Click to listen to podcast: Building a Smarter Planet – Patents
Manny Schecter, IBM Chief Patent Counsel told me that “patents are the currency of innovation.”
Approximately 150,000 U.S. patents are granted to investors each year and for the last 17 years, IBM has received more U.S. patents than any other company in the world. According to IFI Patent Intelligence, in 2009 IBM was issued 4,914 U.S. patents. So IBM is clearly a major player in the world of innovation.
Yet it’s still the case that some don’t know what IBM does. It’s clear based on numbers that IBM is an “innovative” company, sure, but what does IBM invent and why?
What I found out from speaking with Kathryn Guarini and John Gunnels, two IBMers with a number of IBM patents is that, believe it or not, inventors don’t want to spend their time reinventing the wheel to pad their portfolio, they’re looking toward innovation that matters (a company line which I understand better now that I’ve spoken with some true innovators). Guarini, director of Systems and Technology Development for IBM Systems and Technology Group says, “We want to innovate where there is real value. We don’t want to innovate everywhere, all the time.”
Mr. Gunnels is a research scientist in the area of high performance computing. He has worked on several projects and is named on multiple patents related to IBM’s Blue Gene Supercomputer which was awarded the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2009. Blue Gene systems have helped map the human genome, investigate medical therapies, safeguard nuclear arsenals, simulate radioactive decay, simulate brain power, envision financial scenarios, predict weather and climate trends, and identify fossil fuels. And he told me that there have actually been cases where Blue Gene predicts the outcome of an experiment, which were only later verified with an actual experiment.
Several patents have been issued around Blue Gene in 2009, but consider another patent which IBM was issued this year:
U.S. Patent 7,612,655 – “Alarm System for Hearing Impaired Individuals Having Hearing Assistive Implanted Devices”
This patent describes a method for alerting profoundly deaf sleepers to danger, such as fire and carbon monoxide, or to circumstances such as a doorbell, phone call or wakeup alarm. The concept works best for deaf individuals who have cochlear implants. These people typically deactivate their implants when they bathe or sleep for reasons of comfort and safety. They do so by detaching a small device normally worn outside the ear, and which normally functions as a signal transmitter to an implanted component. During sleep or bathing activities, they typically can’t or won’t wear a device that vibrates, nor can they rely on flashing lights to catch their attention. The patented method enables the implanted component to begin buzzing abnormally or stay silent, depending on what occasion for which the user has programmed it to respond.
As an IBMer, it’s a source of job-related pride to see companies like mine investing in something that actually makes a difference for our company and for the world. “Innovation that matters”, not just a catchy slogan or corporate mantra. It is one of our company values. Something we, as IBMers, take pride in and use as inspiration everyday. And I think that the real thing to take away from all the reports on patents and patent leadership is this: a great number of these innovations being patented are helping to make the world safer, cleaner, more efficient and most notably, smarter; for people, societies, and for the world.
To read about more IBM innovations and their impact, see this article from IBM Research.