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January, 16th 2014

Lisa Seacat DeLuca, IBM Master Inventor

Lisa Seacat DeLuca, IBM Master Inventor

By Lisa Seacat DeLuca

Patents can help make our lives much richer.

Suppose you’re on the phone with your best friend from high school. The conversation might go from an upcoming wedding, to your favorite sports team, and back to some “remember when” moments. Each time the conversation changes, both people might be presented with different images or social messages relevant to those keywords, further engaging both users and enhancing the phone conversation.

One of my patents, U.S. Patent #8,494,851, issued last July, describes that scenario as “retrieval of contextually relevant social networking information during a phone conversation.”

I’m always wearing my inventor hat. Whenever I purchase a new technology, I look for ways to improve it. The USPTO has issued 115 patents to me, and I have more than 250 more pending, making me the first woman in IBM’s history to reach the 100th Plateau Achievement Award, which is a point system that rewards patent filings and publishes.

I had nearly 50 patents among the 6,809 patents issued to IBM inventors by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2013. IBM set a new single-year record for the most U.S. patents in 2013, which was the 21st year a row that IBM earned more U.S. patents than any other company.

Brainstorming new patent ideas isn’t always easy. For me, coming up with patents around the technologies I work on on a day-to-day basis can be the toughest. Because when you’re so close to a technology and consider yourself an expert, it can be hard to believe that what looks like a simple solution can be an extremely valuable patent. For this reason I make it a goal to step back and analyze tough problems. U.S. Patent #8,595,353, for example, is related to cloud computing, which was my “day job” for four years. The basis of my idea was to be able to intelligently recommend cloud resource configuration suggestions by comparing the user’s characteristics and behavior in the cloud to similar users.

I’m very proud to be part of one of, if not THE, most innovative companies in the world. In the eight years that I’ve been working for IBM, I’ve been lucky enough to work on some of the hottest trends in technology. Each new “buzz-word worthy” technology opens the doors to endless possibilities for innovation. I’m currently an Emerging Mobile Software Engineer within IBM’s standards organization helping to shape open source software and striving for new ways to improve mobile.

Mobile devices are one of my favorite areas to invent in. Everyone has a phone and most of us use smart phones. The technology is changing so fast and the barriers to entry are low for app developers, resulting in new applications popping up daily. Last year a number of my mobile-related patents issued: U.S. Patent #8,364,165 routes cellphone users along different paths depending on the likelihood of their phones losing service. U.S. Patent #8,495,149 allows mobile users to compose an email referencing a file from an off-line location and as soon as the location becomes available, the email is sent.

When I joined IBM in Austin after two internships with IBM, including an Extreme Blue internship in Austin, I noticed that there were plaques hanging on my colleagues’ walls. These awards were for invention achievements, such as First Issues and Plateau Awards. I wanted to know what they were and to be part of it. So I searched on our internal intranet for how to get started, installed the patent database, and clicked on the button to start a new draft. The form only had three questions. I thought, “I can do this, this seems easy enough.”

Patenting has other advantages. As a remote worker in Baltimore, working on patents enables me to work collaboratively and develop closer relationships with colleagues located all over the world. Over the years I have come to understand what it takes to write a valuable patent disclosure, and as an IBM Master Inventor, I give back to the IBM community by serving on invention review boards and mentoring others about the patent process.

I think it’s very important for those of use working in the technology field to have a good mentoring network, particularly women. I tend to seek out women and encourage them to file patents. I like to help them through the process, then watch as they break off and share what they learn with even more IBMers.

Just as it’s important to mentor other colleagues, I think it’s equally important to have a mentor or mentors, again, especially for women. I have an awesome female mentor who I speak with at least once a quarter. I look around IBM and see that there are women who have pursued technical careers, and spent their entire career at IBM, working in technical fields. They inspire me and prove that at IBM, if you work hard and have the talent, you can become a Distinguished Engineer or IBM Fellow. I hope to one day to achieve those prestigious technical honors.

