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How to become an inventor: Part 1

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Here’s a hypothesis: Anyone can invent.

Not convinced? I understand. Don’t you need to be technical to be an IBM inventor? Perhaps.

I’m not a technical person. Technically, I’m a person, but I’m not in any way, shape or form ‘technical’. I have a couple of Patents Published for technical tools though. I am an ideas person. I look at something, or imagine something and think ‘Wouldn’t it be great if…’  An important starting point to invention. I credit myself with the invention of iTunes. Seriously. Back in 1986. And the folding shoe. Both are now available on the open market and I’m profiting from neither because I was 9 when I invented them and didn’t have the means to follow the inventions through. I’m still smarting over those.

I can’t escape patenting though – not that I’d want to. I’m married to a Master IBM Inventor (a title awarded to IBM’s most prolific inventors), so conversation and information are always readily available and I find it hugely interesting and exciting. In fact, my husband’s currently working on an idea that our 5 year old daughter came up with – I’ll blog on that later. I’ve also got inventing in my DNA. My Great Grandfather made his fortune patenting designs for technical drawing tools, an early photocopier and the machine that removes the husks from mustard seeds, giving us smooth mustard. Cool, eh?

But here at IBM, inventions = patents, and patents = very serious business. They protect IBM’s intellectual property (IP) and ensure we can continue to do business. IBM take Patent creation and protection so seriously that we reward IBM-ers who seek to protect our IP with financial incentives. We’ve had 23 years of being the global leader in Patent leadership too – quite an accolade to try and maintain. However, patenting is hardly an IBM-centered phenomenon. In 2015, the US Patent Office permitted new 629,647 patents.

So, when information regarding the Patent Group Incubation Project (PGIP) landed in my inbox, I jumped at the chance to be involved. I immediately signed up for the project: a series of workshops and group meetings headed by a team of Senior and Master Inventors, that runs formally for eight weeks (though hopefully longer) and I also dragged a couple of colleagues along, too. What a great opportunity to test out the leading hypothesis – taking three self-confessed non-tecchie types, chucking them in a windowless room with seriously technically skilled folk, and seeing what cooks.

What could possibly go wrong? Actually, nothing. It’s pretty much risk-free. A slight dent to the pride if we don’t manage to get so much as a Publish out of the experiment, but that’s about it. And what’s to gain? Well, lots actually:

  • The opportunity to become a bona fide inventor;
  • Networking and meeting people from different areas of the business;
  • Uncovering the Patent development process and sharing it with the wider IBM;
  • Possibly inspiring others to have a go – either working on your own ideas, joining or forming a Patenting team or setting up your own PGIP in your own location.

Don’t tell me you don’t have ideas. Each and every one of us is capable of immense, exciting and truly inspiring ideation.

So watch this space and join us on this journey!

Learn more

Here are some videos that were shared with us ahead of the kick-off workshop:

IBM’s most prolific inventor (YouTube)

The surprising habits of original thinkers (TED)

Coming next

Coming soon, the Project kicks off with a Workshop. Find out if we were completely overwhelmed and out of our depth or if we could, in fact, add value!

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