Exploring Invention Capability
Vaughan Michell and Rajeth Surrendran
University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading, United Kingdom
v.a.michell@henley.ac.uk, rajith.surendran@gmail.com
Keywords: Capability, Capability affordance model, Invention, Affordance, Functional capabilities.
Abstract: Research on invention has focused on business invention and little work has been conducted on the process
and capability required for the individual inventor or the capabilities required for an advice to be considered
an invention. This paper synthesises the results of an empirical survey of ten inventor case studies with current
research on invention and recent capability affordance research to develop an integrated capability process
model of human capabilities for invention and specific capabilities of an invented device. We identify eight
necessary human effectivities required for individual invention capability and six functional key activities
using these effectivities, to deliver the functional capability of invention. We also identified key differences
between invention and general problem solving processes. Results suggest that inventive step capability relies
on a unique application of principles that relate to a new combination of affordance chain with a new
mechanism and or space time (affordance) path representing the novel way the device works, in conjunction
with defined critical affordance operating factors that are the subject of the patent claims.
Invention concerns the creation of new or novel
technology (Arthur, 2007) by an act of insight that
yields new structures of prior knowledge and
experience (Ruttan et al., 1959). As Arthur (2007)
asserts "a technology is a means to fulfil a purpose
through some effect" and relates to structured objects
and their architecture as well as the process of know-
how and sequence of activities to do something. Most
invention research focuses on strategy and process
conditions for company based group invention (Giuri
et al., 2007). It suggests invention ability is
widespread and invention is driven by market
opportunities. A third of European inventions are
created by independent inventors (Scherer, 1982)
motivated by personal satisfaction, and prestige
(Giuri et al., 2007). But, there is a lack of research to
explain the process of invention for the individual
inventor, what capabilities are required and what
activities relate to the unique characteristics of the
invented device. This leads to our research question:
what is the capability of invention? We explore this
from both the agent and device perspective; a) what
are the abilities and process required of the inventor
as agent (invention process capability) and b) what
specific capabilities make an advice an invention?
1.1 Capability
Capability research has traditionally used Grant’s
definition of a firm’s ability to produce a discrete
productive task repeatedly (Grant, 1991) and higher
level organisational dynamic capabilities (Winter,
2003), rather than functional capabilities. To answer
our research questions, we propose functional
capabilities need to be defined in terms of agent
actions on resources. Business capability can be
defined as "the potential for action to achieve a goal
G via an action/series of actions in a process P
resulting from the interaction of 2 or more resources,
in a transformation that produces business value for
a customer". (Michell, 2011). Capabilities for agents
acting on objects can be modelled using Gibson’s
affordance theory where affordances are; "the
property that the environment or physical system
offered the animal to enable a possible useful
transformation for the benefit of the animal" (Gibson,
1979). Affordances refer to descriptions of (verb-
noun) object abilities such as "a cup affords drinking"
or an invention such as a thermometer affords
temperature measurement. Human affordance, the
ability of an animal or agent to complement the object
affordance, is termed effectivity (Greeno, 1994). For
example "can fish", or "knows how to fish" etc.
Michell V. and Surrendran R.
Exploring Invention Capability.
DOI: 10.5220/0005886001070116
In Proceedings of the Fifth International Symposium on Business Modeling and Software Design (BMSD 2015), pages 107-116
ISBN: 978-989-758-111-3
2015 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
Effectivities refer to human abilities, functional skills
and knowledge (Michell, 2013). The Wright brothers
effectivity of know-how about flight enabled them to
invent the first flying aircraft. Our earlier papers
showed how capability can be modelled as a process
of object affordances and human effectivities of the
agents involved (See Michell, 2014). So the
capability of invention depends on the process of
human activities and effectivities and the invented
device affordance that meets novel invention criteria.
To model invention capability we must investigate a)
Invention behaviour –what effectivities - skills and
knowledge are involved? b) The invention process -
what activities are involved? c) Invention device
development - what constitutes an invented device?
This paper proposes an integrated model of
invention capability using findings from primary
research on invention behaviour and blending it with
models of invention using the capability affordance
model. Section 2 explores the characteristics of an
invented device. Section 3 explains the pilot survey
and the resulting effectivities or human capability
traits of invention. Section 4 explores the current
work on invention process and problem solving and
proposes an integrated model based on this data.
