My Innovation Journey, So Far

By Lisa Seacat DeLuca
Lisa Seacat DeLuca, IBM Master Inventor
Lisa Seacat DeLuca, IBM Master Inventor

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.http://1.usa.gov/1dkgzQ9

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, www.lisaseacat.com.

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