When Teamwork is the Mother of Invention

By Pramodh Narayan
Pramodh Narayan, Mobile Architect, IBM Global Business Services
Pramodh Narayan, Mobile Architect, IBM Global Business Services

“None of us is as smart as all of us.”  – Japanese proverb

Working remotely is more popular than ever. Some people even joke that IBM stands for “I’m by myself.” While there certainly are times – such as our frequent Illinois winter storms – for working from home, there’s no substitute for the power of teamwork when it comes to innovation.

The value of teamwork became clear to me growing up in India. My father (a civil engineer), my brother (a mechanical engineer) and the family always thought about ways of harnessing the power of a computer (without actually seeing one). From this early interest instilled as a youngster, I pursued a career in technology, eventually receiving my masters in Industrial Manufacturing Systems from Wayne State University in Detroit. I joined IBM in 2001 after developing knowledge-based engineering CAD/CAM systems for automotive companies.

In 2007, five of my IBM colleagues and I were in Herndon, Virginia working on a client project. We regularly met for dinners, either preparing for our meeting with the client, or discussing new thoughts and inventions. At one such dinner, we started talking about how there was a need for telecommunication companies to build a system for metering visually rendered services such as movies, videos and games across multiple devices (smartphones, PCs, etc.). This was at the advent of 4G (WiMax) and smartphones, IP multimedia sub-systems (IMS), and also triple and quad-play businesses in the telecommunication industry that rely heavily on billing systems to operate.

During dinner we shared ideas and passed around notes and diagrams literally scribbled on napkins, building on each other’s ideas. Not long after, we worked with our management and IBM’s intellectual property attorneys to prepare an invention submission. About a year later, IBM submitted our invention for a patent.  This past September, more than five years later, my colleagues and I were awarded U.S. Patent #8,543,088.

Our invention works for mobile multimedia devices (such as gaming systems) similarly to how one buys gasoline at a self-service station. You can pay cash or debit to be pre-authorized for a specific amount. When you reach that amount, the pump will turn off.  Or you can pay by credit.  They may ask for information (such as your zip code) for authentication purposes and allow you to charge up to your credit limit.  That’s what our invention does – and more – for multiple mobile devices that require the use of metered multi-media data capabilities.

There are two signaling protocols that drive most of the communications in IMS networks: Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and Diameter.  SIP has been the industry standard for message signaling in real-time communications such as voice over IP (VoIP) and videoconferencing sessions.  Diameter is an authentication, authorization, and accounting protocol that evolved from and replaced the Radius standard protocol.  But up until now, Diameter has been unable to support these functions on a mobile network.

It doesn’t surprise me one bit that the vast majority of IBM’s 6,809 U.S. patents in 2013 were awarded to two or more people.  That’s because teamwork is key to IBM’s success. After all, as 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey team coach Herb Brooks said in the movie Miracle, the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back.

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This blog originally published on asmarterplanet.com

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