Need a solution for your latest technology project? It might already exist.

Finding solutions to problems

Companies around the world invest huge budgets in R&D to develop solutions to problems, or new products, systems and processes. Sometimes this leads to an advance in technology, in which case the innovator may elect to seek patent protection to help provide a return on the investment.

But what if the solution already exists? If the answer to the problem is out there somewhere then the obvious question is: why re-invent the wheel? Wouldn’t it be quicker, cheaper and easier to leverage the existing solution and get on with business?

Someone out there may have the answer. The tricky bit is finding it.

But where to look? Textbooks, academic research? These resources are usually not sufficiently focused to provide practical, commercial solutions. Many companies rely on institutional knowledge such as the know-how of their employees. But even a highly skilled workforce has gaps in its knowledge.

Sometimes it is assumed that, if the solution has already been developed, someone else would be doing it or it would be already on the market. But that is not always the case – what if whoever else developed it was unsuccessful in commercialising it – for whatever reason – or did not know the potential of what they’d found?

One place to look is: patents.

Patent literature: a vast resource

The global patent literature is a vast library documenting over a century of technological endeavour. Around 82 million patents have been published worldwide.

Each individual patent was originally filed with a purpose in mind; usually to secure protection for a unique idea to support the commercialisation of that idea ahead of actual or would-be competitors. Most patents that have ever existed are no longer enforceable or put to any use, but what remains is a collection of documents making up a fantastic resource full of clever, remarkable and sometimes bizarre solutions to technological and scientific problems.

A patent is an innovation instruction manual

The basic principle of the patent system is that an inventor is given a monopoly in the right to use an invention for up to 20 years in return for documenting how the invention works so that the invention is available for the benefit of the public once the period of monopoly has ended. That way, inventors are incentivised to publish advances in technology rather than keeping them secret.

A patent is the document the inventor creates to explain what the invention is and how to put it into practice. The explanation is required by law to explain to someone else, of reasonable skill in the same field, how to put the invention into practice. A patent is therefore an instruction manual for a technological innovation.

Another reason companies conduct R&D themselves is because existing solutions might not be suitable or compatible with their particular situation. But patents do not only describe specific implementations of the invention but the fundamental concept itself. This makes it possible for an expert to adapt the solution to any situation.

Patent solution searching could save time and money

Looking for a solution in the patent literature at the start of a new development project could save a lot of time and money. The cost of this kind of information mining will pale in comparison with a research project that could last months or years, and it might deliver the solution within a matter of weeks, saving valuable time getting the solution to market.

James & Wells has a highly skilled team of patent attorneys who have extensive experience in searching patent databases for technologies of all kinds and deep-diving into the immense amount of information available in patents all around the world. Come to us with a technological problem and we may be able to find the answer somewhere in this invaluable resource.

Not only that, what we find might help your R&D move forward faster than intended, or lead it in a completely unexpected direction. In turn, this might open up new markets and opportunities for your business.