Necessity is the Mother: How to Find Your Next Invention

In my earliest years of patent law practice, I filed for and obtained my own patent for an Internet of Things open sign. At the time, I was working closely with another very knowledgeable patent attorney that served as my mentor. He shared the excitement of the issued patent as a career landmark, rather than a training exercise, as he recounted a previous conversation with the head partner. The head partner had remarked that he would like to be an inventor after 20 years of securing protection for clients.

His remarks show that inventorship requires a slightly different thought process than the ordinary problem solving, even in the patent prosecution field. However, the inventive process can be replicated when you know how to identify opportunities.

Under U.S. patent law, the wording for inventorship is permissive unless certain conditions, omitted below, preclude grant of a patent. 35 U.S. Code ยง 101 states:

Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor…

It’s amazing that highly educated patent attorneys with specialized knowledge of the patent system had never filed for a patent. However, invention takes a different thought process – one that’s more creative, rather than lock-step logical.

First, invention requires the recognition of a need.

In my case, I was visiting a mom-and-pop restaurant for lunch, during their typical operating hours. On arrival, the doors were locked with the lights out. Not a problem, I had no client with me, so it wasn’t a big let down. However, the next time I was at the restaurant, I revisited the issue.

I could have looked up the restaurant online, but typical search engines merely set out the normal business hours, and may regularly be wrong, even for holidays. Because the existing systems couldn’t have prevented the problem, there was a need for something better.

I scanned the restaurant for anything electronic that could represent when the store was open to the public. The alarm system could be modified to ping a server when down. The problem is that the alarm system will be down to allow employees in for prep and closing outside operating hours. A magnetic door lock sensor would suffer the same issue. I could have employees manually change a status online, but they might forget.

Then I spotted the open sign. When it’s lit, the expectation is that someone is physically in the building ready for a customer. Operating the open sign is already ingrained in the employees’ daily functions, reducing the risk of forgetting. Then, pinging a server when the sign is lit should extend the reach of the open sign from physical visibility to everyone with internet access.

Therefore, invention can arise from small inconveniences in your daily life. After recognizing an issue, consider possible solutions and how the solutions would work in practice. Using this framework, embrace inconveniences as opportunities.

If you need help with your patents, trademarks, copyright, or trade secrets, please contact us.

Jeremy I. Maynard
Registered U.S. Patent Attorney
Troutman & Napier, PLLC
4740 Firebrook Blvd.
Lexington, KY 40513
Tel: 859-253-0991
Web: Troutman & Napier, PLLC
Originally Published at: Maynard.Law
Originally Published by: Maynard.Law

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