Please enjoy this transcript of Invent Anything with John Cronin Episode 1 titled “Invention, Creativity, and Intellectual Property.
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Greetings, everyone. This is Invent Anything and I’m John Cronin, the host. This is a series of podcasts that will be literally about how to invent anything. As we get underneath it though, we need to talk about creativity, invention, innovation, and even navigating the wild world of intellectual property. So, to invent anything, here we go…
First, I’d like to discuss some very fundamental things like the linkage between creativity, invention, innovation, and intellectual property.
Creativity, by definition – you’ve always seen the lightbulbs – is something that’s new and something that’s useful. Something that’s new is something that’s new to you, not necessarily something that’s new to everyone else. If you have a new idea, a creative idea, somebody else had heard of it before you, it doesn’t make it any less creative for you.
Useful means it usually can construct how to make that new idea. We’ll talk about that a lot in coming series.
Invention is really the next step because invention is new, useful, and non-obvious. Meaning, now there’s some criteria around how invention actually not only is new to you and also you can make it work through utility, usefulness, but it’s also something that has not been out there before. So, now it’s non-obvious to others how it would be done. And that really leads us to the heart of this podcast and the series of these podcasts is to get at something that is not only new but something that’s useful, but you can make it work. And that really separates invention from just ideas.
As you take ideas that are inventions that work, you can fashion them into systems or methods or business models. And as you do that and you sell it in the market, that’s called innovation. So, innovation is taking ideas from mind to market.
And finally, when you’re innovating, it might make sense either at the invention stage or during a product phase, to protect your inventions with intellectual property. So, as mentioned, creativity is that light bulb, invention is really the sort of apparatus where –you’ve seen the pictures of inventors at work with their contraptions, and innovation is really putting it into the market with your manufacturing processes, et cetera.
And intellectual property really slams the gavel down because that is where you can use the law to protect you to stop others. Let’s drift into the forms of intellectual property. Certainly, the forms of intellectual property are there to stop others from copying you, if you happen to have intellectual property to find. You could have a copyright. Copyrights are simply as you write down something you preserve the right to stop someone from copying that through a copyright.
In this podcast series we will not go through the many ins and outs of copyrights. We’re going to leave this podcast series just to invention. Which brings up the next form of intellectual property to stop others from copying you, which is trade secrets. We will delve into many discussions on trade secrets and the terms of the processes, in terms of the way you can protect trade secrets, in terms of the trade secret process that you have for yourself, keeping things secret. You or your company are responsible for keeping things secret. If you don’t, you lose it.
And finally, there’s this very unique form, which I’m sure anyone who clicked on this link because they liked this material, is patents. So, patents are a negative right. They allow you to stop others from making, using, or selling your invention in the country by which you’ve obtained the patent. Now, a lot of people don’t know this, but patents give you the right to stop others from making, using, or selling, but it doesn’t necessarily give you the right to produce your own product. Well, what’s up with that?
Well, what’s up with that is your invention may be a combination of other inventions or your patent may be a combination of other patents. So, yes, you could get a patent, but you might need to get a right, a license from somebody else to actually make your device or perform your method.
There’s a second form of intellectual property that stops others from either inventing on top of you or in front of you. Supposing you have your creative thought that turns into an idea that turns into an invention that turns into a patent. You have that patent and you might even have the innovation. But what happens is that others might decide to invent on top of you. They simply look at your patent, as I have for many companies over many years, and literally find a way to invent on top of you sort of predicting where you’re going to go. And when that happens, I can get a patent on that improvement predicting where you’re going to go and therefore when you get there, you’ll need me.
So, inventing on top of or in front of is a very important type of intellectual property process. There are ways certainly to improve the situation. And we’ll talk about enabled publications where you can invent on top of yourself and publish it and stop others from inventing on top of you. You see, if they invent on top of you they will literally need to practice your invention as well as their new invention. So, if you can patent your invention and publish on top of your invention, you’re producing stronger intellectual property protection. There are certainly things we can do when we file patents.
We will talk down the road about master disclosure and how to have a continuation strategy for patents so one patent can be worth hundreds of patents.
We will also talk about very interesting tactics and strategies where you can patent a portion of your invention and whole trade secret another part. So, this is a world of strategy and tactics, which leads us to the third interesting form, the form of intellectual property in terms of the processes or strategies you will use to protect your inventions.
