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Measurements and mathematics increasingly important in protecting inventions


November 22, 2019

In addition to industry, measuring technology is now gaining importance in various consumer products. In order to ensure the best possible protection for inventions in these sectors, IPR experts must know their way around measuring technologies and mathematical formulas. European Patent Attorney Arto Karppinen, if anyone, knows them from top to bottom.

Different measuring technologies have traditionally been used in industry, but with the rise of various sensors, self-driving vehicles and smart homes, different measurements are inching ever closer to the average consumer as well. Environmental awareness, in turn, is producing more and more so-called GreenTech inventions all over the world. Their number has multiplied in recent years.

Whether we are talking about the purification of waste water, combustion processes or battery technology, the development of new solutions requires accurate measurements. When wanting to save energy and materials, the role of measurement becomes central.

“For example, there are currently combustion processes in use whose emissions must be controlled. Waste water and drinking water measurements and purification processes are gaining whole new interest. Since everything that is old cannot be abandoned in an instant, efforts must be made to develop old processes. All this will become more common in the next few years”, says Kolster’s European Patent Attorney Arto Karppinen.

Faith in the power of inventions to make the world better is now strong everywhere. This means that Karppinen’s special expertise is in demand. His passion since his school days has been physics, and now most of his IPR work is related to measuring technology. That may be, for example, paper industry innovations and the paper and pulp measurements needed to protect them. Or acoustic or microwave technology measurements.

“Measurement often includes optoelectronics. Optical measurement is used to measure vital functions and processes as well as distances. It is also applied to new solutions in the automotive industry that involve the cars themselves assessing the traffic situation in their environment.”

Mathematics plays an important role in IPR determinations

In the valuation of intangible assets, mathematics plays a key role, for example, when estimating present and future value, using risk factors and taking into account technological as well as economic and strategic factors. For Karppinen, all this is everyday work. He is known as a mathematical thinker and measurement specialist for whom no area of technology is unfamiliar.

“While studying electronics at the electrical department of the Faculty of Technology at the University of Oulu, I took courses in, among other things, optoelectronics, measuring technology, digital image processing, ultrasound technology, medical instrumentation and process engineering. I became familiar with optical measuring technology while working on my licentiate thesis. I have needed all of these in my work as a European patent attorney.”

Karppinen says that he is a theoretician who mainly reads non-fiction books and almost never fiction. There are so many fascinating things to explore in the real world that it also nourishes the scientific imagination.

“Most recently, I read the interesting description of the Swedish physicist and cosmologist Max Tegmark on how the entire universe or multiverse cannot just be described by mathematics, but that it actually is just mathematics and numbers. This idea would also suit inventions related to process measurement and control, which are largely mathematical”, Karppinen says.

Growth of GreenTech increases energy harvesting in innovations

Currently, for example, electric motors are being developed to be cleaner and more efficient to minimise waste of energy. According to Karppinen, nature can also be conserved by collecting energy from the environment, i.e. by harvesting.

“Batteries and wires can be eliminated when energy is collected, for example, by using solar cells. As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes increasingly common and various sensors are used more and more, the need for energy harvesting increases. Low-consumption components are able to operate without an external energy source and even without batteries, which are hazardous waste. This is how harvesting brings savings”, Karppinen says.

According to him, a small sensor that measures, for example, temperature, pressure or elongation in the environment may need so little energy that it can obtain a sufficient amount from the environment – such as ambient heat or light – for measurement and possibly even signalling.

“Harvesting can be applied in a wide technical field. That is why it is good for a patent attorney to have comprehensive knowledge of many fields of technology as well as natural science.”

Mathematical complexity increases the likelihood of a patent

So-called differ-integral applications had been developed in one invention handled by Karppinen.

“This meant that, in a solution in accordance with the invention, data processing would be handled by mathematical algorithms in which the q order of differential or integral operator Dq can be something other than an integer. This came down to complex numbers in addition to fractions and real numbers. They are special in that they are presented as vectors and cannot be arranged in order of magnitude.”

According to Karppinen, the course of a signal from a mobile phone to a base station, for example, cannot be properly depicted without fairly complicated complex number mathematics either.

“It is often the case that as the mathematical complexity of the invention increases, so does the likelihood of obtaining a patent.”

Understanding even the most complicated mathematics is one of Karppinen’s strengths in IPR matters, and reading figures is everyday work for him. Since he is also familiar with mechanics, protecting virtually any innovation related to technical fields would not be alien to him.

“After all, mathematics is tautology, or repeating self-evident truths. Nothing more.”

Even the number of words matters in a patent application

Karppinen describes the core of an invention through word count: when many words are needed to describe an invention, its scope of protection becomes narrow.

“The more attributes I write for an invention, the more accurately I am describing the matter and the smaller the scope of protection of the invention becomes. Therefore, I must strive to define only the necessary but at the same time sufficient characteristics of the invention if I wish to obtain broad protection for the invention.” 

He illustrates this with a simple example from everyday life: an invention called the door is known for having a metal door handle. However, the word metal is too constricting here since the handle could often also be made of plastic or wood.

“So if a broad scope of protection is desired for the door, it is not advisable to specify only one type of handle material in the patent application. Then the patent will cover all kinds of doors.”

Karppinen calls discussion the secret weapon of his work – not only with customers, of course, but also with representatives of patent offices.

“Informal telephone conversations with, for example, researchers from the European Patent Office are an effective way of improving the success rate of applications. I have noted this many times over the years. Ultimately, it is people who do this work as well, and the best outcome is reached by discussing together.” 

Do you need protection for your invention that requires measurement or mathematical thinking?  

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Arto Karppinen
+358 40 512 5762