The use of TRIZ to increase the value of Intellectual Property
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TRIZ is a powerful problem-solving tool based on the patterns of invention discovered from decades of study of the world?s most inventive patents. In addition to simplifying and expediting problem solving, these same patterns of invention can be used to predict trends in technological systems, as well as to improve and expand the scope of patent filings. The methodology can also be used to attack and circumvent blocking patents. This paper will review the basic TRIZ methedology, its application in these new areas, as well as how the Innovation WorkBench® software system can be used to diagram patent claims as well as to use its data base of patent examples to develop patent strategy.
TRIZ: It Started with a Patent Examiner
Over 40 years ago, Genrich Altshuller, a patent examiner for the Russian Navy, invented a unique problem solving methodology known as TRIZ (Russian acronym for "The Theory of Solving Problems Inventively"). This methodology, based on the study of millions of the world's patents, identified the key inventive principles used by the world's most ingenious inventors and patents, and then organized these principles in a retrievable way to greatly shorten the inventive process for future inventors and problem solvers.
The TRIZ methodology has been available to the western world for only ten years. Engineers and scientists, the first to use it, were able to solve some of their most difficult and challenging problems, frequently with patentable results. Its incorporation into user-friendly software packages has facilitated its use by engineering project teams, individual problem solvers, as well as engineering and business educators.
In recent years, the lines and patterns of evolution, which were parts of the original methodology, have been greatly expanded to include several hundred lines and patterns of evolution. These can now be used to expand intellectual property coverage, increase licensing revenue, as well as direct and plan long range technology activities.
The basics of the TRIZ methodology were developed in the recognition that technologies, patents, and inventions across many different fields of science and engineering utilized the same basic inventive principles. These principles were frequently disguised in specific industry or technological jargon. Altshuller and his TRIZ pioneers analyzed hundreds of thousands of patents to define a system of less than 100 inventive principles that were used repeatedly through these patents. These results have been confirmed and expanded through the analysis of several million patents to date. These principles were originally summarized in nomagraphs and tables and allowed problem solvers to quickly analyze problems and come up with immediate solutions.
One of our favorite teaching examples of this repeated use of the same inventive principles is the process invented nearly 50 years ago for "de-stemming" peppers on an industrial scale. It is fairly easy at home to simply use a knife to cut out the stem of a single pepper prior to eating, but removing the stems from thousands of peppers at a time on a commercial scale is quite another matter. An early agricultural patent in this area disclosed a method whereby peppers were placed in a pressure chamber, followed by the slow raising of the pressure to about 100 psi, and then suddenly releasing the pressure. This process caused cracks to develop around the stem, allowing the higher pressure external air to flow into the pepper. When the pressure was suddenly released, the stem was expelled. Over the next four decades, over 200 US patents were issued which used this exact same inventive principle, i.e., slowly raise pressure and suddenly reduce it. Included in this list is the basic patent for splitting diamonds into industrial diamond grinding dust-issued 27 years after the pepper processing patent. It is easy to see why an industrial diamond-grinding engineer might not look in the agricultural processing literature for help in finding a solution to his or her problem, but it is less easy to understand why some of the other parallel applications were not discovered sooner. It only goes to show how each of us thinks our problem is so totally unique that someone else cannot possibly have solved it already.
Imbedded within these patterns of inventive problem solving are overriding generic principles such as Ideality and the Use of Resources. Every system that we deal with is changing and evolving toward Ideality, that is the production of more useful functions or output while costs and negative features are reduced. The most Ideal state is when the most desirable function is done automatically without anything present or added to it. The primary challenge of engineers and problem solvers is to envision that state in their problem solving efforts. This is amazingly difficult to do as we in the West are so used to having excess resources that we fail to recognize the potential in designing systems around this concept. The ability to recognize and use hidden resources to solve problems within systems is also something unique to the TRIZ problem solving process. Many problems are solved through the simple recognition and use of resources that were not obvious prior to a TRIZ problem-solving session. We will show several examples to illustrate both the ideality and resource identification concepts during the presentation.
Lines of Product/Process Evolution
In addition to the recognition and categorization of these inventive principles, Altshuller also recognized and summarized lines or patterns of evolution that could predict the evolution of technical systems. These principles again were developed from the study of the world's patent literature. The original eight lines of evolution identified by Altshuller are:
1. STAGES OF EVOLUTION
This pattern of evolution is a simple statement that, in today's lingo 50 years after Althsuller's original work, that S curves exists. This line of evolution states that systems evolve until they exhaust their available resources and are eventually replaced by superior systems that perform their function in a superior way.
2. SYSTEMS EVOLVE TOWARD IDEALITY
This line of evolution states that all systems, regardless of their origin, evolve toward a more ideal state by the resolving of design or operational contradictions that limit their utility or performance. The extreme definition and achievement in this area would be a system that performs its function without existing. Though systems or processes never get all the way there, they constantly are moving toward this goal and this simple fact can be used to plan and analyze technological as well as organizational systems. Examples all of us would recognize would be retailing institutions, communication systems, and many chemical and engineering systems. Higher yields, fewer resources, etc. area all signs of the movement along this line of evolution. One of the psychological things we see in running TRIZ sessions with clients is how difficult it is for Western engineers to visualize and describe and ideal system.
