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Brainstorming & Collaboration

Part 1: Reversing Creative Inertia with IQ Ideas: Q&A with Dr. William Y. Fowlkes

By March 24, 2021April 14th, 2021No Comments

This the first of a two-part series on Augmented Brainstorming, and a new software product from IP.com designed to help engineers solve tough problems. We will be talking with Dr. William Y. Fowlkes, certified TRIZ practitioner and Six Sigma Black Belt at IP.com.

Dr. Fowlkes (Bill) is Vice President of Analytics and Workflow Solutions at IP.com, a global leader in patent and analytics solutions. Bill has worked in Research and Development for three decades. He is a certified practitioner of TRIZ (The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving), Taguchi Methods for Robust Design, Six Sigma, and statistics. He has taught TRIZ, Robust Design, and Applied Statistics to hundreds of engineers and scientists. Bill is co-author of Engineering Methods for Robust Product Design. He is the inventor on 28 U.S. patents.

What is Augmented Brainstorming?

Augmented Brainstorming is the basis of our new web app called IQ Ideas™. Developed for engineers, product development and innovation teams, it combines IP.com’s patented semantic search capability with the analysis and process tools of Six Sigma and the theory of inventive problem solving (TRIZ) to provide the world’s first AI-based Augmented Brainstorming tool.

What drove the development of IQ Ideas?

Through our work with clients around the world, we’ve learned many engineers want a way to quickly ideate new solutions to existing technical problems. Hard problems may require truly novel solutions that go beyond their prior knowledge and familiar approaches. IQ Ideas is a tool that provides insights to what has been tried before and what novel approaches might be useful for consideration on the current problem. It helps engineers think beyond their usual approaches.

How does Augmented Brainstorming work? 

In a few seconds, IQ Ideas provides two sets of suggestions to help you find an innovative solution to the problem. The first is called Functional Concepts, which are ideas related to the problem that might suggest solutions and provide grounding in what has been tried before. The second is called Inventive Principles, which are abstract solutions to problems that have been combined with system elements, ranked and presented with examples, to suggest novel approaches to solving the problem.  

Where do these suggestions come from? Is the AI engine creating them?

The Functional Concepts are from patent applications and are ordered by semantic relevance to the problem description. The Inventive Principles come from the TRIZ methodology, but the AI engine eliminates the need to be a TRIZ expert, or do a lengthy problem analysis, or think abstractly, which are all barriers to using TRIZ directly. One user told us that IQ Ideas did in 30 minutes what previously took two months of TRIZ analysis.

Is it OK to use patent applications as a source of suggestions? Don’t some organizations want to shield patents from their developers?

Most engineers want to have some familiarity with the prior art. Many of the applications tie to patents that have expired or applications that were abandoned in prosecution, so these are not an issue. All the suggestions are intended to help spark new ideas, eliminate psychological inertia, or get you to think about the problem differently. None of the suggestions from Functional Concepts or Inventive Principles are meant to be applied literally “as is.” And regardless of the process used, new features that make their way into products should always be evaluated for “Freedom to Use” from an IP perspective.  

Can you explain TRIZ and why you chose to build it into the product?

TRIZ is a collection of methodologies, heuristics, and knowledge bases that can be used for systematic problem solving, but it is difficult to learn and takes a lot of time to apply to real-life problems. IQ Ideas runs TRIZ “under the hood” to radically simplify the process, analyze the problem, and provide suggestions from the patent literature and TRIZ-based Inventive Principles.

In the next blog post in this series, we will discuss writing a strong invention disclosure and scoring it prior to submission to your patent review committee.