To chart a route leading from a great idea to a strong patent (portfolio) one needs a ‘Patent Strategy’. Charting routes is a tricky business, especially when we consider that patents should relate to things which would come to pass in the next 20 years. A way I found useful for organizing the patent strategy for myself or for my clients is a patent strategy chart of which an example is shown below
The chart has two axis, one axis describes the different elements of the device, and the second axis describes the function. The first aspect of the chart is that it helps drill down into the details of the invention. The second aspect is that it helps to map out areas for which the current invention may not be protected, or alternatively areas where currently there is no inventive step and which may warrant a dedicated ideation session. The concept is best explained with an example and we can take a car as a field in which we want to invent. Breaking down the car into its elements can yield the following components (body, drive train, engine, power source (hydrogen, gas, battery), sensors, control, etc.). When writing the components, we can break down into broader or tighter categories, depending on the anticipated scope. While it seems that function is many times a greater source of innovation, sometimes components can also be used in a creative way. Examples in the car can include, heads up display, screens, radar, or even a swivel chair. Adding a component by itself is not inventive, however integrating it into the car, and addressing its functionality might be inventive. Examples of functions can include, getting from A to B, fuel efficiency, fun, playing media, comfort, sleeping, safety, etc. Of course cars are examples of systems which are protected by thousands of patents, so the chart should focus on the areas of invention. The invention can be broad, like flying cars, to narrow like a new method for wiping water off the windshield. If we take the latter example, and our invention is composed of a transparent, windshield wiper . The principle of operation is ultrasonic transducers combined with a special glass formation process. An example of a chart can be
After we have a chart, we can place the idea or ideas we have on the chart, for example
In this example, we have three ideas, with some overlap between the ideas. We have also highlighted white space areas where we currently do not have any ideas and where we are not protected by the current idea pool. The chart is also useful in mapping out the current state of art, and identifying white space areas in the invention field. Obviously a solid patent strategy portrayed in this manner provides a lucid picture of areas of ‘freedom to operate’ while at the same time highlighting areas which should be the focus of ideation sessions or invention creation.
As always in strategy, as in other aspects of life, the devil is in the details. Adopting the patent strategy chart is a good start to building strategic patent portfolios, but they are no alternative to sound patent counselling from experienced patent attorneys.