Do I need to invent the light bulb to become an inventor?
The history of technology is, in many ways, a story of great inventors and their brilliant inventions. Think of Thomas Edison and the light bulb, with protection type patent that was filed 1879. Inventing isn't just about coming up with a great idea; that's the easy part! There's also the matter of turning an idea into a product and stopping other people from copying and profiting from your ideas. One way to protect your idea is to patent it but unfortunately many R&D engineers today do not see themselves as inventors unless they invent the light bulb. Therefore, many features related to products are not protected.
Engineers who condemn their own creativity
Recently my colleagues Falah Hosini and Ola Bergfeldt shared their view on what they believe are common reasons behind successful innovations and how to put your mind into a creative mode. The environment for most R&D engineers do not lack innovation atmosphere but unfortunately they just don´t believe that they are inventors. They do what they have been hired to do in combination with what they love to do. Whenever I talk to them about a specific R&D project and problems solved related to different topics, they just say that this is well known in the art and most probably the person skilled in the art is aware of this particular solution.
Let´s stop here for one second
How is it possible that an R&D engineer starts to judge the proposed technical solution, related to a technical problem, and by default discuss whether the proposed solution is patentable or not? These are experienced R&D engineers, often with more than one engineering title and in-depth knowledge in a certain technical field. Shouldn’t such added value create new innovation in combination with prior knowledge?
3 major misconceptions by the R&D engineer
4 criteria’s why you don´t need to invent the light bulb to become an inventor
- To become an inventor, you need to invent a groundbreaking technology.
- Almost nothing is patentable – low awareness about the patentability criteria’s.
- Acting patent examiner – starting to judge their own inventions.
Let me summarize the 4 criteria’s:
- First of all, the invention has to solve a technical problem. It doesn´t matter whether the proposed solution is better or worse in meaning of an optimal solution.
- The second criterion is that the proposed invention has to be "new” compared to granted patents, published applications, papers, textbooks, tradeshow etc.
- If the proposed solution is "new” then it must as well differ significantly, this is called "inventive step”. The possibility for a person skilled in the art to combine one or two known solutions and come up with the same claimed invention. This specific topic is one of the complex parts when discussing if a solution is patentable or not. I will not go into details here, but if you want to discuss this, please contact me.
- The last criterion is that every time one uses the invention, identical results should be obtained. Of course "Perpetuum mobile – Perpetual motion” that describes hypothetical machines to produce energy indefinitely and that is not Industrially applicable (energy law).
My 3 top advice to avoid ending up in competitors copying and profiting from your unique solutions.
- A solution to a technical problem
- The invention has to be all new
- The inventive step has to be fulfilled – differ significantly from known technology
- Industrially applicable – technical effect and reproducible
Oh, and one more thing!
- Create a simple invention disclosure template with intuitive and easy questions. If you make it too complex, nobody will file invention disclosures.
- Create a review process for all invention disclosures in order to decide the type of IP-protection (patent, utility model, design, prophylactic, publish paper or trade secret).
- Always activate search alerts on your competitors and technology based on patent information. Involve the R&D engineers in the monitoring process in order for them to follow the technology development. You will be surprised by the new invention disclosures that will be generated.
Last week more than 400 000 patent documents from all over the world were added to the patent database, most likely these inventors have not re-invented the light bulb but improved or solved technical problems.
What´s your best advice?
Please share your expertise by leaving a comment. Also feel free to share this post in your own network.
Sign up for a 15-minutes lunch webinar
Please register for our webinar about "How to become a ground-breaking innovator” on November 3, 2015 12:00 PM CEST at:
The webinar will give you strategic advice and hands-on tips and tricks on How to be successful when inventing. After registering, you will receive a confirmation by e-mail with information about the webinar.