Brunel researchers identified a need for a tool linking computer-aided design systems to prior art, and with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council are developing a new system to identify potential common features between designs.
The team, made up of Drs Mark Atherton, Alessio Malizia, Pingfei Jiang and Manal Helal, as well as Professor David Harrison, have been working on patents in mechanical engineering, where the novel inventive step often relies heavily on how functions and key geometrical features of the design interact.
Brunel cited the example of aluminium beverage cans, which demonstrate relationships between function and novel geometry, as potential beneficiary of the concept.
The tool, which currently has the working title of the Design Assistant for Semantic Comparison of Intellectual Property (DASCIP), could prevent costly litigation by alerting designers at an early stage, in real-time, when aspects of their designs are too similar to patented subject matter.
DASCIP employs existing patent images annotated with descriptions in a way that allows for matches of geometric features and functional interactions to be identified. While this annotation in a new standardised vocabulary has been initially completed manually by the Brunel team during the feasibility phase, they are now developing an automatic system of annotation.
The research is now at a stage where dissemination to industry is hoped to lead to collaborative projects on real mechanical products that will demonstrate its benefits to innovation and to avoid patent issues, according to Brunel.
“Patent applications have grown nine percent worldwide year-on-year for the past two years, increasing the likelihood that a designer will unwittingly infringe on prior art,” explained Atherton.
“And with around a quarter of companies experiencing an intellectual property dispute over the past five years, and significant damages agreed in around 30 percent of cases—with average payouts of £120,000—the need for designers to be better aware of prior art is clearly increasingly important.”