Innovative People

Galen Barefoot

Simple Example of Patents as a Research Tool
By Galen Barefoot
Throughout my 34+ year career as a patent examiner I have been fascinated with the potential of using patents as a research tool. I have noted that the Penn State Aero Department lists numerous projects in the area of aeroacoustics, specifically in noise prediction models and noise generated by gusts on airfoils. With a simple search in an elementary search tool “Google Patents” with the search term – modeling noise generated gusts airfoil aircraft— the first result is US patent # 7359841 issued April 2008 to Duane Hixon and the abstract states:
The Space-Time Mapping Analysis (STMA) method and system provides an engineering method and/or system for modeling and/or analyzing and/or designing and/or building and/or operating complex physical processes, components, devices, and phenomena. STMA can be used in a way for modifying and/or improving the design of many different products, components, processes, and devices, for example. Any physical system, whether existing or proposed, which exhibits, for example, unsteady flow phenomena, might be modeled by the STMA.
In Col. 30 of this patent there is a description of how this program can be used to model unsteady flow on an airfoil and could be used to reduce noise due to gusts on an airfoil.
Also within the patent is an extensive list of prior publications in the area.
Note also that the cited patent references show other patents not from noise prediction but other patents related to the concept of modeling other unsteady behavior. This is how research in patents can be of great assistance as it can lead a person to other solutions from other technologies that an expert in one technology may not consider. The way the Patent Examiner reviews a patent application requires him to consider other areas that may provide a teaching of how it would have been obvious for someone to come up with the applicant’s claimed invention. Doing prior art and patent research on a particular subject can uncover the work done by others in related but different areas. With such background one would be able to focus their research to a more specific result that has not been done by others, or to refocus the work of others that may have been developed in other areas with applicability in another technology. “Why reinvent the Wheel?” or maybe: “Why reinvent a square Wheel?”
(this link shows the first page of the Hixon patent)
This is not a promotion of Hixon’s patent; it is merely an example of the type of information that can be developed from a patent search. This was a granted US Patent result; about 7 years ago the USPTO also started publishing all new applications after 18 months. This means that even if the application does not become a patent it is published to the public and available to be found in a research effort. If you go to the USPTO classification of the Hixon patent,
and look at the recently published application that are in this subclass that deal with modeling involving an “airfoil” you find that there are 9 of them. Here are a couple examples:

United States Patent Application 20080177511
Kind Code A1
Kamatsuchi; Toshihiro July 24, 2008
Method and system for simulating flow of fluid around a body
A simulation method for flow of fluid around a body, according to the present invention, comprising dividing a target domain of simulation into a plurality of computational unit domains named cubes, generating an uniform number of Cartesian mesh elements named cells, in each of the cubes, performing computation in the cubes in each computational step, and exchanging data between adjacent cubes after completion of each computational step. In dividing the target domain of simulation into cubes, division is repeated while a ratio between adjacent cube sizes is maintained in a certain range until cubes including a boundary between the body and the fluid, is small enough to obtain a desired resolution so that sizes of the cubes are appropriately determined according to a shape of the body.
United States Patent Application 20080015825
Kind Code A1
Kalitzin; Georgi ; et al. January 17, 2008
Method for computing turbulent flow using a near-wall eddy-viscosity formulation
A technique that improves large-eddy simulation consists in replacing the instantaneous sub-grid scale eddy-viscosity (such as the dynamic Smagorinsky model eddy-viscosity) in the near-wall region with an eddy-viscosity computed from Reynolds Averaged Navier-Stokes eddy-viscosity and corrected dynamically using the resolved turbulent stress. The near-wall eddy-viscosity formulation is applied either with a wall stress model on coarse grids that do not resolve the wall or with wall-resolved grids coarsened in the wall-parallel directions. Reynolds averaged Navier-Stokes eddy-viscosity is computed either from a look-up table or from a simultaneous solution of a Reynolds Averaged Navier-Stokes turbulence model.

