Patenting TRIZ?

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    "Although most innovation is still product-related the scope for innovation now frequently extends beyond product to include process, business model, organisation etc. The patent process (arguably) deals with product stuff but what about the rest?"

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    By William Y. Fowlkes


    I am sure that Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) experts and even beginners are familiar with the modern patent system. In fact, the empirical underpinnings of TRIZ are derived mostly from patent literature. And that is how it should be. Society grants the inventor the right to exclude others from using inventions for a specified period of time (typically 20 years from filing) in return for a complete disclosure of the invention, therefore, society in general benefits from the technology once the exclusionary period runs out. In this way, the inventor is given an opportunity to benefit from the invention without having to keep the invention a secret (which may not be feasible). Recently I came across a set of patents and patent applications teaching various aspects of and proposed improvements on classical TRIZ. Reading through these patents taught me more about TRIZ as I gained knowledge from the insights and ideas of others.

    Early Patents

    The earliest patent (US Patent 5581663) I found was filed April 22, 1994 by Boris Zlotin of Ideation International, Inc. It describes in detail the graphical problem formulator and problem solver modules from Ideation's Innovation Workbench software.

    Ideation's main software competitor, Invention Machine has at least seven US patents granted (and four patent applications) related to TRIZ. The documents follow a regular pattern. The earliest three patents (US Patent 5901068, US Patent 6056428 and US Patent 6202043) by Valery Tsourikov relate to various aspects of TechOptimizer including the mathematics behind the function and problem ranks plus trimming ('428), process systems analysis ('043) and Knowledgist ('068). The next three patents (US Patent 6167370, US Patent 7120574 and US Patent 7251781) by Tsourikov and others relate to various aspects of semantic analysis of documents. In particular these patents teach the extraction of subject-action-object (SAO) triplets and the application of synonyms to expand search queries based on the SAO sets. The most recent patent, US Patent 7536368, by James Todhunter, features screen shots from Goldfire Innovator.

    There are a couple of additional granted patents in the literature. Eugene Haimov teaches functional analysis and problem statement generation in US Patent 7644058. Sato Hiroshi (from the Hitachi Corporation) shows a computerized design support system to create solutions for assembling components with a database of specific risks and solutions in US Patent 7689523.

    Delayed Patents

    Beginning in 2000, The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) began publishing patent applications 18 months after the filing date. For example, Invention Machine has four published, but not yet granted, applications (US Patent 20080243801, US Patent 20070112746, US Patent 20070156393, US Patent 20050131874) all related to various aspects of the Goldfire Innovator. Other applications that have been published, but not yet granted, teach improvements or refinements of TRIZ or apply TRIZ as part of an innovation system. Yasuo Hira, also with the Hitachi Corporation, discloses an automated application of the contradiction matrix in his application US Patent 20020032679. Lin Zone Ching and Chen Mi Yung teach a clustering and statistical analysis applied to the contradiction matrix in US Patent 20080294658. Kosha Hideaki (from the Fuji Photo Film Corporation) gives heuristics for breaking down a system, applying functional analysis, revealing the problem and applying the ideal final result in US Patent 20060265343. Lastly, Kobayashi Hideki incorporates and shows the use of the contradiction table (referred to as the "inconsistency conquest support module") as part of a problem solving tool in US Patent 20030187722.  


    Theory of Inventive Problem Solving experts across the world have applied TRIZ to generate solutions to several technical problems as well as to appear as inventors in several patents. Recently, some of these experts have chosen to submit patent applications on process improvements to classical TRIZ. If we consider TRIZ to be a science, perhaps a more appropriate venue is a peer-reviewed journal or TRIZ-related conference. Of course, if you produce a valuable product that assists in problem solving, as the software companies have done, then the protection afforded by a granted patent may be worth the effort and expense of prosecution.

    About the Author:

    William Y. Fowlkes is a Certified TRIZ Practitioner.

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