Section 5 investigates affordance and organisational
capability models and how these can be used to
understand invention device capability and
contribute to the integrated invention capability
model Section 6 Concludes with further work.
2.1 Device Capabilities
The newness of an invention relates to the idea/model
for how something is done before it is known or used
by others (Pressman 2014). Patent requirements for
legal acceptance and classification of new technology
refers to a new "inventive step" within the novel idea.
Inventive step relates to a specific ‘concept’ that is not
obvious to those skilled in their knowledge of existing
technology in the domain (Cohen and Levinthal,
Achieving novelty requires an excellent
understanding of principles (Williams, 1990), as
Arthur (2007) asserts "a novel invention technology
must use a new or different base principle to achieve
a specific purpose". A principle is a generic
explanation of the causal conditions necessary to
reproduce some observed natural happening or
phenomenon. It describes generally how the
invention works and is independent of specific
structure and means. For example a set of objects a,
interact in situation b producing an effect c resulting
from their specific interaction properties. An example
phenomenon is mercury expands and contracts
according to ambient temperature. The related
principle is the height of a column of mercury
exposed to the air corresponds to the air temperature.
The effect relates to the end state produced as a result
of the phenomena acting on an initial state ie the
column height rises/falls. Principles explain the how
an observed phenomena is harnessed to produce the
desired beneficial effect (Arthur, 2007). Arthur’s
definition of invention "the exploitation of some
effect as envisaged through some principle of use"
identifies that an invention typically uses a natural
effect or result of a natural law through some
principle". However, for invention the general
principle must be harnessed in a specific arrangement
in what Arthur (2007) calls a "working concept", ie
how exactly the principle could be applied in practice
and be made to cause the desired effect. It refers to
how the invention works via generic structures and
the generic process sequence of its operation. The
process of inventing involves the investigation and
testing of a range of possible concepts and component
variables, until the right generic combination is
identified (Arthur, 2007). In a thermometer the
working concept involves the use mercury (ie a high
co-efficient of expansion) in a container such that its
change of height is easily visible and measurable.
Experiments and trials suggest the need for a sealed
evacuated tube and what size and shape and how to
calibrate it.
The invention concept needs to be organised in a
specific physical structural arrangement, ie an
architectural system of components,that are proven to
produce the specific desired effect. The architecture
will cover the spatial arrangements, volumes, part
relationships, materials and physical properties and
any critical numerical factors that are needed for the
invention to work within the specified range of the
need or requirement. Harnessing the principle
requires development of a technology ie the system
of components in a specific architecture form as a
device or machine configured for a specific purpose.
For a thermometer the device architecture is
rudimentary; a known volume of mercury is
constrained in a sealed transparent evacuated
cylinder, whose height at a known temperature is
measured and recorded for different temperatures on
a scale beside the cylinder.
Fifth International Symposium on Business Modeling and Software Design
Hence an invented device concerns a new specific
architectural arrangement of components that interact
under some new principle that governs the component
interaction to produce a desired effect that achieves
some specific purpose. This may be an arrangement
of physical parts or of people and technology.
Arthur’s work (figure 1) proposed the knowledge
artefacts sequence necessary for invention. However,
what are the specific human capabilities
(effectivities) and actions required for invention?
Figure 1: Characteristics of an invented device (adapted
from Arthur).
2.2 Pilot Survey
A pilot survey was conducted to investigate invention
behaviour factors. A sample of seven independent
inventors was selected from contacts with the British
patent office, qualified by the fact that they had all
patented devices in the international patent
classification sector of human necessities ie basic
devices. These devices included, a sash clamp frame
for installing windows, a garden leaf grabber, a non-
slip builders bucket for roofers, a wind up generator
used in a radio, card readers and displacement sensors
and a " Squeezeopen" easily removable lid.
Invention advisors; a patent agent, patent PR
agent and a patent advisor were also interviewed. A
semi structured questionnaire (Cummins & Gullone,
2000) was based on a literature survey of invention
processes and included 90 questions on; the personal
factors affecting invention, the steps of the inventive
process and the impact of information and
knowledge. The questions used a 7 point Likert scale
of agreement/disagreement levels (Cummins &
Gullone, 2000).
