Why patent?

Arian

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I have a question regarding patenting in the aviation industry. I'm not sure if this is the best forum section to post the question, but the mods can move it elsewhere if this is not the appropriate place.


After looking through a lot of the patents posted here the question pops up in my mind: why use patents?


I am interested in the topic due to my academic research, but I can't seem to find any theories or logic regarding patenting that would explain their use in the aviation industry, at least not in the fashion seen here. Here are some of my questions: 1) What is the benefit to a designer to reveal details of a design at early concept stages by patenting certain aspects of a design? The benefits seem small, given that the details would not be available to any competitor at that early stage or perhaps even later stage. 2) Given that not a lot of details are (usually) revealed other than general shapes and concepts, what is the point since the patent doesn't grant any real protection? The harm, on the other hand, may be unpredictable since a competitor may be made aware of the general direction of your designs even if no details are provided. 3) Perhaps, this point can be used to one's advantage through misdirection. One might patent failed projects with the purpose of throwing competitors off track?


I'm sure I'm missing a lot of the logic behind the decision to use a mechanism like patents which clearly does not provide any protection for something as complex as an aircraft, while at the same time taking the risk of spilling too many details (or just enough details) for no gain.


What are your thoughts? Is there some strategy behind their use?
 

TAGBOARD

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I think that is a good question.

There are several reasons to patent - beyond protecting ideas. One is benefits to the corporate employees for being a part of the patent. These employees can now advertise the patent in their resume, which in turn helps any future corporation they work for as well, since their employees have patented an idea. Often the costs of pursuing the patent are covered by their corporation they work for as well.
 

Arian

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Certainly I'd imagine from the POV of the designer there are the benefits you mention. But it's at the discretion of the company to allow the patenting. Apparently they may think that the "leak" may be small enough. But is it, especially when the patented material is early in the concept phase?
 

Bill Walker

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Having managed the patent process for a few high tech companies, I might have some insight.

First, as a previous post suggested, the effect on employee moral can be very significant. A lot of very smart people aren't interested in titles, and it is cheaper to put their picture in the company newsletter than to give them a raise. Peer recognition, and bonuses based on sales of patented items, can be very motivating.

Second, it is a form of advertising. Your competitors and your customers may be reviewing patents, and can get the impression that your firm is a leader in a given field, even if they aren't buying exactly what is in the patent. Look at the "protected by one or more of these patents" label on a lot of products. This is usually a standard label, listing all the patents a company owns, put on everything they make. People are impressed by a big label with lots of patent numbers on it.

The information in a patent does not necessarily tell you exactly how to make a product, or make it economically, or make it usable by customers. A well written patent identifies you as the originator of a concept, without making it that much easier to copy the concept.

finally, you get the classical patent protection of your efforts for some period of time. A certain helicopter manufacturer in Texas was recently sued for patent infringement by a certain helicopter manufacturer based in several European countries, and the Texans lost. As a result, a certain US helicopter was not able to use a widely recognizable landing skid configuration that has become a "brand" image for the originator of the concept.

Before law suit:
Bell-429-second-flight-test-aircraft-0907b.jpg


After law suit:
bell429red2.jpg


A certain European helicopter:
3190233304_63f537f469.jpg
 

Arian

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Thanks for the reply Bill. The landing skid example is certainly interesting.
 

Bill Walker

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It is worth noting that most patents today are for very narrow portions of any design. The rest has already been patented, or is what is known as "prior art" and is therefore unpatentable. A lot of high tech patents show the latest airplane (or cell phone or whatever) in the sketches, but when you read them the patent really only covers some small aspect. Again, this is marketing. "Look, we make airplanes (or cell phones)."

Even Orville and Wilbur couldn't patent "the airplane", only parts of it.
 

Reaper

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I had the same question.
Seen from a designer engineers perspective, you would not patent your latest designs since you would have to make them public, but what you can do is that you patent an older design to lead the competitor in a different direction than what are you actually doing.
 

Bill Walker

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I have seen a lot of older, never used, designs patented just because the inventor likes having lots of patents. Or likes the bonus that goes with each patent. ;D

I think some of you are over rating the ability of a patent to tell you how to make a useful, economic copy of the patented design. A well written patent doesn't reveal any more of the necessary details than you could get from a few photos in Aviation Week.

There is another thread discussing the industrial intelligence gathering practices of some countries these days. They are not out there stealing patents, they are out there looking for the vital info that was not in the patents.
 

sferrin

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Bill Walker said:
I have seen a lot of older, never used, designs patented just because the inventor likes having lots of patents. Or likes the bonus that goes with each patent. ;D

I think some of you are over rating the ability of a patent to tell you how to make a useful, economic copy of the patented design. A well written patent doesn't reveal any more of the necessary details than you could get from a few photos in Aviation Week.

There is another thread discussing the industrial intelligence gathering practices of some countries these days. They are not out there stealing patents, they are out there looking for the vital info that was not in the patents.

Stealing the CATIA files and specs on the other hand works wonders.
 

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