Intellectual Property – Part III – Brainstorming

by Thomas Frasher on July 14, 2009

Intellectual Property – Part III – Brainstorming

As I mentioned last week, this article is on brainstorming, this is the FUN part!!

Brainstorming is the process of creating new ideas and refining ideas into a something that may be unique and non-obvious. There are a few rules to have a successful brainstorming session, but they are ironclad, breaking any one of these rules will close down creativity and stifle participation from the people that your are brainstorming with.

Above All, being creative and inventing new products and services is a Learned Skill that can be developed just like reading, writing or golf.


1. There are no bad ideas! Even ones that appear “bad” or misinformed or even flat our incorrect can be used as a springboard into good, new, and non-obvious inventions.

2. No one tanks on anyone else’s idea! Each person and their ideas are treated with dignity and respect, no criticism allowed (see point 1). If you have a team that tends to be critical of each other that is great, correct the problem and you will have a great team.  One approach is to inject humor into the meeting; this lightens the mood, opens space for more creativity and gives room for dumping old ideas and building new ones.

For example: A brainstorming meeting I had while working at Boeing, we were all given loaded squirt guns at the beginning of the meeting with instructions that if anyone tanked on someone else we would all squirt that person, at the end of the meeting we were all soaked, and we had all solved two problems:

a. We had a solution to our original need for the brainstorming and;

b. We had a tighter team that worked better together….plus; we got to keep the squirt guns.

3. Open your mind and look for the new thing in the pile of the old. This rule builds on rules 1 and 2.  Even old ideas can be applied to now situations to create new products and services.  Ideas from one industry can be stripped down and applied to another industry.

For Example: I have a patent submission to the USPTO (application number 20080313598) that is an application of a targeting solution algorithm to the problem of project management.

There are many places where new application of a previous idea is appropriate and creates new products or services that haven’t existed before. Even if the old ideas are not fruitful you will begin to develop the practice of creativity.

4. You MUST have fun! Anything less creates drudge and that will kill your creativity and make brainstorming a chores rather than a pleasure.

Ok, Let’s get started!

A bit of housekeeping:

  1. Someone will need to act as the scribe. This is a very important task and it should not be the same person each time, indeed if you can change the scribe during the session you will get better results, as everyone will have a chance to participate fully.
  2. The ideas should also be in a place where everyone can see them, preferably on a white board, large paper pad, or chalk board. As the ideas come and go you can cross them off and keep going.
  3. Set a definite start and stop time, this discourages flights into fantasy and people becoming tired, 1 hour is a good time frame, less and you don’t cover enough ground, more and it becomes labor.

Seed Ideas: these are ideas used to start the process; I want to reiterate that these may or may not be the final invention.  The idea is to let your imagination run freely, without regard to whether what you are thinking is reasonable, difficult or even possible.  Write everything that comes to mind down.

For example: if you are in the mechanical tool space, you start with the idea of a socket wrench that can reach into a blind spot to work on a bolt. This is already available commercially; however this is a starting point of the invention definition.  What other problems are solvable with this type of tool, how might they be solved better, faster, cheaper, easier. How about a wrench that is guided with an endoscope like camera and can be steered through a complex path to work on a bolt? Magnetic Head? Grippers? All these are valid inventions.

The point is nothing is out of bounds; you can combine ideas from multiple people and multiple disciplines to get the best inventions.

Document: As each idea is written on the whiteboard, paper pad or chalk board by the scribe , all the contributors can look at it, give it a rating, and then if they know of any prior art they speak up at that point (another reason not to tank on anyone, you need the candor in the conversation). Change scribes frequently.

You can look up prior art with a few search terms. You can search the USPTO or Google Patents for prior art.  This won’t replace a good patent search, but it will make a great first cut. If you find prior art all is not lost, you can read the previous patent and design a new patent to fill the gaps left by the previous one, or bring new technology to bear on the same problem.

Wrap Up: when you have about 5-10 minutes left in your session, it’s time to start wrapping things up. This means you select the best ideas that you have (you will have eliminated some) and write them down cleanly and coherently. These will be the basis for your patent search and your disclosure if you decide to continue.

You will need to document who was in the room, the date and time, give the idea a name of the form “Method and Apparatus for….” Fill in the blank with the solution description. Finally have everyone sign the bottom of the description.  You’re done!  Give everyone else a “High-5” and get on with your day.

Next Week: Finding Help

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