Operation Principle Definition through Patent Practices
Sergei Ikovenko, Dr-Eng, PhD
While the definition of “principle of operation” is a commonly used term in many engineering and non-engineering fields, for TRIZ domain it holds a much more important significance. A number of TRIZ tools and methods are based on the notion of difference in principle of operation (for example, S-Curve analysis) and require clear and definite criteria for distinguishing different principle of operation.
Search in encyclopedias, dictionaries and other generic sources has not led to any definition or a set of criteria acceptable for TRIZ – all the found definitions were generic because the detailed criteria were not needed in those fields. If we apply the Function-Oriented Search Approach (FOS) and after generalizing and expanding we should focus on a leading area – an area where there are the most stringent requirements for the definition of “operation principle” or the area where clear and specific criteria are very important.
A possible leading area in that sense is Patent Law, specifically a part of it that deals with the Doctrine of Equivalents – a judiciary-created doctrine, intended to prevent patent infringers from stealing the benefits of the inventions of others. Under the Doctrine of Equivalents, a patent owner can, in the context of an infringement action, ask the court to reinterpret the claim language to cover not only that which the claim literally describes, but also similar solutions that perform substantially the same function, in substantially the same operation principle to obtain substantially the same results.
That is why the materials of patent lawsuits around applicability of the Doctrine of Equivalents may contain pretty definite criteria for judging if engineering solution belong to the same or different operation principles, the “operation principle” being one of the major criteria for establishing the fact of infringement.
The article focuses on the research of the patent lawsuit materials for identifying major criteria for establishing commonality or difference in principle of operation of engineering systems.