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Did you get UNEXPECTED research results?

By Rita Yusko

Negative know-how

A hypothesis is formed, an experiment is run and the outcomes are not as expected. Is the research a flop? Not necessarily. There may be real value in the new knowledge.

First, if the outcomes were not successful, you have just discovered what does not work. This is also known as negative know-how. Negative know-how, or knowing which formulations or experimental conditions do not work, is as important as knowing which formulations and conditions do work. Negative know-how is considered a form of intellectual property as well. Negative know-how may be included as supporting information in a patent application for what eventually does work, but it usually is treated as a trade secret or “knowledge expertise” of the researcher.

Secondly, if the outcomes of your experiment were not as expected, and a different material, property or function resulted, you many have an invention. An invention is the result produced by the use of ingenuity or imagination that was previously unknown.

Is the invention patentable?

For an invention to be patentable in the United States, it needs to meet several criteria: the invention needs to be novel, useful and non-obvious. The United States Patent and Trademark Office defines an invention as any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. To determine if an invention is “non-obvious,” ask if a “person of the same discipline" would not know how to create the invention using the same mechanisms.

What is a patent?

A patent is a right granted by the United States government to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention.

Contacting the TTO Office

If your next experiment results in materials with unique and unexpected properties and functions, remember to contact the Technology Transfer Office to discuss hidden potential of the outcomes.

By Rita Yusko

Rita Yusko
Manager, Technology Transfer Office
tto@niu.edu