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Embedded Systems: Patentable or Not?

After reading series of seminars for scientists of embedded systems, few things came out clear. Patenting here is as complicated as in software-related inventions. Let me tell you, why.

Inventive step is often questionable

Majority of embedders are 100% into applied science, whereas electronics design and software development are two most important skills, they operate. These days, there are not much new patents filed for electronics circuits, as the times of rapid development in this field are far in the past. On the other hand, new circuits are rather registered as Topographies, not patents. Needless to say, that topography registrations are not popular, as it is much easier to get around such protection, as compared to patents and number of other drawbacks can be noted.

Some electronics patents are valid and valuable, such as fast switching circuits of electro-optics (i.e. Pockels Cell drivers) or LED wiring schemes, just to mention a few, but many conventional electronics circuits are used in consumer electronics without hope to protect those solutions.

In order to extract some patent statistics in this field, we've used the patent search methods, describet in our earlier publications. It was determined, that closest classes of patents are:

For Electronics:

H03 - BASIC ELECTRONIC CIRCUITRY

H05K1/00 - Printed circuits.

H01L27/00 - Devices consisting of a plurality of semiconductor or other solid state components formed in or on a common substrate.

Patent research shows, that there were 10143 patents filed in year 2010 for basic electronics circuits, with a 6% drop from previous year and 11% drop from the Year 2008. This statistics shows, that there are less and less patents filed for basic electronics circuits.

Electronic circuit patents

For Embedded Systems:

G06 - COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING

G06F - ELECTRICAL DIGITAL DATA PROCESSING

G06F17/00 - Digital computing or data processing equipment or methods, specially adapted for specific functions.

G06F9/00 - Arrangements for programme control, e.g. control unit.

In this case, a signifficant drop in patent applications was registered during 2005-2006 years and the number tends to decline over the years. It is interesting to note, that top three leaders in this category, which suppose to represent embedded systems, are Canon, Hitachi, and NEC.

Statistics of the class G06F.

Statistics of the class G06F.

Since the overall number of patents grows almost every year and we've found out that the numbers of patent applications for electronics as well as for embedded systems are declining, we could presume, that more and more technical solutions are classified according to the field of application, rather than the technology behind those solutions. Which means, that the type of inventions developed shifts from essentials (basic circuits or computing solutions) towards applications, where electronics, embedded systems and software form just a part of the invention and are just building blocks for achieving desired solution.

The Second Challenge: Software

Embedded systems are often based on dedicated software - either manually written code for a micro-controller or regular software running on Linux, MSDOS, NetBSD or similar operating systems. Here we have a regular issue with software-related inventions - it requires strong technical character of the overall solution in order to be patentable.

As a consequence, we have, that most electronics circuits and pieces of software will not be suitable for patenting, except if use of the software and electronics together solves some new technical problem or addresses an old problem with a new way, by using the created embedded system.

Many examples come to the mind. GPS systems, GPS trackers, smartphone accessories, laser control solutions, manufacturing automation solutions, as well as several examples from our own patenting experience: smartphone-compatible fish-finder, anti-dazzling system for cars, smart Pockels Cell driver, haptics' pad for visually-impaired persons and many more. By reading this list you might feel, what kind of problems are solved with these embedded system-based solutions.

The Idea Behind the Embedded System

When thinking about patenting of embedded-system based solutions, it is advisable to start thinking from the overall solution, whereas the computing unit is just a component. Many products are done based on open-source code libraries, especially in the Arduino platform, thus it is very likely that the code will not be very inventive, even for the US patent.

Inventors can follow these simple guidelines:

1. Think about the application of an embedded system

2. Give priority to new features, which are not known from the prior art

3. Describe the new features in technical language, i.e. determine, which parts of the embedded system allow to implement the complete solution.

4. Check, whether novelty depends more on combination of constituent parts or the application itself.

5. Now you are ready to make a patent search, in order to figure out, if your solution is both new and has an inventive step.

 

Whether you will need some help on determining the scope of invention or to perform a cost effective patent search, do not hesitate to contact us for help. Write to info@ideaprotection.co.uk