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July 24: Jonathan Cagan Creates Environment for Patent Perfect Products


Chriss Swaney                      

Carnegie Mellon's Jonathan Cagan Creates
Environment for Patent Perfect Products

PITTSBURGH—Jonathan CaganThe innovators who helped build America haven't disappeared. They're right here at Carnegie Mellon University in Mechanical Engineering Professor Jonathan Cagan's product development classes.

In the past five years, Carnegie Mellon students have successfully turned more than 30 ideas into patentable products. This year, Cagan's senior design class won a patent for creating tools to streamline the machining process.

"We sponsored a capstone class at Carnegie Mellon, where engineering students successfully developed a special tool holder," said John J. Prizzi, chief counsel for intellectual property at Kennametal Inc. "We were impressed with the creativity and problem-solving skills the students used to develop the tool, which we ultimately requested a patent for."   

Few products ever make it to market, but some do survive, and some even help redefine their various industry markets. At Carnegie Mellon, students learn to work in multidisciplinary teams to merge technology and lifestyle into products that serve consumer needs.

"Successful products today signify a revolution in product design, and we address that in these design classes where students interact with industry demands and produce some fascinating solutions," said Cagan, co-author of "The Design of Things to Come." The book, a collaboration with Tepper School of Business Associate Professor Peter Boatwright, focuses on the role of innovation in design, as well as how innovation acts as a strategic map for today's companies.

Two years ago, Cagan and Boatwright partnered to run an interdisciplinary product design class that came up with a novel way to increase the living space for long-distance truck drivers. Faced with a growing shortage of long-haul truck drivers, freight carriers are seeking any kind of innovations that will make their big rigs feel more like a rolling home away from home.

"We were impressed with the innovative solutions Carnegie Mellon students came up with as they tackled ways to improve the living area in the truck cabs of long-distance haulers," said Edward Melching, director of product development on highway tractors for International Truck and Engine Corp. "The process the students followed was both intriguing and very useful."

Cagan, who recently worked with several colleagues to analyze the 100-year brand heritage of International Truck, said that in an era of global competition and rapid market demands, people need a process that helps them go from market needs to successful patentable products.

"Our students are learning and embracing that pace of innovation," said Cagan, who is also co-author of a successful consulting book titled "Creating Breakthrough Products: Innovation from Product Planning to Program Approval."  This book culls information about product development from more than a decade of work with successful and creative product design classes, and consulting with industries that have tapped specific business needs from a variety of industry sectors, including manufacturing and transportation.

(Jonathan Cagan is pictured above.)