Table 1: Pilot Survey Invention Traits (effectivities).
3.1 Human Traits
Survey results identified the importance of 16
invention skills and 3 knowledge capabilities. The
subset of capability factors are shown in table 1.
Curiosity, the ability and motivation to want to
know more, was quoted by most respondents as vital
to problem perception and the process of identifying
that the need is not currently met or not met well that
helps motivate the invention process. Self-motivation
was seen as a driver to move the inventor to explore
the problem. The ability to deduce an implication
from a set of facts, an experience or the act of
reasoning, is a sub process of problem solving
(Aamodt, 1991). Answers to open questions,
suggested inference was important to the invention
step, to conceive and consolidate a final working
design by connecting the principles and concepts to a
working architecture arrangement of a prototype.
Respondents also identified inspiration in driving
curiosity into action, to understand and solve the
problem in a new way. For example "it is the
inspiration of an event that led many inventors". The
builders bucket was inspired by the problem of
buckets of water and mortar falling off roofs. An
inventor was inspired to search for an easy opening
jar cap solution for his arthritic grandmother as none
were available. Hence a need coupled to a gap in the
Worki ng Concept
Purpo se
Activity State2
FACTORS IF1 IF2 PA1 IN1 IN2 IN3 IN4 IN5 IN6 IN7 median mode
1 Creativity 6666577777 6.5 7
2 Curiosity 6666776777 6.5 6
3 Childhoodexp. 6667777627 6.5 7
4 Deprivation 6676726246 66
5 Imagination 7772676767 77
6 Inspiration 6666772767 66
7 Expertise 1652344565 4.5 5
8 Selfdrive/m otivation 7666776677 6.5 7
KH knowhow 6667776675 66
KY knowwhy 5676456635 5.5 6
knowwhat 6665766664 66
Exploring Invention Capability
available devices to meet the need is a key driver or
Expertise or existing knowledge in the area was
not felt to be so important with respondents
suggesting "expertise can constrain creativity and
thought processes necessary for invention". However,
knowledge of engineering and problem solving
subjects was felt to help by a number of respondents.
This is supported by Cohen’s absorptive capacity
principle suggesting prior problem solving
knowledge and experience better enable the
acquisition of new problem solving capabilities
(Cohen and Levinthal, 1990). But a careful balance is
needed between what Arthur calls "knowledge of
functionalities" ie the principles of how things work
and problem solving, and a creative mind open to new
concept combinations.
Respondents felt imagination to be critically
important, relating this to an ability "to see their ideas
in 3D in their mind", that helped them create and
identify solution options. Mental models or the ability
to create often a dynamic model of ideas and
mechanical/electrical action representations are
important to the ability to invent (Ash et al., 2001).
Equally important is the inventor’s ability to evaluate
and categorise experiences and concepts, through the
use of reference frames or mental data structures
which links to attributes and values (Ash et al., 2001).
Unsurprisingly, creativity was seen to be vital to an
inventor’s ability "you cannot solve an inventive
problem without being creative". Creativity, "the
ability to think what no one else has thought on seeing
the same event", (Swann et al., 2005) is vital in the
solution exploration stage. Patent agents felt
creativity is necessary to work around existing
inventions and produce the inventive step.
3.2 Knowledge for Invention
The capability to invent is heavily dependent on the
inventor knowledge base and the ability to learn,
assimilate and apply new knowledge
(Büyükdamgacı, 2003). There are three primary
know ledge types Know how, why and what.
Know how relates to procedural knowledge based
on learning by doing ie practice and feedback or first-
hand experiences applying facts from experience.
Know how is cumulative and dependent on the path
of prior experience gained (Arthur 95, Levitt and
March 1988). For example the Wright brothers were
able to use their bicycle know how to develop and test
the wright flyer mechanics and create flying know
how from their tests (Weber, 2006). Know how
relates to the "doing, using, interacting" (DUI) mode
of learning and innovation (Jensen et al., 2007).
