How did we find Prior Art in a Sitcom?

I’m a self-confessed fan of sitcoms and movies. A binge-watcher by nature, I often spend weekends endlessly staring at my laptop screen, with munchies on my side, so that I don’t have to hit pause for trivial reasons such as hunger pangs. I love watching sitcoms!

How often it happens that binge-watching shows help you do a great job at work?

Let alone a great job. Since we work in the IP industry, let me rephrase this – How often it happens that binge-watching sitcoms helped you find prior art?

Never, you say? Well, not the case for me. I have a different tale to tell.

Let me narrate what exactly happened:

It was a while ago, I was assigned to work on a project related to getting alerts on portable devices.

I joined GreyB 4 months back, since then I have been working on multiple assignments, each with varying level of challenge from another. The only thing common amongst all these assignments was that we approached each with the same level of enthusiasm and the aim in mind – “If it exists, we will find it.”

With the same enthusiasm, I started working on the project. The unique concept of this invention was the “generation of an alert that went hand in hand with “the alert being transmitted in some well-defined templates”.

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Circling back to the topic, now, as any researcher would probably do, I started searching for the patents disclosing such a feature, attempting a conventional search on Google with a date limitation tool. The search returned multiple patents for analysis but none were relatable enough to be considered as a perfect analogy (in terms of the purpose served) for the present technology. I was not getting satisfied with my output and things were getting tedious and complex.

A couple of days later, in our team meeting, we were discussing unconventional ways of finding prior art and during the discussion, unusual experiences were being shared – like someone narrated how by visiting the old market of mobile phones, he was able to find good prior art. I even heard someone suggesting visiting museums and pawn shops to look for a particular design of a chair-under-research.

I started thinking about what other unconventional ways I can embrace to get over my dilemma. And then like a ray of hope, a scene of an episode of popular English Sitcom “F.R.I.E.N.D.S.” suddenly flashed across my mind.

Prior Art in Unconventional places

In that scene, Ross, one of the protagonists, tells his friends about the pager he bought to get alerts of important events (hospital appointments with Carol) anytime, anywhere. He gets alerts on his pager with an audible and visual alarm, (his pager supported both audible and visual alarms). It seemed so similar to the project I was working on and the best part was that even this episode’s air date was earlier than the priority date.

This helped reveal the portable devices which existed before the priority date. I started finding all the pagers and portable devices that were in use then, and came across certain devices like Newton PDA, MessagePad, Text and Alphanumeric pagers, to name a few. I started a patent search based on these devices and was able to crack the analogy and the concept of what we literally needed and the purpose it really served.

As a researcher, what we want is to think according to the bounded time, what could have been there, what technology people would have been using at that time, what could have been the possible ideas of that era, and practically, through that one episode, I was able to live that era.  Fortunately, I also got answers to all of the questions and found a direction to start the search. Needless to say, we turned to the client with some amazing prior art that helped serve the purpose.

And all this was possible because I love Sitcoms 😀

All said and done, what I concluded from this episode (of my life) was that there’s more to things than that appears at the surface. Be it entertainment means like novels, videos, or sitcoms, along with helping us kill time, they often offer a different outlook on things – which would not only educate us but also make us better. All one needs to do is pay attention, and you never know you might also find prior art for your future assignment. 😛

Authored by: Supreet Kaur, Research Analyst.

Related Case – How the Entertainment Industry proved prior art for many Innovations of current times?

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