Creativity connects! (so do Patents)

I was strolling around down town and thinking of nothing in particular…Little by little I began to realize that I was perceiving things. Just then, I deeply satisfied with an image appeared in the middle of the U-Bahn platform. Shivering from head to toe, I tried to sever the connection between my delicate mood and the image that triggered a cascade of thoughts within me. But it was useless…

The context of the image was revealing a formal analogy among a zebra, prototype camouflage wrap, and a monstera leaf thus creating a zebra leaf as the key visual of the press release for the largest design week of Germany.

The traditional motto: Design connects! was screaming out of the press ad while the unusual pattern was pervading by connecting across all opposites in genre, size, color and function.

At first glance, one may say a zebra, prototype camouflage wrap, and a monstera leaf don’t seem to belong together. However,when studied individually, the connection among these three phenemon can be easily seen.

Zebras take advantage of the confusing effect of the black and white contrast in motion. Automotive companies also resort to this art of visual confusion when they send prototypes to the streets for testing and disguise their identity with camouflage wrap. At last, Monstera deliciosa — the green kitsch style icon, naturally forms an analogy with the zebra fur pattern through its holes and completes this astonishing design.

As in ”the zebra leaf”, connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena is in the heart of creativity. Countless examples of unexpected connections can be found on a wide range of intellectual activities. In this context, -with a wider perspective- the traditional motto of Design connects! can be rightfully read as Creativity connects!

Creativity is characterized by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions.

At present, creativity is a challenging concept for cognitive scientists since it is among one of the most complex of human behaviors and it requires the coordination of multiple brain regions and types of thinking. Inventiveness, on the other hand, is a type of creativity and when creativity or creative are used in association with science and technology it is to be assumed that inventiveness is involved.

Most inventors have a tendency to attribute meaning to perceived connections or patterns between seemingly unrelated things. Interestingly, inventions are evaluated on the basis of whether they are truly inventive or not according to inventor’s level of ability on making meaning from unrelated ideas and information.

The invention is the subject-matter of patents and term of art of patent law. However, in patent legislation, usually there is no definition on what an invention is. Instead, invention is described by conditions for a set of patentability criteria: novelty, inventive step and industrial application. Among these three criteria; “inventive step“ or “inventiveness“ is the ultimate condition of patentability for an invention. Almost all patent systems investigates not only could but would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains. Here, “a person having ordinary skill in the art“ is an imaginary person who is considered to have the normal skills and knowledge in a particular technical field without possessing any kind of inventive skill. In other words, our imaginary person lacks the ability to bridge the gap between unrelated concepts and ideas since, in the first place, he doesn’t even look for the answers in other technical fields on which he has no or little knowledge. Consequently, “person having ordinary skill in the art“ is not able to produce nonobvious solutions to technical problems. Therefore an invention is said to be obvious when a person having ordinarily skilled in related field of technology would have developed the same invention by referring to material available to him on the date of filing the patent application. Hence, granting a patent to such an invention wouldn’t be possible.

On the contrary, the subject matter of a patentable inventions always inherent connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena (e.g. unrelated technical fields) to provide technical solutions to technical problems. In this context, patent documents should be treated as a source of valuable technical information including inventions which are sheer creations resulting from unexpected connections.

Sir James Dyson, a true inventor, had started his journey to creativity while vacuuming his own home in the late 1970s. He bought the most powerful and popular vacuum cleaner on the market. He got irritated when it started losing suction and tore the bag open. Its pores were clogged with dust: a fundamental flaw. This realization triggered a new thought: what if there were no bag? The answer came three years later..

One day, Dyson was at a local sawmill and noticed how the sawdust was being removed from the air by large industrial cyclones. The cyclone was collecting fine dust all day long and it didn’t look as though it was blocking at all. He started to think if this could work on a smaller scale? Accordingly, he created a cardboard prototype and strapped it on to his machine. Numerous trials later (which took him almost 15 years), he invented a bagless vacuum cleaner and subsequently his dual cyclone invention granted a patent.

