By Chris Nay
Notice a pattern in these codes? Don’t feel bad if you don’t. They’re from 1994’s “Pac Man 2: The New Adventures.” The kids playing the game in the mid-1990s knew that they unlocked hidden levels, but probably didn’t notice a pattern either. But 12 year old Lisa DeLuca did. To the point she could correctly predict, and enter the next code without playing the game.
“Figuring out these codes made me think: I want to be around this kind of thing [when I grow up],” Lisa said.
What that “thing” turned into almost 20 years later is programming and patenting at IBM. Today, Lisa is a two-time Master Inventor with more than 300 patents filed, working on next-gen cloud applications for IBM’s Advanced Cloud Solutions.
Seven years in the making
Lisa had yet to file a patent when she joined IBM’s Austin lab in 2005 to develop Java applications (this after two summer internships with the company; one in Rochester, MN and another in Raleigh, NC. The old cliché “I’ve Been Moved” even applies to students!). While some of her fellow interns tried, the whole process seemed intimidating. And at a giant company, where do you start?
“When I moved to Austin, a group of Extreme Blue alumni met a couple times a month to brainstorm about patents – from ideas to patent, to figuring out how to patent something. When I discovered that I just needed to fill out a three-question form to pitch an idea to IBM’s patent review board, I thought ‘I can at least do that.’ So, I submitted an idea,” Lisa said.
Her idea for “output styling in an IDE console” went over so well that the review board accepted it after her first in-person pitch. So put patent number 8,302,070 on the resume, right? Not so fast. Putting the “patented” stamp on a console that looked like a browser window, so that developers could apply some HTML-like stylings such as different colors and fonts to their code, would have to wait, and wait, and wait some more.
After the positive review in August of 2005, the board officially accepted it in July, 2006 (when #8,302,070 became officially protected). If that seemed to take a while, the US Patent and Trademark Office didn’t issue the patent until 2012! Their usual turnaround is a mere four years.
“Looking back, I was actually lucky. For the board to accept a first ever invention idea pitch is not that common. Knowing what I know now, I made a lot of mistakes in how I wrote it up. The best way to learn, however, is to jump in head first,” Lisa said.
Patience and planning pays off 314 more times
Just like those old Pac Man codes, Lisa started to figure out how to pattern her work and interests into patents. Here are a few things she’s learned over the last few years and hundreds of patent board pitches.
- Do your homework. Find out if something else has parts of your idea, or if it’s completely taken. Then, you can use these other ideas to defend your new idea and become a subject matter expert. A good inventor does this prior art search. A great inventor modifies their invention based on what they find to make their original idea even stronger.
- Form brainstorming groups with colleagues. A diverse perspective on a challenge can often spur new ways to solve a broader problem.
“I had gotten to know several colleagues over patent brainstorming conference calls well enough to invite them to my wedding. These were people I had not met in person – and they all came!” Lisa said.
- Don’t take it personally. Disconnect yourself from your idea when you’re defending it. Review boards are looking for ideas that may be valuable to the company; a rejection is not an indictment on you.
- Join the experts. Sit in on your company’s patent review board meetings as an evaluator. Get to know what they are looking for in patent write ups and defense pitches. Doing this will help you better understand the process.
- Be patient, but don’t wait. Be patient with individual filings, but try to have as many ideas in the different phases of review so you don’t watch the clock.
Lisa, now based on the East Coast, is the first woman to reach IBM’s 100th patent plateau – a point system that rewards patent filings and issuances. And at 30 years old, maybe the youngest. “I made reaching the 100th plateau a goal. But when it happened and the balloons and confetti didn’t fall from the ceiling, I thought ‘well, I’ll just keep thinking of new patent ideas,’ but without a specific number of filings or plateaus in mind.”
“Ok, it would be nice to reach 200.”