Think about this, the strongest soldier who is very tough and rugged and very strong. He can be a better soldier if he is even a martial artist where he is particularly trained in some process of fighting. He can be even stronger if he added onto that, deceptive strategies, for instance, how does he take the hill, what are the tactics to do that. So, a very strong soldier could be personally very strong, he could improve his processes with martial arts or some fighting and skill, but he can go beyond that with having tactics to actually win the battle.
As we delve into the podcast series, I’d like to explain my own personal background a little.
Very early on as a young boy, I used to love to take things apart. I used to be told that inventiveness in its rawest form is curiosity. I’ve had many inventors tell me that, that they themselves have taken many things apart. That moved to me as I started to develop ways to build my own inventions. And I had a particular interest in engineering, electrical engineering. But I also had interests very early on even in high school in psychology, finding myself thinking about how I thought and trying to figure out a way to understand how I was thinking. So, I went from an education in electrical engineering to then education in psychology.
And it’s a very interesting mix of interests that I find today. Psychology tends to be a very big part of what I try to describe to others in terms of how to invent anything. My career drew to myself to become an IBMer.
In a very early stage of my career at IBM I was mentored by a gentleman named Bruce Bertelsen. He had a process for invention. I just used his process. He retired. And for about four or five years, I found myself documenting over 600 inventions and about 100 of them became patents. There were articles written about me inside of IBM, naming me the top inventor. There was really no formal status to be called “the top inventor,” except for, at the time, I had more patents than any other IBMer.
Because of that, I was asked by Jack Kuehler, the president of IBM, if I could use these talents and Bruce Burleson’s process and use it to help teach IBMers. So, at one point in my career I became the leader, the organizer, and the person who conceived of what was called the ‘IBM Patent Factory.’
The mission of the IBM Patent Factory, which I ran for about eight years, was to figure out how to get more invention out of the engineers and technical people at IBM. And clearly, by 1989, 1991, the number of patents at IBM were kind of anemic; 1,200, 1,300 patents a year for about a decade. But after we started this patent factory and we had the processes to invent pretty much anything for IBM, we went from about 1,200 patents and in about seven or eight years we shot up to somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,500 patents per year.
So, as I became known as one of the persons deeply involved in this IBM patent factory, I decided, for my career, it was time to move on and to try to bring these tools and techniques and thinking to other companies.
And so, in 1998, I started ipCapital Group. We have now been in business for about 24 years. We handle clients big and small. 15% of the fortune 500. We work with a lot of early stage companies developing their first invention or doing their first family and friend’s round. We’re also technology agnostic. We’ve handled many different types of technologies. Everything from hummus rolls to solar cells. Anything from virtual machines to quantum computing. We’re in energy, in software, in biotech, industrial.
We’re able to do this because we have a method of several methodological approaches, about 35 in all, in order to bring our competency for our processes and intersect it with our clients’ competencies and their content to create whatever it is that they need. Whether they need an IP strategy or whether they need a set of new inventions or whether they need a better trade secret program. Whatever they need, we have services around that. Evaluations of patents and helping companies raise money, et cetera.
During my career at ipCapital, I helped start a number of other companies, which in this series of podcasts I’ll certainly draw on these experiences. For instance, I started a company called ‘IP.com,’ which today is a very successful company which allows companies to use their service and their systems to publish inventions called Enabled Publications, to stop others from patenting. Also, we started the ipCapital licensing group and for a four- or five-year term, we ended up facilitating between patent buyers and patent sellers, making that marriage between them. We helped to broker many, many deals.
Later on, in the final stages in the last seven or eight years, started another company, ipCreate, which is really an early stage company to create IP funds. In that involvement, I purchased a company called Article One Partners, and Article One Partners was a crowd sourced way of finding prior art with about 100,000 people in the crowd. So, I had experiences of prior art finding, in building, IP funds, doing licensing with ipCapital Group, publishing inventions through IP.com, but my true love, and has been because I get to work on so many interesting deals every month, is ipCapital Group.
Today, in some of the new thinking, and we’ll talk about this in some of the podcasts, is how you might put together your own IP fund. Right now, I’m working on four or five different small IP funds.
