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Simplicity is the key to patent worthy solutions Iv-Consult

Simplicity is the key to patent worthy solutions

It is the finest and most difficult challenge for every engineer or design engineer: to devise a solution to a problem or a situation that has not yet been invented. Within Iv-Consult, our specialists spend their time solving technical issues daily. But sometimes, for multiple reasons, it pays to patent innovations. Peter van Kerchove has seen many solutions patented and used within Iv-Consult.

Several examples of successfully patented innovations developed by Iv-Consult include a self-installing floating wind turbine at sea, a method for applying a seal lining underwater to lock gates and the simple vertical positioning of offshore structures.

Centre stage for knowledge and ingenuity

A patent can be requested to obtain the exclusive right to develop or sell a product or use an invention. Of course, such an invention (or product) may not already exist. Unlike in the past, a patent is now valid for a limited period of a maximum of twenty years. In addition to the commercial benefits, as far as Peter van Kerchove is concerned, patenting is also a great way to showcase the knowledge and ingenuity of Iv-Consult and other divisions within Iv.

“We are, in fact, inventors”, says Peter. “And sometimes we should show that off a little more”, he says. “We always work on smart solutions for often complex Simplicity is the key to patentworthy solutions problems and issues. Sometimes a solution is so unique that we decide to apply for a patent. But it is also often the case that we don’t fully realise the uniqueness of an innovation we have pioneered.”

A good solution must be simple

The design of the sixteen lock gates of the Panama Canal, one of the most significant projects ever tackled by Iv, is an excellent example of this. Iv-Consult devised a very clever solution to simplify the maintenance of the enormous lock gates: a sealing method that enables installation and replacement in sections. Seal elements are increasingly used to prevent excessive leakage. The Panama locks are a prime example of this being necessary because of the large drop and little available water in the adjoining lake. A seal lining prevents that loss through leakage, but the length of these linings makes maintenance and replacement very expensive. Iv-Consult devised a solution whereby the seal lining is applied in sections comparable to ‘puzzle pieces’ that are then held in position through the basic laws of physics. The result is that it is no longer necessary to replace an entire lining. But instead, this can be done per ‘puzzle piece’. This solution also proved beneficial for maintaining the high operational requirements through which the Panama locks must remain in operation 99. 6 percent of the time.

This seal lining is a typical example of ‘a good solution must be simple’, but nothing is more complex than devising simple solutions. And that is often what a patent-worthy invention boils down to, as Peter now knows from experience. “Patent worthiness must involve something new, not previously invented. The advantage when it comes to devising solutions is simplicity. Regardless of whether something is patented, the greatest compliment that we as engineers can receive is that clients are amazed at how simple something can be.”

It is in us to spend a lot of time on it subconsciously.

The simplicity of a paper clip
To emphasise this, Peter often shares an example of simplicity with new colleagues and engineers; the paper clip, also once patented. “I love a solution like this because it is a sublime invention that is incredibly simple. In fact, a brilliant invention. I try to apply this way of thinking to the issues presented to us. But the best ideas often come from mulling it over in the car or while walking. It is in us to spend a lot of time on it subconsciously.”

To be clear: not every issue requires the most inventive response, and not every solution is patentable, but as far as Peter is concerned, more attention should be focussed on this. “A solution is usually only good if it corresponds to the real problem. Therefore, when we receive a request from a client, we critically examine it to ascertain whether the real issue is being queried and whether we are providing the correct response.”

Self-installing, floating wind turbine
The correct response was also found in the innovation of an inspiring self-installing, floating wind turbine. For quite some time now, Iv has been pursuing an invention that could still be introduced in the offshore wind market, a market where there is a great deal of steady development and where finding a unique and innovative system is incredibly complicated. Therefore, Iv-Consult delved deeper, literally and figuratively, and found that the innovative concept for installing a floating wind turbine, namely one that self-installs, did not yet exist. This ingenious system with tendons, floats and a ‘gravity base’ only requires tugs to tow it to its location, where it will self-install.

The moment you think ‘I’ve got it’ always gives such a buzz

In many ways, Iv-Consult is making progress in the offshore market. A patent has also been approved for a ‘grab’ method that lifts the monopiles of oil and gas platforms out of the sea in a single hoist during decommissioning.

As far as Peter is concerned, the innovative power within Iv-Groep should be further embraced. Applying for patents, if they are innovative and add value, is an essential part of this. “Besides the advantages a patent carries, such as the head-start on our competitors and protecting the invention, it projects a very positive image. Plus, it keeps us sharp. The moment you think ‘I’ve got it’ always gives such a buzz. That’s what distinguishes us.” •

Would you like to know more about patents? Jaco will be pleased to tell you more. Contact him via 088 943 8331 or send Jaco an email.