In today's modern world, use of devices with combined solutions, is rapidly increasing and widely popular among people. A device which is integrated with one or more devices and serves more than one purpose is considered to be a combined solution or the multipurpose device. The best way to understand the multipurpose device is 'MOBILE PHONE'. The mobile phones that integrate the functions of a camera, A/V Player, speaker, calculator, alarm clock, organiser and many more. The IP protections involved in such an integration of devices or their functions may be sought by invention patents or design registration or both, as applicable. Under the Patents Act, 1970, Section 3(f) deals with the patentability of a multipurpose device. According to the section 3(f) of the Act, 'the mere arrangement or re-arrangement or duplication of known devices each functioning independently of one another in a known way' is not patentable – for example a bucket fitted with torch, an umbrella with fan, a clock and radio in a single cabinet and a flour-mill provided with sieving.
The section, therefore, precludes those inventions from getting patentable which define a mere arrangement or rearrangement or duplication of known devices each functioning independently of one another. The said section may be better understood with the help of a few case laws.
In Ram Pratap v Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (1976) IPLR 28 at 35, it was held that a mere juxtaposition of features already known before the priority date, which have arbitrarily been chosen from among a number of different combinations which could be chosen, was not a patentable invention. It has further held that when two or more features of an apparatus or device are known and juxtaposed without any interdependence on their functioning of the apparatus or device should be held to have been already known.
In Biswanath Prasad Radhey Shyam v. Hindustan Metal Industries  Insc 255, the court held that it is important to bear in mind that, in order to be patentable an improvement on something known before or a combination of different matters already known, should be something more than a mere workshop improvement; and must independently satisfy the test of invention or an inventive step. To be patentable the improvement or combination must produce a new result or a new article or a better article than before. The court further held that mere collocation of more than one integer or things, which not involving the exercise of any inventive faculty, does not qualify the grant of patent.
In a landmark judgement British Celanse Ltd. V Courtaulds Ltd (52) RFC 171, section 3(f) of the Act has been explained very clearly, wherein Lord Tomlin laid down the law as follows:
A mere juxtaposition of known devices in which each device functions independently is not considered patentable. It is accepted as sound law that merely placing, side-by-side, old integers so that each integer performs its function independently of the other/s, is not a patentable combination. For example, a floor mill provided with sieving means. However, where the old integers when placed together have some working interrelation, producing new or improved results, then there is a patentable subject matter in the idea of the working interrelation brought about by the collocation of the integers.
In opposition to patent no 139046 for invention of "Safety Razor Blades", it was held that even though the applicant's invention might appear to be a new combination of known devices, but the application of the combination is clearly meant to achieve a useful purpose in a better and simple way, and therefore, the applicant's combination was not a mere arrangement or re-arrangement of the known devices acting independently of one another in a known way.
Arrangement and re-arrangement of patent invention is always a point of concern among the inventors. To understand s. 3(f), various discussions have been done and theories have been laid from time to time by the court of law in the past. Recently the Madras High court dismissed a petition in Mannivanan v. IPAB & Ors. The petitioner in this case, K. Manivannan is a manufacturer of a machine that is used to thresh paddy. Respondent, M. Mani had filed an infringement suit against the petitioners. Countering this, the petitioners filed for revocation of the respondent's patent, which was eventually dismissed by the IPAB. A writ was filed by the petitioner in the Madras High Court challenging the order of the IPAB maintaining the patent. The Madras High Court dismissed the writ petition challenging the dismissal of a revocation application by the IPAB. The petitioner also argued that the respondent's patent was a mere rearrangement of known devices, and therefore falls under section 3(f). The court found that the respondent's machine could not be a rearrangement of known devices under Section 3(f). Section 3(f) clearly says that mere juxtaposition of features, already known before the priority date, which have has been selected arbitrarily from amongst the number of different combinations, which could be chosen, is not a patentable invention.
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.