In this approach to the Invent Anything podcast, what I want to do is to study some of the unique and relevant experiences I’ve had over the years, sort of as the history of creativity, invention, innovation, and IP. I want to show the how-to’s across a broad spectrum of tools and techniques where these tools and techniques are within the creativity or within the invention or within innovation or within IP Practices.
That is, there are specific tools for creative thinking. There are specific tools for invention. There are specific tools for how to take those inventions and turn them into products. There are certain tools and techniques that then take those innovations or the inventions and turn them into intellectual property.
We will use this podcast over the years to help discuss hot topics of the day. A number of years ago there was a landmark case of Alice v. CLS Bank at the Supreme Court, which kind of redefined software patents. It kind of led the way to say what could and what couldn’t be patentable in software patents. And truly, after that case law, the world for intellectual property changed dramatically where lots of patents were really not valid and they could be made invalid pretty quickly through what’s called the IPR Review Process.
If we take a look at just some new hot topic today. My friend Dr. Stephen Thaler who basically invented a device for autonomous bootstrapping of Unified Science, which is a very high level title term, but basically, underneath it, two patents called the ‘DABUS Patents,’ he challenged the patent offices because he built a machine to actually create patents. Can a machine invent? Dr. Tahler thinks so. And as a hot topic, we now find many people talking about, can a machine invent?
As we do this podcast, I want to keep in mind our points of view. There are many points of views or stakeholders or players. There’s the average worker in the company that may or may not be impacted by creativity, invention, innovation, and patents, or protection.
Of course, there are the inventors. And my heart goes out to any inventor that may be listening to this podcast because that’s the point of view I’ve always had. As an engineer working at IBM for many years, at one point I recognized, I was an inventor as well as an engineer. I felt great calling myself an inventor. I tried to differentiate myself, calling myself an inventor and inventing. And now, I’ve spent my whole life inventing. So, for all the inventors out there, I congratulate you in front of your workers or others who seek to become an inventor, well this podcast is for you.
There is the point of view of the managers. They have to manage this stuff. Sometimes inventors get in the way. Sometimes they blow up the lab. Sometimes they don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. We have to really love these managers who have to sit between getting results and motivating people and allowing them to be creative. So, my hat’s off to the managers. In many of the processes that we’ll talk about in the podcast and many of the topics we’ll bring up, we’ll go to those managers, we’ll go to those folks who have to manage this process.
But managers report to executives and executives are at another point of view. They’re managing large budgets, where R&D spend is. They’re managing the influence of the customers and they’re influencing the CEO and the board. They’re managing down and up, squarely in the middle. They’re the ones that get the call when there’s a patent infringement. They’re the ones that get the call when they’ve missed an innovation cycle. So, points of view of an executive are very important and many of the processes that we talk about and the hot topics are to the executives.
We’ll also be talking specifically to CEOs. And having worked for Fortune 500 companies and meeting CEOs but also many meeting many CEOs of early stage companies, the point of view of a CEO is one where now we have to start thinking about culture and how that culture is going to be adapted towards winning in the market which may be innovating whether you become a fast follower or first in the market. CEOs have a lot to carry. Sometimes CEOs are the founders. Sometimes CEOs are the main inventors. And so, we want to carry the point of view of the CEO because it’s vital that the CEO really focuses on and thinks about how he can help his employees and his company literally invent anything.
I will now turn to the point of view of the boards. Public or private boards of bigger or small companies, I’ve been a member of board of directors for 15 to 20 years. I’ve been chairman of public boards. I’ve been in charge of being board members of many public and private companies. I’ve been advisors to many boards.
The point of view of the boards are very interesting. They have to kind of lead by example and lead by advice to the CEO who works for the board. They, many times, are the ones who have to make very tough decisions about whether or not their company should “invent anything.” Should they be more inventive? Should they be more protective? And so, the board of directors of any company, has a set of mixed skills, usually a financial skill, and a technical skill, and a business skill, different points of view of the boards, but different board members have different points of view. And we’ll touch on that in the podcast as well.
Many of our clients, we get hired by board members, because they have a specific issue. And we’ll be talking about some of those specific issues of the board of directors.
Finally, let not us forget our friends, the attorneys. Most of my friends are attorneys; most of my friends are patent attorneys. What are patent attorneys and what do they do?
