the missing pieces to add up to your whole claimed invention. But finding pieces isn't enough to make an obviousness rejection - the examiner has to show some logic that would drive someone to actually add the pieces together. Only then is it obvious, unless you can successfully argue otherwise or can amend your claims to include more details not in the prior art.

You need a non-trival search. A really good search would look at US and international patent documents, professional/scholarly journals like IEEE and ACM publications as well as theses. The narrower you are willing to make your claims the better chance of getting something through.

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