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Teaching Patents And Design Novelty to Engineering Students A Narrative Case Study Based Approach

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Idea Generation and Creativity in Design

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Daniel P Brown Northwestern University

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Award winning Designer, Inventor, Entrepreneur & Professor, in the Segal Design Institute – Northwestern University. Dan Brown is a champion of establishing a design-leadership based culture in our economy & society. "Design is how humans create value, I believe in the power of design as a discipline of creative based problem solving through enlightened strategic practice." Dan's vision is to educate and empower the future design leaders to serve society. “Sustainable design based thinking, beyond the past environmental focus has unlimited potential in solving social, ethical and economic problems in society.” Dan is currently earning his PhD at Coventry University in the UK, through his research of his thesis entitled “Differentiation by Design®.

A native of Chicago, Dan attended St. Xavier University, earning a Bachelors Degree in Biology, with a minor in Chemistry. Upon graduating, Dan embarked on a career in the chemical and plastics industry where he applied his science education, and natural ability in engineering and leadership to a fast track business career. While serving in roles of increasing responsibility in the rapidly globalizing marketplace of the 1980's, Dan quickly discovered the necessity of creating competitive product advantages to sustain a business model. These early marketplace experiences and highly competitive interactions inspired Dan to identify and create several new technologies for his employers leading to the application for his first three patents for these products before the age of 30.

After 12 years of progressive responsibilities in managing several businesses as an employee, Dan launched his own Product Design consultancy: Consul-Tech Concepts. Dan describes his design methodology as Differentiation by Design®, a product design process that discovers the unseen activity based user needs and product requirements, seeking to reveal differentiated-inventive design solutions across all aspects of the user-product experience. As a consultant using this strategy, Dan has worked with large and small companies to create and commercialize many differentiated products and processes for their customers, often creatively redefining these spaces, while at the same time receiving an additional twenty patents for his unique and novel new product solutions.

In 2001, Dan challenged himself to create a case study project for his design philosophy, to validate the methodologies of his design strategies, and to provide a sales and marketing tool for his design services. Seeking to create a new and innovative product while emulating the Differentiation by Design process, this vision resulted in the creation of the Bionic Wrench®. Launched at the National Hardware show in May 2005 from a newly founded entrepreneurial startup, LoggerHead Tools LLC, the patented Bionic Wrench has received over 10 international Design and Innovation Awards, while at the same time undertaking a very challenging path in today's consumer market of manufacturing the Bionic Wrench in the USA. Today the Bionic Wrench is approaching 2 million units sold.

As an advocate of leveraging design leadership to create and support sustainable markets, Dan has participated in numerous interviews, conferences and educational activities. One of Dan's life goals has been to teach; he earned a Masters Degree in Product Development (MPD) from Northwestern University where he is currently a Clinical Associate Professor at Northwestern teaching in both the Graduate and Undergraduate programs in the Segal Design Institute, McCormick School of Engineering. Collectively Dan's expertises in Design, Technology, Intellectual Property and Business have provided him numerous experiences to share and advance his perspectives on his vision of design thinking, value creation and their ability to create and transform competitive markets. "I believe that the path for domestic global economic competitiveness is user-centered - inventive driven - competition based innovation, in the execution of differentiated value-creating user solutions. This vision must include environmental, economic, and social sustainable competitive advantages, competing accountably in a free and fair marketplace"

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Invention and the dynamics of creating new, useful and non-obvious knowledge in creative practice is a universal design challenge for engineering students. A process enigma often arises from the difficulty of learning and navigating the US patent system for the first time, while simultaneously pursuing the engineering design challenge itself. As an inventor (34 US Utility Patents), and an educator, I have been seeking a case based methodology of incorporating patent researching methods into engineering design classroom practice. Building on research, specifically patent research as a foundational design heuristic, I have integrated a case study based “invention narrative” workshop, with a design studio experience, for teaching the patent system, patent research, and the design research process for engineering design and invention.

This workshop is built around the Case study invention of Barbed Wire as a practical foundation for studying the design process. The evolution of barbed wire, the key players, and their patents provide a real world context for the lessons of this workshop. The basic nature of the technology of twisted wire provides for the inclusion of a student studio barbed wire design challenge to be incorporated into the lessons of the workshop experience. In addition, this paper will explore the use of patent research, as a foundational design research methodology for strategically focusing design into novel technical spaces. I refer to these new, useful, and non-obvious inventive design spaces as the technical “white space” for new knowledge contributions arising from design.

Brown, D. P. (2016, June), Teaching Patents And Design Novelty to Engineering Students A Narrative Case Study Based Approach Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26041

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