The Dyson story is a great metaphor for the inventiveness process. It starts with a problem (blocking), continues with a possible solution (a bagless vacuum cleaner) and ends with an inventive solution by connecting two different technical fields.

As in the above Dyson story, creativity is no a mystical process. Even Mr Dyson himself explains creativity as:

“Creativity is something that has to be worked at, and it has specific characteristics. Unless we understand how it happens, we will not improve our creativity, as a society or as a world.“

However, in an era of rampantly emerging science and technology, economies do not have the patience nor source for an invention be developed through a creative process lasts for 15 years. Therefore as James Dyson suggests a simplified analytical approach must be employed to ease the rough path leading to inventive solutions.

Although a vast variety of approaches such as brainstorming, design thinking and NLP have been developed for creative problem solving, none of these methods are based on a concrete formulation derived from true cases.

Patent literature is abundant of true cases in a wide range of technical fields. Patents “teach“ not only how to make and use the invention, but they also “teach“ how to become a creative problem solver. Patents show us that original problem solvers intentionally look for patterns within their technical fields and other technical fields to be able to spot relationships that others cannot.

Genrikh Saulovich Altshuller, a Soviet engineer and a patent officer recognized the potential of patent literature as a source of technological information that can be used to generate a generic formula capable of finding inventive solutions to existing technical problems. Altshuller analyzed over 200,000 patents (to date over 1,500,000 patents have been analyzed), to see how granted inventions solved technical problems. As a consequence, this analysis has produced the following findings:

  1. problems and solutions are repeated across technologies and sciences
  2. patterns of technical evolution are also repeated across technologies and sciences
  3. the innovations used scientific effects outside the field in which they were developed

Based on his findings, he developed The TRIZ methodology (a Russian acronym for Theory of the Solution of Inventive Problems). TRIZ hypotheses that there are universal principles of invention and that if these principles could be identified and codified, they could be taught to people to enhance their inventive capabilities.

During the development phase of TRIZ, Altshuller also realised that a problem requires an inventive solution if there is an unresolved contradiction in the sense that improving one parameter impacts negatively on another. He later called these “technical contradictions”. Moreover, he also proposed the concept of ideality of a system which suggest that ”the ideal state” in a system can be promoted by minimizing technical contradictions.

Unarguably, TRIZ is a tool that should be studied and taught in a more detailed and structured narrative. Nevertheless, -from the standpoint of this article- concept of TRIZ provided up to now is sufficient to demonstrate that it is a valuable method to build smart and effortless connections between unrelated technical fields thereby finding inventive solutions. In this sense,TRIZ seems to having a high potential to answer the demands of present economies in terms of accelerating the inventive processes.

Patentability means innovation; it makes a significant contribution to science and technology which are two desirable elements for the economic and social development of societies. Although encouraging innovation is a fundamental and historical feature of the patent systems, patents are also used as an armor to control the economies in a cruel capitalistic war. Still, there is substantial amount of proof showing that patent systems still benefit the creations of the human mind.

Patentability means innovation.

It is surely beyond doubt that a system which claims to be the power of judgement on determining whether an invention is truly inventive or not, also had been taken the responsibility of a highly challenging task. Inventiveness -as a concept of creativity- is highly complex on its own terms hence a task of determining inventiveness makes the patent system one of the most interesting and complicated endeavours ever created by the human mind.

Whether to be the splendid glamour of inventiveness or the complex patent legislation which tries to balance the Scales of justice for inventions, in the end; inventions, patents and the patent system itself, are all the creations of human mind hence all burgeon out of dewy connections.

Aren’t you in awe when you contemplate the complexities of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure behind reality? And this is the miracle of the human mind — to use its constructions, concepts, and formulas as tools to comprehend a little more each day.

Albert Einstein

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