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Finding the sex appeal of an invention using the Toyota 5 Whys technique

In doing the inventor interviews for some recent patent-application client work, I’ve been finding that Toyota’s 5 Whys questioning technique is a great tool. The technique gained fame as a way of drilling down to find the root cause of a problem. But it also offers a quick way of getting an inventor to tell you — in jury-friendly terms — why the invention matters.

Here’s a made-up hypothetical example, drawn from the long version of my slide presentation about the “one and done (mostly)” inventor interview to draft and file a patent application in one day:

[Me:] So, give me the one-sentence summary of the invention. [Inventor:] We’ve come up with a way of inhibiting the activity of the Doo-Hickey enzyme.

1. Why does that matter? Because inhibiting the activity of the Doo-Hickey enzyme reduces vascular constriction in nasal passages.

2. Why does that matter? Because vascular constriction in nasal passages is what causes a stuffy nose.

3. Why does that matter? Because if you can inhibit the activity of the Doo-Hickey enzyme, you get rid of the stuffy nose.

4. Why does that matter — aren’t there other decongestants out there? Because with our way, you don’t get sleepy.

5. Why does that matter — aren’t there other non-sleepy decongestants? Because with our way, not only do you not get sleepy, but your stuffy nose is gone for 48 hours.

This technique could also be called The 5 So-Whats or The 5 Why-Do-I-Give-a-[Hoots], but if I were an inventor, I don’t think I’d like it if my lawyer kept asking me that ….

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