They are one of the nation’s leaders in the development and production of high-technology solid rocket motors for aerospace, defense, and commercial launch applications. As an industry leader, they realized the importance of intellectual property, particularly patents, to protect its products, lines of business, and income.

Patent rights can easily be lost. In the U.S., for example, if the invention has been disclosed without restrictions, publicly used, offered for sale, or sold more than one year prior to filing a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, all U.S. patent rights are lost. On the foreign market, most countries provide no grace period and the moment any of the above acts occur, all foreign patent rights are lost. This is referred to as a “statutory bar” and could cost millions of dollars in lost revenue.rocket engine after process simulation

A short time ago, I was assigned to work in the Intellectual Property Law Department of the company. This new assignment presented me with the task of finding a solution to delays in processing inventions and acquiring patents. Since our patent acquisition process involves several departments, many possible outcomes, and enormous variability, I chose to apply a process simulation tool.

Having worked with simulation before, I selected ProcessModel to simulate the legal process. The simulation helped our Intellectual Property Law Department identify process bottlenecks and staffing problems which could result in statutory bars.

Changes to the intellectual property process were evaluated using ProcessModel to ensure the new processes minimized the risk of statutory bars and lost patent rights.


The process of obtaining a patent crossed so many organizational boundaries that certain, unusual patent cases set up a chain of events which could exceed the statutory bar. Not being able to see the entire process interact made it difficult to spot potential problems.

One of the challenges of obtaining a patent is the fact that the process spans multiple departments within an organization, from research and development to legal and marketing. Each department has its own priorities, timelines, and processes, and it can be difficult to coordinate and integrate all of these different perspectives into a cohesive application for patent approval.

Moreover, because the patent approval process involves multiple steps, from initial research to final application, it can be difficult to identify potential problems or issues that could arise. The different steps in the process often occur in isolation from one another, and it can be challenging to see how they all interact and affect one another. It is essential for organizations to have a clear and well-defined process for obtaining patents, with clear roles and responsibilities for each department involved. This can help ensure that all aspects of the patent process are properly coordinated and integrated, and that potential issues are identified and addressed in a timely manner. It is also important to have effective communication channels in place between departments, to ensure that all stakeholders are kept informed and that potential issues are escalated as needed.

Current Process

Suppose, for example, a propellant research chemist develops a more energetic polymer. After preparing the formulation, the chemist prepares an invention disclosure and submits it to the management of the research laboratories. After approval, the disclosure moves on to the patent board. If the patent board determines that the invention is valuable, the invention disclosure continues on to the intellectual property department. From there, a patentability search is conducted in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and an evaluation is made regarding whether or not the invention is patentable. If the patent board rejects the invention, the inventor has the opportunity to rebut the rejection and resubmit the invention disclosure to the patent board with comments and additional information. If the patent board approves the invention and determines that it is patentable, the intellectual property department instructs an outside patent attorney to prepare and file a patent application. Often, this process alone can exceed the one-year statutory bar limit.

The SolutionIntellectual property process using process simulation software.

With information in hand, I constructed a process simulation model using ProcessModel. This allowed me to model our current process and evaluate how implementing changes to it would affect the system over time. When you physically participate in a process, it is difficult and often impossible to identify the real problems. Creating the simulation allowed the intellectual property department to see the entire process running in compressed time, revealing process bottlenecks and staffing difficulties. Any changes made to the process model reflected how the system would really behave, allowing us to find the solutions to improve our invention disclosure and patent application process.

The Results

While the flowcharting approach worked well, perhaps the model’s greatest strength was its use of live animation. Using graphics to represent invention disclosures, patent applications, patents, patent attorneys, paralegal personnel, and the patent board, the model successfully identified bottlenecks that delayed or interrupted the process. The visual capabilities of the model allowed the intellectual property department and management to easily see both the problems and the solutions.

As part of the solution, we increased the frequency of the patent board meetings and outsource patent searches and other time consuming legal processes. This not only will alleviate the amount of work placed on the in-house patent attorney and paralegal staff, it will shorten the time required to process each invention disclosure and patent application significantly. Of greater importance, the unusual process flows that could cause us to lose a patent or invention were identified and corrected.

Future Applications

Using the existing model, the intellectual property department will continue to test and evaluate new system strategies electronically. This will ensure that they implement only the system changes that will enhance the intellectual property processes.