Know how is critical in the solution and prototype
investigation stage of invention to assemble and try
out possible concept architectures and test how well
they meet the need. Know how was identified as most
important by almost all respondents. This is to be
expected as low technical complexity inventions are
often created by trial and error know how (Dutton &
Thomas 1985).
In contrast, Know why knowledge is based on
understanding of principles and theories. It is the
process of knowing through analysis or primary
experience or second-hand information to identify
causal rules about why something behaves as it does
in terms of logic, natural laws etc (Garud, 1997).
Know why is cumulative, depends on prior
knowledge and the ‘bi-association’ of new
knowledge from different areas to develop new
theories and knowledge (Garud and Nayar 1997).
Know why was seen as less important than know
how. Using know why for modelling is referred to as
science, technology, innovation or STI model of
knowledge management (Garud, 1997). It enables
inventors to use models to calculate more precisely
how a principle can be converted into a prototype
concept that is more likely to produce the desired
effect. For example, the Wright brothers used weight
and lift calculations to determine the required engine
power (Weber, 2006). Know why can minimise the
number of prototypes and experiments and avoid
missing the inventive step that meets the need. This is
critical as many inventors take years to search and try
out invention prototypes in an effort to discover the
application of a new working principle. Know why
replaces the serendipity/chance of the lone inventor
who otherwise relies on know how to try prototypes
with different variables and to adjust them to a
solution. Patent advisors suggested know why was
less important at the discovery stage of invention, but
know why relates more to defining claims of the
inventive step, possibly because know how trial and
error is easier and low cost within the invention
category analysed and know why, in terms of
inventive step, definition can be established via the
patent agent.
Know what is based on declarative knowledge)
and is generated by learning by using (Rosenberg
1982 ). Know what was felt to relate to ‘expertise’ in
known facts which was seen to be moderately
important, but less critical than know how.
In summary survey respondents suggested the
invention process begins with inquiry or curiosity as
to why a problem exists. Then inspiration fosters a
Fifth International Symposium on Business Modeling and Software Design
drive to solve a problem is based on a problem
experience often connected to a driver eg personal or
family need for solution that makes the problem
important. This is followed by imagination and
creative ways to solve the problem that prompts
serious investigation activity to experiment and test
potential prototypes against the need. Respondents
suggested the inventive step is characterised by a
moment of inference or insight to see a potential
solution among possible variations in tested
prototypes that depended on an ability to synthesise
knowledge. The final steps involve evaluation and
interpretation of the inventions importance, value and
why it works, codified into a patent. The results can
be interpreted as the sequence of effectivities required
for invention, but not the activities. For this we used
insight from process model research.
4.1 Process Review
Invention is seen as a needed problem solving process
using "a problem description, a goal and a knowledge
base as input and derives a solution that satisfies the
goal" (Büyükdamgacı, 2003). The widely used
information processing model for problem solving
identifies 3 steps; perceiving the problem in the "task
environment", converting this into a problem space or
mental model of the observed problem and then a
solution space of possible solutions based on the
knowledge and memory of the problem solver. These
process steps are heavily influenced by the prior
experience of the inventor.
Inventing is also a creative process. Isaksen &
Trefinger’s 60 year old creative problem solving
methodology (Treffinger et al., 2008) identifies three
key creative stages. Firstly understanding the
challenge involves identifying problem solving
opportunities, gathering appropriate data about the
problem and importantly framing and identifying the
right problem. Identifying the right problem is key to
reducing the invention search space and hence
increasing the chance of finding the application of the
right principle in a working concept (Weber, 2006).
The second stage focuses on generating solution
ideas. The final stage, developing criteria for and
selecting and testing solutions and techniques for
building acceptance of the proposed solution (Isaksen
and Treffinger, 2004). Their process highlights the
need to clearly identify and define the problem. This
is emphasised by the Wright brothers division of the
problems of flight into lift, power and finally control
with the focus on ‘how’ to warp the wing (Weber,
2006). It also identifies a critical balance between
thinking creatively and a further effectivity –
evaluation and judgement of solutions.
Usher outlines 4 steps for invention. Perception of
the problem that relates to an unsatisfactory method
of meeting a need, followed by setting the stage to
gather data regarding the problem and possible
solutions, followed by an act of insight (confirmed by
respondents ) and critical revision to the final solution
(Ruttan, 1959).
