Every invention has a set of constraints, and it is imperative to uncover and evaluate them when considering patenting. This applies to an inventor or business manager who is trying to ferret out ideas contained in a new product as well as the patent attorney who is writing claims for a patent.
Inventors are always trying to game the system. This is what makes them special. In order to game the system, they exploit various constraints to come up with creative solutions.
The process of innovation, in its most rudimentary form, is overcoming conflicting constraints or dilemmas. A classic example is the dilemma of designing a ship. Long, slender hulls are faster, but are less stable than shorter, wider hulls. The dilemma has two conflicting constraints: wider hulls are better for stability but worse for speed. In order to have both speed and stability, the dilemma can be solved by a catamaran, which has two hulls, both of which are long and slender but have much more stability than any single hulled vessel.
Many inventors can do this optimization process instantly. They think about a problem and can instantly visualize how it can be solved, the problems it will create, and the benefits it will have. Some talented inventors do this so quickly that the entire process is not a fully conscious, rigorous, and methodical thought process.
From a patenting perspective, it is important to slow down or recreate this process and pick apart the constraints actually used by the inventor. Often, this analysis will uncover constraints that were unimportant, or those that can be substituted to identify new inventions or broaden the current invention substantially.
Several patterns emerge: