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I was going through a technical document and came across this phrase. I can understand the intent of the phrase but I am curious about the actual meaning of the phrase and where it can be used.

An excerpt from the technical document:

Therefore, there is a need in the art for a system and method which can relieve network and personnel inefficiencies from use of such disparate system resources by unifying their points of access and interface, providing for common content and functionality, and allowing consistent and understandable administration policies

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    The writer is describing a particular branch of technology dealing with fuel cells, and saying it is so involved it grades into an artform. 'What we fuel-cell specialists could really do with is ....' 'a need in the art' is as loose a string as 'a need among those not able to leave their homes'. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 18 '20 at 14:06
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    This isn't a phrase, just a juxtaposition of words. Try breaking it down as [there is a need] [in the art] instead. – Marthaª Jun 18 '20 at 14:13
  • What @Edwin said. But note that although this usage could be perfectly reasonable in certain contexts, there's no doubt in my mind that in the actual cited instance it's a very weak stylistic choice for such a technical/formal context. (where it's effectively "facetious", but that's a poor fit with the general register of the text). So don't copy it! – FumbleFingers Jun 18 '20 at 14:21
  • What @Marthaª said. The phrase “the art” refers to the practices, conventions, know-how, etc used in whatever discipline the author was writing about. – Lawrence Jun 18 '20 at 14:42
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I agree with the comments of the others. Perhaps the following breakdown will help you to parse it more clearly.

  1. "Therefore, there is a need ... for a system and method which can relieve network and personnel inefficiencies from use of such disparate system resources."

  2. "Therefore, there is a need (in the art of designing fuel-cell systems) for a system and method which can relieve network and personnel inefficiencies from use of such disparate system resources."

  3. "Therefore, there is a need (in the art) for a system and method which can relieve network and personnel inefficiencies from use of such disparate system resources."

  4. "Therefore, there is a need in the art for a system and method which can relieve network and personnel inefficiencies from use of such disparate system resources."

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The wording is definitely obtuse, but in

Therefore, there is a need in the art for a system and method ...

"need" is functioning as a noun, with essentially the same meaning as "requirement".

"in the art" is an idiom, meaning roughly "in the practices and conventions of the technical specialty being discussed".

So there is a requirement for there to be practices and conventions that can remove the "inefficiencies" being described.

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The reason it is confusing is it is patentese, i.e., a specific phrase used when drafting patents. The ‘art’ in your phrase refers to so-called ‘prior art’ (a.k.a. ‘state of the art’ a.k.a. ‘background art’). See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prior_art for an explanation of what this means.

If you google the phrase:

patent "There is a need in the art for"

...you will see that it is used, exactly like this, in thousands of patents. See e.g.: https://bit.ly/3jtECnh

Here's en example:

"The Cercone '001 and '723 scissors are nothing more that thinning scissors and are not for cutting. The '498 British patent is merely a pair scissors with a guard and only does one operation at a time. Accordingly, there is a need in the art for an improved pair of hair-cutting and thinning scissors in order to overcome the above mentioned shortcoming of prior art scissors."

or

"Accordingly, there is a need in the art for an improved writing instrument."

etc.

Hope this helps!

Michael Beijer (Dutch-English technical translator)

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The wording is very common legal use in patent applications, and your example comes from https://patents.google.com/patent/US20040025050A1/en (Something that you should have mentioned.)

OED:

art: 3. As a count noun. a. A practical application of knowledge; (hence) something which can be achieved or understood by the employment of skill and knowledge;

b. A practical pursuit or trade of a skilled nature, a craft; an activity that can be achieved or mastered by the application of specialist skills;

From the above website:

A high level system design has been presented for a mixed address database which fulfills the need in the art, including details of a preferred embodiment including certain network components, computing platform hardware, operating system, web server software components, programming languages and methodologies, and example database schema. However, it will be recognized by those skilled in the art that certain departures from the preferred embodiment ...

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