Why and How to Invent in the Era of Software

Speaker:  Uri Kartoun – Cambridge, MA, United States
Topic(s):  Information Systems, Search, Information Retrieval, Database Systems, Data Mining, Data Science


Throughout my employment in corporate environments (Microsoft, IBM), as well as in start-ups, I have had the opportunity to solely invent many items and apply for patents. My inventions include methods to speed internet browsing, transfer files faster compared to using emails or instant messaging, and to improve health.
To enable faster searching, Google introduced a technology called Google Instant to its search engine. A subsequent invention from Microsoft (which I invented) used a ranking module to asynchronously cache and present content faster [1]. Many users, in my opinion, will benefit from these two technologies, mainly due to their potential to accelerate access to online resources. But what incentivized these inventors, including myself, to propose their ideas?
First, when you come up with a new idea that may seem intriguing, it is important to quickly identify if the idea is worth pursuing. Even when your idea seems novel, non-obvious, and useful, it may not be worth developing further or patenting it. Unfortunately, and fortunately, I have had the opportunity to invent concepts that did not take off and I learned quite a lot from many rejections of software and hardware ideas that I have initiated.
Second, I believe that patents do good for society (while some others think that patents do harm). When competing businesses own exclusive intellectual property (IP) for a limited time, it accelerates advances in science and engineering, in my opinion. A certain business could own IP rights for a certain technology, thus preventing other businesses from using that technology. Such situations increase competition, as they trigger the employees from all companies to come up with even more novel solutions not yet protected by IP laws.
Third, a patent application, once submitted to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, turns relatively quickly into a publication, even in the early stage of being a pending application. Although not comparable to a scientific manuscript published in a peer-reviewed journal, this allows wide exposure of one’s work.
Fourth, leading software companies encourage their employees to invent and patent, given the importance by both valuation and reputation of granted patents [2]. The encouragement is often in the form of monetary awards and certificates, which are always associated with feelings of satisfaction and achievement.
In addition to the points I mentioned about why individuals are incentivized to invent, the focus of my lecture will include examples in which I identified opportunities to create innovative concepts that yielded patent filings, as well as granted patents. Whenever a certain technology seems frustrating—it functions slowly, or seems associated with low quality, or collapses often, or just seems that it could work better—that’s an opportunity to think of a novel concept to attempt to fix the deficiency, as a first step by proposing an idea to eliminate the deficiency.
1. Kartoun U. A user, an interface, or none. ACM Interactions 2017;24(1):20–21. https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=3014046 
2. Kartoun U. Toward a true measure of patent intensity. Communications of the ACM 2017;60(9):8–9. https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=3128899 

About this Lecture

Number of Slides:  30
Duration:  45 minutes
Languages Available:  English
Last Updated: 

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