Exploring a problem and separating it into
problem exploration and solution exploration stages
is critical for technical problem oriented engineering
(POE) problem solving methods (Hall and Rapanotti,
2009). Whilst TRIZ, the theory of innovative problem
solving developed to help inventors identify
combinations of parameters for a new ie inventive
solution, emphasises the need to synthesise and
evaluate the newness and feasibility of the solution
(Barry et al., 2010).
4.2 Proposed Invention Process
Integrating these process activities with the
effectivities and Arthur’s model yields the proposed
process necessary for the capability to invent, with the
required human effectivities defined as per the
process in our earlier papers (see table 2).
4.2.1 Invention Need Identification
Survey respondents suggested invention begins with
"think (ing) of a problem" However as we have seen
the problem that leads to an invention has a specific
need to do something differently. This involves
establishing that the current way of doing things does
not meet current need as evidenced by survey
respondents. Critically unlike normal problem
solving, for invention there must be no immediately
obvious alternative means of solving the problem.
4.2.2 Problem Definition
For efficient invention clarity is required about the
correct problem to solve (the "goal" of POE) and the
invention requirements or need (cf Isakson’s problem
framing). This is illustrated by the Wright brothers
clear definition of lift, power and control problems
and requirements which allowed them to focus their
resource costly efforts more productively than rivals.
Similarly, the jet engine inventors Whittle and Von
Exploring Invention Capability
Ohain were both able to express an informal need in
a set of defined technical problem requirements that
optimally directed their inventive search (Arthur,
4.2.3 Problem Exploration
However, most inventions involve the evolutionary
recombination of existing technologies (Fleming and
Sorenson, 2001), or principles. So a novel invented
solution requires an understanding of existing
solutions and what does and does not work (know
how). Most inventors see the need to explore and
fully understand the problem, its cause and the factors
involved ie as in Isaksen’s "stage setting". For
example respondents suggested "I immerse myself in
a challenge and learn as much as I can about it".
Clearly identifying the importance of problem-
context understanding.
4.2.4 Unique Solution Exploration
The move to a solution involves searching for
possible new architectural arrangements of principles
that meet the defined requirements. Unlike traditional
problem solving, this is not any, or a well tried
solution, but one that uses existing principles and
concepts differently in a new way. Narrowing down
ideas can involve trial and error experiments by
taking a principle and trying it out in concept form
until a working concept is developed that meets the
invention needs (Arthur, 2007). All respondents
confirmed the importance of "building a prototype
and developing and testing the concepts".
4.2.5 Invention Synthesis & Evaluation
Filtering ideas into a working concept is also critical.
A respondent suggested "inventors have an uncanny
ability to generate ideas and narrow down the best
idea from them" and others that their process
involves; "filtering the ideas and (then to) prototype
the best idea, refine it and patent it", suggesting
synthesis and evaluation as advocated in Bloom’s
learning taxonomy (Starr, 2008) are key inventive
skills or functionalities. It is in the combination of
trying and inspecting combinations of principles that
many respondents suggested the "Eureka moment" of
the elusive inventive step was hidden. Respondents
described the "flash of inspiration that enables
inventors to see a solution to a problem". This relates
to the inference and reasoning task of identifying how
known principles could be integrated into a concept,
able to meet the problem need (Cohen and Levinthal,
1990). Thus we propose the inference and synthesis
combined with evaluation, using invention domain
knowledge delivers the inventive step.
4.2.6 Invention Design
What Arthur refers to as a working concept needs to
be refined to a robust solution that reliably meets the
requirement parameters. This involves identifying
and optimising the parts/components of the invention
architecture to meet the desired need. A respondent
suggested "in my process; I refine it (the invention)
and patent it". Refining is an engineering design
activity that requires careful and detailed
specification and testing of all parts of the invention
and their physical properties and behaviours to meet
the requirement tolerances. It is also necessary to
identify the inventive step claims necessary to patent
the design as a new application of principles and
concepts to meet a specific set of uses.
5.1 The Capability Affordance Model
We now turn to objective b): what specific
capabilities makes a device a new invention, or what
is device invention capability. Our previous papers
used affordance theory to model device capability and
we apply this to identify invented device capabilities.