In my spare time, I’m still tinkering with technology, playing with our one-year-old twin boys and working on a children’s book on how to count to 10 in binary. In fact, my book, “A Robot Story,” just went live on Kickstarter. Folllow me on Twitter @LisaSeacat or visit my site,

Listen to a podcast of Lisa Seacat DeLuca as she discusses her work and life:


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How much detail do you need to provide to get a patent? Is it just a high-level description of how something would work if it was implemented? Or do you need to submit some kind of proof of concept that it actually works in practice? Are these patents just design documents, or do you actually need to implement the idea and have a working prototype?

If just designs, by filing these patents are we not preventing some company like Apple or Samsung from implementing these features in their devices? Thus are we not stifling innovation if all we are doing is filing patents and not implementing them, since it prevents anyone else from implementing it? I doubt that IBM has any plans on coming out with it’s own mobile phones, so how are patents on cellular phone features in IBM’s interest at all, or does IBM just sell the rights to these patents for profit? If selling the rights, does Lisa Deluca get a percentage of the profit or does it all belong to IBM?

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I don’t think I’d be proud of that. Sure, acceptance of the patent should validate rationality of the idea. But being kind of IBM’s soldier in patent wars, I don’t thinkt that’s something to brag about. I hope that the whole patent law will soon be abandoned. Because these limitations slow down whole industry and cause really weird situations that deform the market. Like Microsoft gaining more money from rival Android (because of patents) than from its own Windows Phone. The only ones who profit from status quo are lawyers and big companies like IBM who can afford to patent its employees’ every single inovative idea.

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Congrats Lisa.

Posted by: Simon O'Doherty.
January 21, 2014
2:09 pm

There are a lot of super ideas here, but this article highlights a cloud patent which I feel is somewhat obvious. I think that software patents are a place where IBM can lead, but patents on ideas like this can be a hindrance to innovation as well. Good lukc in your career! :-)

Posted by: grumble grumble
January 21, 2014
11:42 am

To Gerome, you are darn right, it is not making humanity richer it only makes IBM richer.

Congratulation anyway to Lisa, at least she benefits from her talent. But as Gerome said delusion yourself about making lifes of other better. But buy some IBM stocks …

Posted by: Andrew Walnut
January 21, 2014
1:09 am

If I calculate correctly, Lisa you “filed” one patent per week averagely in you past 8 years in IBM… what an amazing achievement and talent. The insight to challenge and inspiration seems endless for you… I also realize that patent opens a door for career development after I got the 1st plateau award recently for my 3 years in IBM…

Posted by: Wayne Zhang
January 20, 2014
2:37 am

Very Impressive profile

Posted by: sanjeeev
January 19, 2014
4:02 pm

Congratulations Lisa I was looking your patents and it is an interesting work you were the first one to write on a paper. Wow 250 patents I think are too much paper!!. What would say my friend Steve?

Posted by: Tr3t@
January 18, 2014
12:53 am

I find the whole idea of patents is against making our lives richer and beautiful. Its a tool to prevent others who many have the same idea but just that they didnt filed a patent for sake of money and evilness. Everyone is full of great ideas and we want to improve on the previous ideas. But just awarding a person who files a patent to prevent others from ideation is really bad. Totally agree with the first comment (Gerome). I wish one day this whole concept of patent is abolished.

Posted by: Sameer
January 17, 2014
4:02 pm

Ummmm Educate this South African boy please? IBM is very proud of the number of US patents it lodges every year.

How is “retrieval of contextually relevant social networking information during a phone conversation.” worthy of a patent? And what does the patent actually mean?

Is IM now the only company allowe dot use this phrase/ concept and others must pay?

I’m missing something here. Thanks

Posted by: Bryan
January 17, 2014
3:02 pm

Wow- such negativity over another’s achievements. (Jealous much?) She works hard I’m sure and is clearly an out-of-the box thinker. Not everyone can do that. Not all patents are turned into marketable ideas. However, often patent rights can be leased or sold or loaned under agreements for uses that leverage part if a patent, (generic drugs, cellphone-smartphone-old Ma Bell phone solution anyone?)

