Members of the construction community are a famously inventive lot. You don't get shut down by problems; you invent your way through them. From methods to materials, and tools to techniques, you innovate equipment, software and communications systems, and often do it by combining commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) components in new and clever ways.

Indeed, in 2011, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued 1,360 patents in the field of static structures (e.g., buildings) alone, and many more in other fields related to construction and infrastructure. Another indication of the broad range of construction innovation is the listing of recipients of the Henry C. Turner Prize. Still, given the size and scope of the industry, it seems likely that many innovations go unrecognized.  

Each unrecognized invention is a potentially a wasted opportunity to gain an advantage over your competitors in this highly competitive industry. Fortunately, capturing unrecognized inventions through “invention harvesting” is easy and efficient, and can help you recognize your innovative work.

Invention harvesting is the art of engaging with your people and project partners to identify and capture inventions, including those that might otherwise go unrecognized. Done well, invention harvesting is not disruptive to your business, and can generate significant return on investment.

The art of invention harvesting turns on the ability to ask the right questions, not only to uncover inventions, but also to overcome barriers that may be holding back their disclosure. In both respects, a little experience goes a long way.

You Have Inventions 

People often are not attuned to recognizing their inventions, yet almost any worthwhile project involves innovation. The way you solve a problem must have some advantage over previous solutions, and that advantage may be a patentable invention. 

Perhaps your project requires a new application of an existing technology, or an improvement on that technology. Perhaps that project will lead to a new material or device, a new tool, or a new method of manufacturing.  Any of these might include patentable innovations.

Why It Matters

The construction industry is notoriously competitive, so why not capture the advantages that innovation presents?  Industry studies, and previous articles in Engineering News-Record, have suggested the importance of innovation—from improving the quality of products and techniques, to reducing costs and increasing efficiency, and making you a more attractive bidder.

After all, a U.S. patent gives you the rights to stop others from making, using, selling, and even importing a patented product or method. Alternately, you may charge users a royalty in exchange for allowing them to use your invention. If nothing else, patents are  concrete symbols of your contribution to the industry. 

In any event, a small investment of time in invention harvesting can have a positive effect on a workforce as members gain an appreciation for all they have done, and for the fact that you recognize their efforts.