The capability-affordance model at the action or
atomic level is based on the concept that the
capability of an agent or device can be decomposed
into an affordance cause and effect mechanism
operating through a topological path "The affordance
mechanism is the cause and effect energy
transformation at the interface between the two or
more interacting resources and its properties that
enable the transformation" (Michell, 2014). The
causal path relates to the space-time path of how the
agent, the device and it components change and move
as energy transfer propagates through the connecting
objects. The capability of a device to perform a
specific action is then a combination of an energy
mechanism (either within the device or supplied by
an external agent) acting through a path defined by
the structure and architecture of the device. The path
may be a series of linked affordances or an affordance
chain (Michell, 2014). The affordance chain
identifies the individual interactions or actions
between object interfaces as they interact. The critical
affordance factors (CAF) quantify the range of values
Fifth International Symposium on Business Modeling and Software Design
over which the device will deliver the capability and
is a generalisation of Warren’s work (Warren, 1984).
In the thermometer example the mechanism that
makes the device work is an affordance chain of heat
transfer from the atmospheric surroundings through
the glass tube to the mercury which is channelled by
the path constraints of the evacuated thermometer
tube that forces the mercury according to its physical
expansion properties to rise up the graduated cylinder
when the ambient temperature increases. Hence a
sealed evacuated mercury containing cylinder
‘affords’ measuring temperature changes. The CAF
for the thermometer would include a max/min temp
range for accurate measurement and failure ie
temperatures beyond which the glass will break or
materials or the required properties fail.
5.2 Capability Mechanism
The capability affordance model relates to Arthur’s
model of invention. For example, the leaf grabber
invention uses a principle of the lever, with a working
concept of opposed arms with large rake jaws.
However, to qualify as a new invention the specific
way the architecture works or dynamically causes the
desired effect must be different. Ie what Arthur calls
the principle (‘an effect in action’). The principle
refers to the chain of interactions or affordance chain
that relates to a cause-effect. It can be decomposed
using the CAM model to the causal mechanism and
path. Where affordance relates to a property or
function of the object that satisfies a need. Most of the
chosen inventions eg bucket, grabber have short
affordance chains ie energy derives from a human
agent to a single action. Although the sash clamp has
many interacting affordance chain components, it is
too complex to illustrate here. For the leaf grabber
invention the affordance mechanism involves human
energy forcing the arms together through a
constrained path (dictated by the invention
architecture) as the jaws rotate about their pivot to
trap the leaf waste. The squeezeopen cap mechanism
also requires a human energy (mechanism) to deform
it to enable it to be removed.
However some inventions rely on a new specific
mechanism as well as a unique path. For example the
crank powered generator connected to a rechargeable
battery is the basis of the patent claim in the electric
current generator (Baylis 2001) and defines a new
general principle for a clockwork DC power
mechanism architecture. It uses an affordance chain
of human energy being transferred to the clockwork
mechanism which is then released and moderated via
an electronic controller to power a device eg radio.
5.3 CAM Interpretation: Path
For invented novel devices, the path, ie space time
way the device works, must be different from existing
devices ie "the topology of (component) interactions
is unique" (Williams, 1990). This relates to the
affordance path topology and suggests for an invented
device the specific path followed by the device
components as they deliver the capability to meet the
need of the invention must be new. Specific path
topology is seen in the squeezeopen cap, where the
path affordance is based on an affordance chain
mechanism of human force that deforms a specific
type of plastic cap such that it slips easily over the
specifically designed (path constraints) rim and can
be removed with minimum force. The patent claim
directly illustrates this path affordance by legally
describing the specific space time path followed to
remove the lid and its relation to specific architecture.
For example "claim 3, in which the side wall of the
lid has a bead portion for sliding over the formation
during the initial separating movement of the lid from
the body portion" (Sheahan M. 1999). Five of the
inventions surveyed relied on similar unique path
topology and device structure. For example the leaf
grabber uses opposed leavers – a well-known
standard mechanism of magnifying force, but the
critical affordance factors are the shape and
arrangement of the jaws and their length provide a
way of working or path that is deemed to be unique.
