Thursday, May 30, 2013

GE Announces Partnership With Online Start-Up To Develop Patents

One of the more recent and inventive ways of getting around the old and insanely slow-moving bureaucracy that is the US Patent System has been Quirky.  An online startup created in 2009, Quirky is an ingenious form of crowdsourcing.  Anyone can submit an idea for a product, and their team creates an actual prototype.  In return, Quirky retains rights to the invention, as well as exclusivity with the inventor.

It's a model that's fledgling, but clearly one that major players have been paying attention to, specifically one of the oldest and most profitable major players, General Electric.

GE has announced that come May, it will be sending some of its "most promising" patents to Quirky for development, creating a partnership between an internet start-up and a manufacturing giant that, if it works, could certainly become the R&D-to-product model of the 21st century.

Although  these are going to be, literally, thousands of patents GE will be releasing to Quirky, this initial collaboration will mainly focus on three specific areas: optics, barrier coatings, and telematics.  GE hopes Quirky can develop its holographic storage technology for solutions in fingerprint scanning and medical optics.  With barrier coatings, GE is specifically focused on electronics, where its Ultra-High Barrier technology could one day lead to thinner laptop, tablet, and other electronic devices that are protected and cooled by thin-film encapsulation designs.  Finally, in the realm of telematics, further developments in existing technology could speed up tracking fleet software as well as improve vehicle navigation systems- the latter being very closely examined by automobile giants like Ford and Nissan for their recent pledge to incorporate automation into future vehicles.

Quirky’s Ben Kaufman (center) announces the partnership, with Mark Little (left) and Beth Comstock of GE.
This is not going to be the first time GE has partnered with Quirky, as they already have a track record of individual projects coming to fruition; one of the most successful was a "smart" milk container called the MilkMaid, which can detect when the milk it holds spoils.  GE also recently collaborated with Kaggle, an online service that provides data analytics to any research or project info a company wants scrutinized, in several medical and aviation projects.

This most recent announcement, however, signals a shift for GE, where individual "toe-dips" into opportunities with internet startups have now become full-fledged, long-term strategies.  Perhaps the best direct effect of all this?  Less patents sitting around collecting dust means less of a chance they're used only as bait in lawsuits and litigations against inventors trying to move them from idea to reality.  As founder and CEO of Quirky Ben Kaufman put it, "For years, patents have become widely misunderstood and misused. We are going to return patents to their original purpose to act as a blueprint for technological and societal progress while protecting inventors and becoming the source of inspiration for future creators.."

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

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