CIDM Information Management News March 2015: Patently Innovative!
Adam Dales, Siemens PLM
Protecting Intellectual Property (IP) is the main motivation for undertaking the process and expense of registering inventions. Sometimes, though, organizations prefer to keep their innovations secret (think of advanced weapons or the formula for Coke), and they don’t wish to apply for a patent, which exposes the algorithm, formula, and so on, to anyone interested in looking it up.
Technical writers at some innovative companies are also working on formulating patent texts for the inventions the organizations submit each year for patent recognition. It’s like walking two high wires at the same time—to get immersed in the inventions’ highly technical details and filter them through the precision of legal patent language.
At our company some very interesting patents have been collaborated on by software engineers and a product manager. Lisandro Embon, Moshe Hazan, and Rahav Madvil have registered an impressive eight pending patents. It’s inspiring and instructive to hear their description of the road that has led towards patenting their ideas, which in this case was the extent of my involvement with their efforts, resulting in this article. My conclusion also has an important take-away for our profession.
Our heroes’ innovative ideas were sometimes born from a struggle to overcome some engineering or mathematical roadblock to successfully coding a new functionality. One of them may have hit a Eureka moment, or as a team they applied a bit of untraditional thinking and converted the problem to a mathematical model (like a DAG—Direct Acyclic Graph or Set Theory).
Actually, the above scenario is less typical for our three inventors. More often, they are thinking about technologies that we have yet to work with directly, for example, Robotics and Energy efficiency. And they tend to look ahead, imagining solutions for situations that may yet occur and that way stake a claim in future areas of development. Down the road, the company may decide to leverage its ownership either for competitive exclusivity or by licensing its rights to the invention to others, as long as the patent remains in force.
Though most of Lisandro, Moshe, and Rahav’s patents are future-looking, they do bring immediate benefits. They enhance the company’s innovation metric in the eyes of customers and analysts and impress a market that values multiple patents as a sign of being robust.
Often, it’s only universities and research foundations that explore new advanced manufacturing technologies through experimentation and lab trials. Some of the research leaders in our industry are the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing in Prince George County, Virginia and a similar center in Sheffield, UK. Many market-based industries, however, are more conservative, but for companies like ours, the push for innovation is crucial, so there is encouragement to step outside areas of routine development.
Though employees who patent solutions need to dedicate working time for this activity, the CEO Zvi Feuer is still pleased.
The significant uptick in the number of patents demonstrates the high priority the organization places on innovation. It also elevates the group’s prestige within the larger organization, receiving recognition for producing a higher than average number of patented inventions.
The importance of patents to businesses can be illustrated by two stories. In the recent Apple-Samsung patent war, the two sides’ absolute unwillingness to yield forced both to compromise, leading to the interesting anomaly of improved competitive positions for each corporation. On the other hand, nearly 35 years ago, the Kodak tragedy began to unfold, when management rejected the opportunity to patent its in-house discoveries in the nascent technology of digital photography. In glum hindsight, had Kodak gone ahead with that patent, not only would the corporation still be around today, its net worth would probably top that of many small to midsize nation-states. Instead, that fateful decision to stay away from the patent office led to the eventual, shall we say, shuttering of the American photo giant, as digital photography has totally eclipsed film-emulsion cameras.
In today’s manufacturing world, ‘anti-innovation’ is like a death wish, while aggressive future-looking development, as disruptive as it can get, seems to revitalize companies and increase their market hold –a clear message for our community of technical communicators and information designers. Approaches, technology, and tools that we need are advancing rapidly and demand that we step up and exhibit that innovative gene as we continue to ply our profession.