5.4 Critical Affordance Factors
Critical affordance factors relate to device parameter
values and limits for which the capability is possible.
These factors relate to both mechanisms, ie forces and
to path dimensions, eg size of components. They also
relate to the physical properties of the materials that
ensure specific mechanism and path behaviour. For
the squeezeopen cap example, the path relates to the
architecture dimensions of the deformable cap
interacting with a specially designed lip, under a
specific amount of force, otherwise the cap would not
work as intended. The invention claim specifies the
specific cap material that has the properties to deform
the right amount (based on specific affordance
parameters) under an old persons’ hand pressure,
given the designed geometry between the cap and jar.
The leaf grabber depends on the arms and size of the
jaws being a specific size etc. See figure 3.
Hence any invention must and does include clear
specification relating to any new path and/or the
energy transfer mechanism and the specific
(capability affordance) factors and their range values
Exploring Invention Capability
Table 2: Processes Related to Invention.
Figure 2: The Invention Capability Process.
Solution Development
SolutionExplor ation&Val id a t i on
imagination investigation
Pro b lem
Pro b lem
frami ng
Act ofinsight
identi fi ca ti on
Solution 
eval uati on
Solution 
implementati on
Pro b lem solving
Solution 
eval uati on
Tas kEnvironment
Spac e
ProblemSolutio n
Evaluati on
Invention Need
Functionalities(principl e s)
Domai n
Ins piration
*Creat ivity
*Inferen c e
Eva lua t ion
mecha nism/path:
Ident ify:CAFworking
ra n ges&limits
Fifth International Symposium on Business Modeling and Software Design
over which the invention will work and hence legally
what must is protected by the patent.
In terms of invention process, a knowledge of
Arthur’s principles, or causal mechanisms and
various architectures and paths that inventions
operate in is gained and used in the solution
exploration invention activity.
The solution exploration stage is where the
inventor explores the possible principles that could be
used to meet the need. Where the principles are
affordance chain compositions. For example
Whittle’s exploration of combinations of power unit
mechanisms in different affordance chains such as
"rockets, turbines driving propellers or rotating
nozzles, fans powered by piston engines etc" to invent
a new aircraft power plant, the jet (Arthur, 2007).
The development of a prototype, in the invention
synthesis and evaluation stage, relates to testing of
different architectures to identify the working
concept. Prototype testing involves empirically trying
various mechanisms and path variations to identify a
different way to existing solutions. Finding a new
working concept embodies the inventive step which
defines a new and previously undiscovered specific
mechanism and a working path/architecture that
delivers this need.
The final invention design stage; solution
architecture involves establishing the optimum
arrangement of components for the invention. This
includes exploring and identifying the limitations to
its workings, ie establishing and quantifying critical
affordance factors ie the range of values relating to
the way the device operates. This involves critical
dimensions, characteristic values and physical
properties needed. For many inventions formal
requirements are often only produced, to qualify the
legal patent limitations, after thorough testing of the
prototype to understand its working limitations at
which the critical affordance factor values are
Based on empirical findings and analysis of theory we
reason that a) 8 necessary human capabilities or
effectivities are required for individual invention
capability. We also propose 6 key activities that
require these effectivities and are components of the
functional capability of invention. We have identified
different types of knowledge at each stage and key
differences between invention and general problem
solving processes at the need identification, solution
synthesis and solution design stage. We have shown
b) what specific capabilities makes a device a new
invention. We observed that inventive step capability
relies on a unique application of principles that relates
to a new use of mechanism and or space time
(affordance) paths representing the new way the
device works, in conjunction with specific and
defined critical affordance operating factors that
enable the invention to meet the invention need in a
given operation envelope and that these are used to
legally specify the inventive step.
Complete details of questions and examples have
been limited by space. The research is also limited by
only studying ten invention cases. To reduce bias we
are currently working on a larger sample and
statistical approach to corroborate and evaluate the
relationship between the human traits (effectivities)
and process activities necessary for invention
capability. We are also evaluating mechanism and
path characteristics of other devices to provide further
evidence for the capability affordance model.
Figure 3: Example Inventions – Mechanism, Path and
Affordance Factors.
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