Within the past few years, explosive advances in computer hardware and software have made it affordable for large and small businesses, and even solo practitioners to use electronic modeling tools in R&D and product design. This has fundamentally changed the way that we engineers do our work. Electronic models of materials, articles, assemblies, and processes can now serve as the basis for a broad spectrum of product design and development activities including rapid prototyping, production tooling fabrication, and phenomenological analysis.
Pursuing patent protection of the inventions associated with new products is no exception. New software tools offer a great opportunity to integrate product engineering, design, and prototyping activities with patent application preparation. The results are better quality patent applications in less time at lower cost.
Tools of the Trade
Virtually every product being developed can now be modeled, from molecules to monolithic slabs. Modeling of products from the miniscule to the massive – in the chemical, mechanical, electrical, and optical arts, to name a few – is done by a variety of software tools such as Hyperchem®, Pro/Engineer®, SolidWorks®, Catia®, and Inventor®1. Additionally, a second level of phenomenological modeling is also often performed using finite element analysis packages such as Multiphysics™, COSMOS®, or Maxwell 3D®2.
An electronic model of a product invention can provide a wealth of information to a patent practitioner who is skilled in navigating through the model file. For example, a 3D model of an electromechanical device typically contains a three-dimensional graphic rendering of the assembly, and an adjacent components listing. With a minimal written description of the invention, or in a meeting with the inventor, the practitioner can quickly study the model of the invention and grasp its workings. In fact, the model is often much better than a hard prototype – it can be exploded, cross-sectioned, magnified, animated, and/or virtually disassembled and reassembled with a few mouse clicks instead of an arsenal of expensive hard tools.
“New software tools offer a great opportunity to integrate product engineering, design, and prototyping activities with patent application preparation, which results in better quality patent applications in less time at lower cost.”
This capability provides several key advantages in patent preparation. First, the learning curve for the patent practitioner is highly compressed. The practitioner attains a much more comprehensive understanding of the invention in a shorter time. This obviously saves money, since a significant cost in patent preparation occurs early in the process, where the practitioner is simply figuring out, “What is this thing?”
- Hyperchem®, Pro/Engineer®, SolidWorks®, Catia®, and Inventor® are trademarks, respectively, of Hypercube Inc., PTC Inc., SolidWorks Corporation, and Autodesk, Inc.
- Multiphysics, COSMOS and Maxwell 3D are trademarks, respectively, of Comsol Inc., Structural Research & Analysis Corporation, and Ansoft Corporation.
- Model image courtesy of Cognex Corp., rendered in eDrawings® by SolidWorks Corp. Non-confidential model file obtained from the 3D ContentCentralSM public web site, www.3Dcontentcentral.com., © SolidWorks Corporation.
Authors John M. Hammond P.E. (Patent Innovations, LLC www.patent-innovations.com) and Robert D. Gunderman P.E. (Patent Technologies, LLC www.patentechnologies.com) are both registered patent agents and licensed professional engineers. They offer several courses that qualify for PDH credits. More information can be found at www.patenteducation.com.
Note: This short article is intended only to provide cursory background information, and is not intended to be legal advice. No client relationship with the authors is in any way established by this article.
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Categories: Patent Preparation