This search was done in a few minutes on a very general subject. With a more specific disclosure, more specific and related information can be retrieved from the patent system. With the use of other search tools such as PubWEST used by the patent examiners in the USPTO and available at a Patent and Trademark Depository Library (which Penn State is one) one can greatly refine the search. With the proper use of the PubWEST search tool all the vast knowledge of the Patents and patent application publications of the world can be at the finger tips of the researcher. Often academic researchers limit their research to the papers of their counterparts in academia. There are tens of millions of patent documents worldwide where probably 80% of them have never been developed or published outside the Patent System.
During my early years (approx. 1980) in the patent office I co-authored a formal paper that was presented at a Lecture Series held by the Advisory Group for Aerospace R & D (AGARD) in Germany and The Netherlands (Oct.,1980). The Lecture series: AGARD-LS-112, Patents-An Information Resource; the article: “Technology Assessment – A Tool for Exploiting Patents”. The point of this article was that there is a wealth of information available through the documents found in the files of the various Patent offices. This information includes not only highly technical information but also information as to what companies and individuals are associated with various technologies. All of which can be retrieved through various search tools by the knowledgeable practitioner.
Another simple example of patents for research can be seen on a page of my website:
The concept of sweeping wings for reducing drag was known within the patent system long before it was ever actually put into practice. Sometimes the impetus for a solution to a research problem can come from seeing how similar problems have been solved.
The patents in the various patent systems (US and Foreign) are all categorized in a detailed classification system. Through the knowledgeable use of the classification system the patent researcher can uncover a wealth of technological information on virtually any subject.
For example, one area for measurement of acoustic signals in fluids is:
This class provides for apparatus and corresponding methods wherein the data processing system or calculating computer is designed for or utilized in an environment relating to a specific or generic measurement system, a calibration or correction system, or a testing system.
Subclass 54A: Acoustic or vibration sensor:

This subclass is indented under subclass 50. Subject matter wherein the physical property or characteristic of the fluid is determined using a probe having an acoustic impedance or a vibratable structure.

Another example with solutions to noise problems in turbomachinery:

Subclass 119:
Apparatus comprising means or a disposition of parts to eliminate, reduce or prevent the formation or transmission of sonic or oscillatory waves from the apparatus to the environment or between parts of the apparatus.

Power Plants, appropriate subclasses, for a fluid motor* combined with means treating or handling the exhaust fluid for absorbing or damping sound or vibratory waves, see the Class Definition, References to Other Classes, above, Class 60, Power Plants, (8).
Acoustics, subclasses 200+ for the sound muffler or sound filter subcombination, per se.

Another area for noise abatement in Aircraft:Class 244

Aeronautics and Aerospace
Subclass 1N Noise abatement

A couple example patents:
United States Patent Application 20080228413
Kind Code A1
Pilon; Anthony R. September 18, 2008
A system for determining an acoustic signature of a device is disclosed that includes a computer processor operable to determine strength and location of shock wave sound signals based on propagation of sound waves generated by the device. The strength and location of the shock wave signals are modified due to dissipation and dispersion effects in a non-uniform atmosphere. The shock wave signals are separated into even and odd numbered signals, and oscillations in the signals are smoothed by averaging even and odd numbered shock signals.
United States Patent Application 20040011917
Kind Code A1
Saeks, Richard E. ; et al. January 22, 2004
Shock wave modification via shock induced ion doping
The present invention relates to an apparatus and method which partially ionizes a portion of the gas flow through a shock wave, employing the electrostatic forces produced by the resultant ion doped region in and behind the shock wave to reduce the intensify of the shock wave. Such a method or apparatus is detailed to be employed at the tips of a rotating compressor or turbine blade; to the flow through a gas duct in an aircraft engine inlet; at the tips of a propeller or rotorcraft blade or on the surfaces or an aircraft.

Also noise is typically the result of unsteady flow and another area within the class 244 schedule deals with various solutions to controlling flow on airfoils:
Subclasses 198
With lift modification

By controlling boundary layer

Actively controlled vortex generator

With ionic or electrostatic surface

With rotating member

With blowing

And suction

With suction

Gust compensators

A couple patents from subclass 76c of automatic control for gust compensation is:

United States Patent 6,821,090
Hassan , et al. November 23, 2004
Gust alleviation/flutter suppression device
An active control device is disclosed comprising an array of actively controlled oscillating air jets disposed on an aircraft structure. In a preferred embodiment, the device senses parameters associated with incipient unsteady aerodynamic excitation, such as free stream gusts, shed wakes in rotor and turbomachinery flows, or oscillatory motion of trailing edge control surfaces such as ailerons. These parameters are provided as input signals to a processor. Based on the input signals, the processor generates output signals that are used to operate the air jet array in a manner counteractive to the unsteady forcing. The air jet array can be used on numerous aircraft structures, including rotor blades, wings, engine inlets, engine exhausts, blunt surfaces and nozzles.
United States Patent 4,706,902
Destuynder , et al. November 17, 1987
Active method and installation for the reduction of buffeting of the wings of an aircraft
To reduce buffeting caused by separation on the wings of an aircraft, a parameter representing the buffeting in amplitude, frequency and phase is measured. The measuring signal is subjected to filtering intended to establish the characteristics of at least one mode of vibration of the wings and, by actuating a control surface according to a non-stationary law, in a localized region the wings, of alternate stresses are generated whose amplitude and phase are automatically determined to dampen one or several modes of vibration of the wings.

In these subclasses there are thousands of patents most of which have never been seen by the average academic researcher. These subclasses show how unsteady flow within the boundary layer can be controlled. This is just a small taste of what someone with knowledge of the patent system can come up with, with a little Patent Research. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to demonstrate how such research can work for you.
Galen Barefoot