Solutions to Unique Manufacturing Problems

When it comes industrial manufacturing of physical goods, whether textiles, apparel, automobiles, or otherwise, these physical goods often come with their own set of unique manufacturing challenges. Solving these unique manufacturing challenges often involves solutions as unique as the problem itself, and such solutions may be patentable.

            For example, unique manufacturing challenges are found throughout the food and beverage industry. Food and beverage products vary greatly in their properties, and developing equipment to handle these food and beverage products often poses engineering challenges that are not found anywhere else.

            Such a unique manufacturing challenge with a unique solution may be found with U.S. Pat. No. 9622505, which discloses a system and method for producing maple syrup utilizing membrane filtration stages.

            At the time the application for U.S.  Pat. No. 9622505 was filed, several attempts had already been made in the maple syrup industry to move away from evaporation to concentrate the maple syrup and to instead concentrate the maple syrup by filtering the syrup through membrane filters. Relying upon evaporation to concentrate the syrup was energy consuming and expensive, and there was a need to more effectively concentrate the syrup. Unfortunately, alternative solutions that instead used membrane filtration to concentrate the maple syrup were ineffective, as filtering the maple syrup led to clogging of the membrane filters.  

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            However, the inventors of U.S. Pat. No. 9622505 realized that by setting up maple syrup production in stages to first concentrate the maple syrup to a first Brix content via membrane filtration, and then use evaporation for a remainder of the concentration process, that an amount of evaporation to concentrate the maple syrup could be reduced (thus saving energy) while avoiding clogging of the membrane filters.

            At the USPTO, prosecution was very short for this application, which was likely due in part to the fact that the inventors were solving a unique problem: using filtration to concentrate a sugary product.

            So if you find yourself developing a solution to fix a problem that is unique to begin with, such as using a filter to concentrate maple syrup while avoiding clogging, it may be worthwhile to explore options for patent protection.