Posts Tagged ‘food manufacturing plant’

Determining Patent Eligibility – Part 7, Process

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

      We’ve been discussing hurtles which must be jumped in order for an inventor’s creation to be considered for a patent.   Federal statutes, namely 35 USC § 101, define the bases of patentability, including providing definitions on key terms, such as what constitutes a machine, an article of manufacture, and a composition of matter.   Today we’ll wrap up our discussion on determining patent eligibility when we explore the final hurtle by defining process.

      To get an understanding of what is meant by process, we must look to the lawsuit of Gottschalk v. Benson, a case involving patentability of a mathematical algorithm within a computer program.   In this case the US Supreme Court held that a process is a series of steps or operations that transform substances or came about by way of a newly invented machine.

      Based on the Court’s definition, a process can be many things, from a production line that transforms corn into corn chips within a food manufacturing plant to a mathematical algorithm running within software on the platform of a newly devised type of computer.   However, the term usually pertains to a series of operations or steps, most frequently manufacturing in nature, where physical substances are transformed into useful products, that is, they possess the quality of utility, as discussed earlier in this blog series.   A “physical substance” is anything of a physical nature existing on our planet.

 

Engineering Expert Witness Patent Infringement

 

      Before I end this series I’d like to mention that under 35 USC § 101 an invention can be eligible for a patent if it makes a useful and beneficial improvement to an existing machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter, or process.   That is to say, something may have already been patented which performs a specific function, but if that is improved upon in any significant way, it may receive a new patent.

      For example, suppose an improved process for manufacturing food products was developed by adding additional steps to an existing patented process.   If this improvement results in benefits such as lowered production costs, increased production rate, or reduced health risks to consumers, then this improved process may be eligible for a patent under 35 USC § 101.

      Next time we’ll begin an exploration of the growing presence of 3D animations within the courtroom, specifically how they bring static 2D patent drawings to life.

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Food Manufacturing Challenges – HACCP Design Principle No. 6

Sunday, November 20th, 2011
     My daughter’s boy friend stayed for dinner recently and was impressed with our after-dinner cleanup.  He watched as each of us carried out our individual assigned tasks, my wife putting away leftovers and condiments, my daughter rinsing and stacking plates into the dishwasher, and me at the sink hand washing.  To him we seemed a model of efficiency.  It didn’t take long to return the kitchen to its usual state of pristine evening cleanliness.  “Our kitchen is always a mess,” he complained, “probably because we’re so disorganized.”

     You can imagine what would happen if a food manufacturing plant operated like a disorganized household kitchen.  Although employees may know they are responsible for delivering safe products to consumers, without the right procedures in place an unsafe chaotic mess may result.  To get everyone moving in the right direction we look to guidelines established in HACCP Design Principle No. 6.

     Principle 6:  Establish procedures for ensuring the HACCP system is working as intended. –   In large part this Principle acts as a report card.  It follows up on the guidelines established in Principles l through 5, organizing activities into written procedures. 

     For example, design engineers must routinely analyze important identified stages within a design project, then write procedures, that is, a step-by-step instruction guide, which encompasses them.  In this way personnel involved in the design process make best use of the safeguards put in place by HACCP Design Principles 1 through 5.  These steps include things like preparing design proposals, analyzing risks and hazards, creating preliminary designs, conducting design reviews, building prototype equipment and tooling, running tests, collecting test data, and analyzing test results.  For each step, responsibilities of key individuals involved must be clearly defined and sequentially ordered.

     But writing department procedures is only part of Principle 6.  Procedures are no good if they’re just thrown into a file cabinet and no one ever looks at them.  What good are guidelines without a full understanding of how to use them?  Training may be necessary, and management must decide what form that educational process takes to be most effective.   

     Engineering management must verify that established procedures are adequate to the task.  This typically involves taking a hard look at finished design projects and checking critical factors.  Was an adequate risk analysis performed?  Were sufficient critical control points established and critical limits monitored for effectiveness? 

     Next time we’ll wrap up our discussion on HACCP Design Principles by examining No. 7.  It’s the last of the Principles and it’s concerned with establishing record keeping procedures.

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Food Manufacturing Challenges

Sunday, September 18th, 2011
     Some people just have a knack in the kitchen, and my wife is among them.  She transforms raw ingredients into the most amazing culinary delights, almost like she’s waving a magic wand.  The finished products are works of art, hand crafted with tender loving care, and lucky me, I get to feast on them regularly!

     During the course of my engineering career I’ve been employed within many industries, and at one point I made the decision to leave the electric utility industry and enter into the world of food manufacturing.  I accepted the position of Plant Engineer with a wholesale manufacturer of baking ingredients and frozen pastry products.  My main responsibility was the design of food manufacturing equipment and their production lines.

     What I had expected to be a relatively straightforward process soon proved to be more challenging.  I was no longer working with hard metal as my raw material, that is, gears, nuts, and bolts, but a whole new arena of things described by adjectives such as gooey and pastey.  Engineers don’t typically create food products, and let’s face it, you probably wouldn’t want to eat anything that I cooked anyway!  But an engineer working within a food manufacturing plant must act as a liaison between the worlds of engineering design and the culinary arts.

     Now food manufacturers typically hire professional chefs to develop new products in their research and development (R&D) kitchens.  Like my wife, they’re well qualified to produce wonderful hand-made culinary delights.  The sticky part comes in when their small batch recipes and preparation techniques don’t translate smoothly to the world of mass production.  When it comes to handling food, human fingers are far superior to metal machinery, and raw ingredients behave differently for each.

     Herein lies much of the challenge for design engineers within the food industry.  How do you design equipment and production lines to make huge quantities of food that look and taste as good as the prototype products made by hand in the R&D kitchen?  Next week we’ll find out.

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