Mining for Inventions – Patentable Ideas are All Around You!

by: Natalie Giroux

A good intellectual property (IP) portfolio demonstrates a company’s technological edge.  It increases the company’s valuation, can generate licensing revenues and may be useful for cross-licensing purposes.  In any innovation-oriented company IP is literally created on a daily basis.  Unfortunately it is often ignored even though it could be very valuable if properly protected.  As an employee you are responsible for creating and protecting Intellectual Property – and it can be a fun and rewarding process!

A patent may be obtained if there is nothing older than one-year in the public domain covering ALL the aspects of the invention. The invention needs to be useful, innovative and not obvious to one skilled in the art.  But that does not mean it has to be complicated!

Any improvements to existing products, systems or processes may be patentable. Improvements could be a simplification, a more efficient design leading to energy savings, faster processing, cost reduction, etc.  A novel solution to a problem or a bug may also be patentable if it brings in novel concepts. A new feature set that differentiates from competitors may be patentable.  This is the stuff most companies do every day.

Regular invention mining sessions with groups of employees, maybe over lunch, can be motivating and valuable exercises. When well facilitated, an interesting list of potential inventions can be logged in a short time period. Key points to discuss are both innovations that were released to market or otherwise disclosed in the last year, and innovations that will be released to market or otherwise disclosed publicly in upcoming product releases.

Part of the mining discussion should also cover what competitors are doing, thinking ahead to what they might be working on then filing pre-emptive patent applications. While these inventions may only be applicable to competitors’ products, architectures or processes, they could be very useful to prevent competitors from improving their products in a particularly advantageous direction or to mitigate future IP challenges from these competitors.

Most fun (and useful) of all is to really get the creative juices flowing by thinking about 5-7 year forward-looking inventions, whether there is intent to bring them to market or not. What could be done if current technical limitations (processing speed, bandwidth, memory size, heat, power, etc.) were no longer an issue?  Just imagine if . . .

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