Well, we talk about them on the podcast as the difference between them being practicing law and developing contracts or licenses, or practicing in front of the patent office, or they attempt to win the hat of an IP strategist. It’s really not the practice of law, but they have to wear many hats and they have to, to their clients, whether they’re in the company or outside counsel, patent attorneys are the ones that, at the end of the day, are squarely responsible for, “Did I get that patent?” At the end of the day, they’re squarely responsible for, “Is that license something that I’m going to be able to collect on?”
They’re the ones that protect against not having declaratory judgement, for instance. They’re the ones that figure out how to construct the NDAs and not allow trade secrets to go out the door.
So, clearly, attorneys play a major role and we will keep those points of view in mind. So, from the worker, to the inventor, to the managers, to the executives, to the CEOs, and to the board members, and finally, to our attorneys, in this podcast series, we will keep those in mind. And some of the podcasts may be just about one of those points of view.
But as always, the focus of this podcast would be how to invent better, to invent anything and be successful at it.
As we’ve mentioned, IP comes in many forms all geared to stop others from copying you. In our constitution in the United States, we have the ability to have a patent to stop others from making, using, and selling your invention – if you have a patent in the United States. Well, that’s a negative right. It’s the only negative right that we have.
Intellectual property also comes in other forms, as I mentioned, how do we stop people from inventing on top of you, or in front of you? Also, intellectual property comes, finally, at the stage what is the process and strategy protect? As I mentioned the soldier, basically, who was really strong and powerful, a very strong patent. But then the process and the martial art can make him a better soldier. Well, a patent, if well written and has many different continuations could be like the martial artist. That you make the given invention strong by the processes of the invention.
And then, finally, we talked about the deceptive strategies to take that hill. Yet another strength of that soldier. So, what are our strategies and tactics to be able to make money from our inventions, to be able to stop others from really using our inventions?
Should we trade secret part and patent part of our invention? So, in the chance that the competitor could figure out the trade secret, they would land on our patent? But reading our patent, they wouldn’t exactly know the best way to do it. My patent attorney friends would probably say, “Hey, John. You really need to talk about best mode of invention.” Well, we can talk about that in another podcast but there are ways to trade secret part and patent part prior to coming up with the ultimate best mode which we’ll meet way down the line.
So, when we look forward next week, we’ll have a podcast introducing one of the fundamentals, creative thinking and associative thinking and how this type of thinking is used to help create invention instantly of high quality and without limit.
A word about this set of podcasts and why I’m excited about it and why I hope to bring this excitement to you. My whole life has been, as I mentioned as a child, taking things apart and interested in the human mind and how it works. My education has been about the duality of engineering and psychology, how the mind is engineered.
I remembered, very early in my career at IBM, when I first learned about creative thinking. It was as if someone had bestowed upon me a magic wand that allowed me to look inside my thinking to understand how I was creating invention.
I remember the story of just vacuuming in the living room which, by the way, is a rare occurrence for me, and I was working on a problem in the back of my mind. We’ve all been doing that. We’ve all done that. And as I started to vacuum the room, all of the sudden I had the flash of an idea, which I know we all have. So, I decided to do something which I had never done before. I shut off the vacuum cleaner and sat down on my steps looking at the vacuuming that I had just done and I said to myself I was just gonna sit on those stairs until I figured out how I came up with this idea.
As I started thinking about it, I started thinking about what was the last thing I was thinking about. What was the thing I was thinking about before that? And what was the thing I was thinking about before that? And finally, it was almost overwhelming when I recognized that the lines that I could see in the carpet caused by the vacuum cleaner were crisscrossing each other and then because I was working on a photo with the graphic mask technique, I thought about these masks crisscrossing each other and came up with what was called a phase shift mask, an improvement to a phase shift mask.
I asked myself where did that tool come from? I had never been trained to do this tool of looking at lines and to related that to a problem at hand and relate geometry to a problem at hand. As I was to discover for the rest of my life, you and I have many creative thinking tools. You don’t have labels for them. You may lean on three or four of those a lot during your life. But in exposing to you that there are hundreds if not thousands of creative thinking tools that can really add color and success and get you past any problem, that is the beginning podcast that we’re gonna hold next.
Invention and creativity can get you in and out of any situation.
And lastly, I’ll say to Invent Anything podcast listeners, that invention is fun. So, until next week, always keep in mind you can invent anything.