Should All Patents Be Equal?

We are working with a client on a rather nifty product that is soon to be ready for the first mass production order. The product relies on a rather clever mechanical system which is currently going through the patent process to gain protection in their various chosen markets.

We have come up against some interesting challenges lately to do with existing cited patents. When the patent draft was complete and reviewed by the patent examiner they were reluctant to file the patent based on two cited documents which claim to basically achieve the same purpose as our product. The cited patents in question mechanically functioned very different to our solution BUT it appears they were all being counted as equal due to the fact that in practise they claim to do the same job.

An old patent drawing

So as the designer I was given the cited documents and asked to comment on the designs shown in the various patents and how they compare to what we have engineered here at Tinka Design. Having worked as a product designer for many years in the industry on a large range of products you get to a point where you can look at a mechanism and point out what will work verses what is likely to cause you issues. And the rule of thumb is obvious; simple and robust solutions take the cake every time. When I looked at the cited patents my first reaction to the theorised designs was they simply are not valid solutions. They are so complex, unresolved and full of unnecessary moving parts that they are destined to not be fit for purpose. To create some perspective, our product has a total part count of 12 parts, 4 parts being fasteners and 3 being the external housing and detachable rubber pad. Our engineered mechanism has 4 moving parts, two of which are springs. In comparison the cited patents contained upwards of 30 moving parts just in the mechanism. They are overtly complex, intricate, fiddly to assemble and inherently weak. While on paper a design ‘could work’ this is a very different thing to actually building and testing a design in its intended operating environment.

My gut feeling was these are simply concepts hashed together and grounded in very little reality. YET they were granted the patent and now we are having to battle to get our patent through despite the mechanisms being drastically different and PROVEN! The cited patents in reality are NOT realistic solutions to the problem they claim to solve. The designs are not feasible when you consider practical issues such as robustness, manufacturability, cost and general use case scenarios. They all have glaring issues which would have dismissed the ideas well before they entered any form of development process.

This made me think should all patents be counted equal? If a product has been developed and proven to work then the patent is of far more value than simply an idea they thought may solve a problem. An idea is really of little value until it has been resolved and proven. To have an idea is the easy part; it costs no-one any money or time. YET to bring this idea to market is a huge objective that requires incredible effort, resource, investment and risk. So why do we grant patents to unresolved ideas that in reality are in no way validated to be functional solutions to the problem they claim to solve?

Should there be a different patent platform for ideas that are simply ideas as opposed to resolved and proven solutions? In-fact should they be granted patents FULL STOP? I feel as though proven and resolved solutions should have greater weight as this would encourage real development rather than prohibiting development. A design solution that can stand up to the scrutiny of an end user has merit that should be patentable.

What do you think? Let us know!