Innovation, Intellectual Property and Patent Criteria

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As of Sept 2013, the Apple brand was valuated at $100 Billion.  That’s not physical assets like cash in the bank, inventory, factories, or real estate.  This is not even the intellectual property represented by their extensive portfolio of utility and design patents.  This $100 Billion valuation is the Intellectual Property directly associated with the Apple name, logo and associated goodwill they have accrued since the founding of Apple Corp in 1976.

Today AAPL is the most valuable company in the world.  Clearly, intellectual properties and great ideas are worth a tremendous amount of money – so much so they’ve spawned an entire economy of patent trolls.

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Dean Kamen, the founder of FIRST, was first and foremost an inventor.  His inventions helped a lot of people.  By patenting his inventions Dean was able to protect his Intellectual Property and create economically successful products and companies around his technical creativity.  In fact, one of Dean’s early career moves was to establish his own research lab DEKA with 400 engineers to focus on creating and developing great new ideas (c.f. blog post on Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Labs).

FLL reflect Dean’s interest in creative technical solutions that help mankind.  That is why the FLL Research Project exists – it’s a technical startup in miniature with everything from market research to implementation factors.  It’s also why 1/3 of the Product Judging Rubric is around Innovation (Team Solution, Innovation, Implementation).

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We were dinged on the innovation for our project.  One way to understand why is to examine how inventors like Dean (and FLL) view innovation.  Fortunately, we have a very clear gold standard in how to define “Innovation” using the World and the US Patent and Trademark Offices criteria to grant patents to inventors like Dean.  To start, we need to what a patent is (from wikipedia):

A patent … is a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for detailed public disclosure of an invention. An invention is a solution to a specific technological problem and is a product or a process.[1]:17 Patents are a form of intellectual property.

…a granted patent application must include one or more claims that define the invention. A patent may include many claims, each of which defines a specific property right. These claims must meet relevant patentability requirements, such as novelty and non-obviousness. The exclusive right granted to a patentee in most countries is the right to prevent others, or at least to try to prevent others, from commercially making, using, selling, importing, or distributing a patented invention without permission.

So Patent Offices use the term patentability to define Innovation.  For your invention to be granted a patent (e.g. be considered Innovative) it must meet the following criteria:

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If we had tried to file a patent on our implementation of Aurasma technology to teach local history, a patent examiner would most likely have rejected the patent based upon both the Unobviousness and Novelty factors above (we would pass the Utility and Statutory Class hurdles).

That is, someone skilled in the arts of Aurasma, augmented reality, and geo-tagging would not look at our Project and say our implementation is completely novel and beyond their ability to foresee such a use of existing technology.  For this reason, we can’t focus solely on the technology, Aurasma and walking-tour components of our Project which are well-known practices and established technologies to boost our innovation and overall Project score.

Instead, we need to emphasize both the Utility of our Project (how we are or will impact our community in real quantitative terms) as well as augment the Unobviousness and Novelty of our Project.

The best way to do both would be to enhance our project by adding on the social component to our local history that brings history alive.  This is the idea we discussed at the very beginning of the FLL season, but didn’t have time to address.

By adding oral history content by local seniors who have a wealth stories that tie local landmarks and items to history events from a local perspective.  As Jim at the Knox Co. Historical Museum showed with his story of kids who struggled with history but were captivated speaking with an actual WWII vet, we can bring history alive by making it real and immediate with our community seniors who lived it.

In addition, our project would not only be an effective tool for teaching history through our community’s perspective, it would serve a wider social good.  For the kids, it could help restore the respect of our seniors that pop media/culture constantly erodes.  When the kids asked the WWII vet what it was like to watch their 18yo buddies die it leaves an indelible mark by making history real, teaches them why our seniors have earned the respect that comes with age and experience and gives them the realization that history is not some abstract far away construct.

As we discussed early on, the elderly in our modern mobile society, social isolation is one of the biggest problems they face which likely correlate to poor health outcomes (research/cite).  By going out into the community and engaging them, getting their personal histories and showing how each lived a valuable thread in the larger story of our local history we connect them with our youth, community and history.  Finally, as our greatest generation that fought WWII passes, we perform a valuable historical purpose by preserving these oral histories before they are lost forever.

A patent is judged based upon a number of specific claims it makes about the invention it describes.  In general, you want you claims to be as broad as possible to prevent a copycat coming along and making a slight change to your invention without legally infringing (but claims that are too broad can be rejected).  In addition, you can list as many claims as you wish.  The more claims you assert, the more narrow you patent project.  However, as claims are additive, more claims make it easier to successfully claim novelty/unobviousness.

For example, our current Project would roughly have the claims:

1) A device to teach local history

2) using augmented reality app Aurasma to stream custom content

3) tagged to physical makers (cats’ meows)

An enhanced Project would have the additional claims:

4) optionally involving a social network

5) to connect history students with seniors (live or prerecorded)

6) based upon common historical interests/experiences

While all the claims (except perhaps #5 & 6) are trivial or prior art, when combined they become Innovative enough to perhaps merit a patent*.  Using only the first 3 claims do not pass the novel/unobviousness criteria as Aurasma technology has 2,000 apps and 20,000 partners in over 100 countries – the most active of which are teachers.

To learn more about patents, here is a great patent blog by Hyperion Law.  Also, for you edification, here is what an actual patent looks like (note the Inventor’s name).  You can search and view countless of published patents at the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) Web Site.

patent_newt* NOTE:  Patents don’t protect your ideas from infringement or theft – they only provide the promise of legal redress if you have enough money and time to track down possible infringements, identify responsible parties, hire lawyers to prepare a legal suit and hope that you can collect even if you do get a favorable judgement.  High level software design or architecture patents like this would make for a very difficult prosecution.

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