3. NON-UNIFORM DEVELOPMENT OF SYSTEM ELEMENTS
There are many technical systems whose overall performance is limited, at any particular point in time, by a sub-system within the system. As engineering or operational improvements are made, the limitation of the overall system shifts to another sub-system, and so on over time. By careful analysis of systems, it is possible to pinpoint the area of current limitation, as well as the ones to follow, allowing the focusing of resources and intellectual property attention. Examples of this line of evolution would include many transportation and electronic systems. The first automobiles had no shock absorbers. Why? Because a car could not go fast enough for anyone to be concerned! When engines were developed that allowed traveling at more than 10 MPH, holes and bumps in roads became noticeable as well as uncomfortable, prompting the development of shock absorber systems. Most people remember the first jet airplanes in the 1940's following the invention of the original propeller plane in 1903. What few people know is that the jet engine (NOT the jet airplane) was developed in 1919. Why did we not see a jet airplane until the 1940's? It was because the steel materials in the early part of the century could not withstand the higher operating temperature. It was not until the development of the Bessemer steel process needed to produce WWII aircraft that the technology was available to handle jet engine operations.
4. EVOLVEMENT TOWARD MORE DYNAMIC AND CONTROLLABLE SYSTEMS
Systems tend to move from rigid, static systems to systems that have components that move or change. At first the movement is controlled by some external means. Eventually the system is able to move and control itself. Speed control in cars, adjustable x-ray systems, laser systems, temperature control systems, home appliances, and flow control systems have all become more dynamic and controllable over time.
5. INCREASED COMPLEXITY FOLLOWED BY SIMPLIFICATION
Though systems evolve steadily toward ideality, the path is often not smooth. Systems frequently become more complex as they try to deal with performance contradictions. Eventually these complex additions are simplified or eliminated and the system continues on its journey to an ideal state. A simple example of this is to look at the evolution of eyeglass technology, following the desire to shade the eyes from the glare of the sun. First we had duplicate "systems" of regular glasses and separate sunglasses. Then someone invented "clip-ons". And finally, glass materials were developed which would change color in response to radiant light and we were back to the original single system to meet both conditions. This particular system also illustrates the previously mentioned "dynamic and controllable" line as most of these photogrey systems also have a variable response to environmental lighting strength. Another example here would be the circuit boards with discrete components that became more complex until they were replaced by a microchip.
6. EVOLUTION OF MATCHING AND MIS-MATCHING ELEMENTS
Parts of systems often have mis-matched elements which eventually become matched, and finally become dynamically tuned with each other. Suspension systems and tires in cars are good examples of this line of evolution. Car suspension systems were first hooked together and moved in unison. Then came independent suspensions for front, back, and individual wheels. Then we saw individually adjustable shock absorbers. Now we see this coupled with "smart" technology that can respond to external conditions. Tires were first flat rubber surfaces. Then they developed treads. Then came specific treads for certain weather conditions. Then we had the combination of different tread systems within the same tire. It is not hard to visualize a next generation of tire and suspension together that would respond to road conditions, weather, and passenger load.
7. EVOLUTION TOWARD THE MICROLEVEL AND INCREASED USE OF FIELDS
Cooking has moved from fire to controlled thermal fields to the use of microwave energy. Cleaning systems have moved from mechanical removal to chemical cleaning to the use of static electricity to capture dust particles. Health care devices have moved from indirect thermal measurement systems to chemical sensors and now to the early stages of indirect field measurements. Communication systems have evolved from physical shouting to smoke signals to wire based telephones to microwave towers and cell phones.
8. EVOLUTION TOWARD DECREASED HUMAN INVOLVEMENT
Again, most every system we can think of today is functioning with fewer people than ever. Communication systems, health care delivery systems, stock trading, and self-serve systems of all kinds typify this trend.
In the past several years these principles, and others that have not been published, have been used in TRIZ problem solving sessions to not only solve problems, but also to forecast and plan future generations of solutions.
Strengthening or Circumventing Patents
One of the tools we use during these session is a software product known as the Innovation Workbench®. This software allows the cause and effect diagramming of any technical or organizational problem and the direct linking of the cause and effect relationships, as well as all the functions within the system, to a database of over 400 problem solving operators and 2100 examples illustrating their use in real systems. One of the unique things we have begun to do with this tool is to use it to analyze functionally existing or proposed patent claims. In addition to the lines of evolution previously mentioned, this total TRIZ analysis (which we have dubbed PatenTRIZ®) generates strategies for circumventing existing patent claims or expanding patent claims to make them less vulnerable to attack.
Starting with the Innovation Workbench® software, we generate with the client a cause and effect model of the proposed or existing patent claims. The software algorithm then generates an exhaustive solution set list which can be used either by itself, or in conjunction with the database of examples, to generate a complete set of "directions" that completely covers all possible ways of improving or circumventing the patent claims.
Then, using the lines of evolution, we look at the lines that apply to the technology being patented and ask two basic questions:
1. Is there a step along the way of the path that has been skipped? If so, we make sure that these "skipped" steps are covered in some way to insure that a competitor does not patent a less technically advanced solution that may meet the commercial need.
2. What is the next step along the appropriate lines of evolution, which apply to the technology in question, that should be protected?
We will show several examples of this technique during the presentation.
Increase the Value of Intellectual Property with TRIZ
In summary, the TRIZ problem solving methodology that has been traditionally used for very difficult engineering problem solving is beginning to find its way into the area of intellectual property management. It offers great potential to increase the value of intellectual property as well as to provide stimulus and ideas for circumventing existing intellectual property.
"And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared", Genrich Altshuller, Technical Innovation Center, Worcester, MA, 1996
"TRIZ: The Right Solution at the Right Time", Yuri Salamatov, Grafisch Bedrijf Van der Schaaf B.V., Enschede