She deserves the praise whether or not the patent is utilized. The bigger key is that she is the FIRST woman at IBMto make the milestone- not a frivolous thing in a still male dominated market for engineering, math and sciences.

Well done to her!!

Posted by: Annemarie
January 17, 2014
11:46 am


Posted by: Stefan
January 17, 2014
11:06 am

I kind of see it this way:
Imagine a huge pile of toys surrounded by a group of children. The children are told that when a whistle will be blown they will be able to pick out the toys they want from the pile and play with them. Now there’s this one kid, let’s call him Ibrahim (the fact that his name contains the letters I, B and M is pure coincidence). When the whistle blows he starts running and picking up any toy in sight. He’s just blasting through shouting “Mine, mine, mine…”. So each of the other kids has one or two toys, but Ibrahim has 115 (and 250 pending). After a while the other kids start getting bored with their toys and they ask Ibrahim of they can play with his. Although Ibrahim has toys he neither likes nor has any intention of ever playing with, he says “No, they’re mine. If you want them you need to pay”.
How does this make anyone’s life richer?

Posted by: Gerome
January 17, 2014
10:19 am

What an amazing young lady!

Posted by: Bryon Cable
January 17, 2014
7:19 am

It took me half the article to realize this wasn’t a joke.
Despite the opening paragraph, it’s not described anywhere how patents themselves make our lives richer.

Posted by: Andreas
January 17, 2014
5:44 am

This is really the most interesting stuff i ever read.

With Lisa the World will really change into the better ;)

I just hit unfollow to IBM now…

Posted by: Valerie
January 17, 2014
2:51 am

Patents DO NOT make our lives richer. Products and services can make our lives richer. Patents filed for the sake of having your name on them result in you becoming a patent troll who prevents other people from building products and services which could make our lives richer. If anything, patents can make patent trolls richer.

Posted by: Dan
January 17, 2014
2:13 am

Congratulations Lisa!

Posted by: Aby
January 16, 2014
4:34 pm

This is how patents work at IBM. Everyone, even contractors, is encouraged to come up with as many patentable ideas as possible, even if they are dumb. I did the same thing when I was at IBM. You spend about 30 minutes writing up the idea, and then a “patent committee” reviews it and approves or rejects. If approved, it gets handed to a patent lawyer who spends several hours writing up the entire patent. In some cases, by the time the lawyer is done with it, it looks very little like the original write-up. Then it gets submitted to the USPTO. Since the examiners at the USPTO don’t care much about the submissions, most are approved. That’s why IBM files so many patents — they care about quantity, not quality. All of the patents that I filed were stupid, but I didn’t anyway. Patent 8,494,851 is also a dumb idea, but it’s typical of the kinds of patents that IBM files.

Posted by: TT
January 16, 2014
2:22 pm

please invent something to improve IBMs customer services. Currently I’m very disappointed about it.

Posted by: ISO9126
January 16, 2014
2:07 pm

so you’re issuing random patents, hoping they get ‘valuable’ one day?
I’m not quite sure if i like that..

Posted by: S. Giotta
January 16, 2014
2:06 pm

Congratulations Lisa! You made the 2013 IBM patent accomplishment mean something to me!

Posted by: Curtis
January 16, 2014
1:44 pm

Congratulations Lisa. You are an inspirational role model for young women in technology. Go big blue!

Posted by: Vance
January 16, 2014
1:00 pm

I’m disappointed to see that this article neglects to mention what will be done with any of the patents. When you file and are awarded a patent, you are also given the implied responsibility to move forward on it to market. Patents are made to give you a temporary market advantage. They’re not meant to be collectibles.

As a future IBMer, and someone who still somewhat worries that the size of IBM will hinder its ability to truly innovate, I am more interested in seeing how IBM implements these patents in their technology.

Posted by: EK
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