“The role of IBM Master Inventor is both an honor and an important responsibility reserved for leading inventors in our company whose talents, insights and contributions are not only exemplary, but critical for IBM’s continued leadership and growth in Intellectual Property.”
Innovations that lead to lasting solutions
By Steven Lingafelt
I am Steven Lingafelt and I am a Master Inventor at IBM. I have been inventing since I was a young boy, which I guess, is part of the reason I became an engineer. There are many roles and jobs for engineers in many different work environments and I was fortunate to have been selected to work at IBM. Over the years, I have enjoyed working in a variety of jobs, ranging from computer performance analytics, hardware development, people management, to, most recently cyber security.
One advantage derived from IBM’s scope of business is that you can move between vastly different organizations (as if you had moved from one company to another) while retaining the benefits of staying within the same company (such as your formal and informal network, etc.). I have used this to my advantage in the invention space, as ideas and approaches within one part of IBM can be modified and applied anew to problems in a different part of IBM.
I think of myself as primarily an engineer – solving problems, and in the course of problem solving, some of the ideas are novel, never before created. I am fortunate that IBM has provided a method to express my inventive creativity by submission of patents. I currently have about 135 patents. IBM provides a small award for patents submitted and over the years, I have used the extra money for various family vacations.
Because, as I have moved from organization to organization seeking interesting jobs and opportunities, each area being significantly different than other areas, the subjects of my patents vary broadly. One of my first patents described a method to determine the loading of a Local Area Network (LAN), which came as a result of inventing a new tool for the product development team in their testing of an IBM product. Later, I helped create a collection of patents which are applied to semi-conductor chips, as we integrated multiple different functions onto the same chip. After choosing to move from a network hardware development team into cyber security, I helped create a number of patents for a wide variety of inventions which improved the security of our products or services.
An important aspect of inventing at IBM is that invention and innovation are very rarely, solely a single person’s efforts. Problems are complex and often require collaboration to solve. I have found that patenting ideas is similar; a person is more effective if they are part of an invention team. All of my patents are joint with other IBMers. Working as part of a team has many advantages, but I consider the opportunity to work with pleasant, smart people, collectively working to describe a novel idea to be one of the highlights of my day.
Over the years, I have taught classes on how to invent and I have both led and have been a member of invention teams and today I am a member of several invention teams. These teams meet periodically and brainstorm ideas or work on specific problem areas. After the idea is committed to “paper”, it is reviewed by a peer team and IBM patent attorneys. If the idea has merit as a patent for IBM, it moves through several processing steps, and typically resulting in the filing of a patent application by IBM, with notation of the inventors’ names. Thus, if you google my name, you will see some of my patents.
At IBM, participation in the patent process is a way to express your creativity, which results in minor fame (you can tell your friends and relatives you have a patent) and additional compensation. Participation is voluntary, but to encourage participation, one can take classes on “how to invent” and mentors are available for both one-on-one and group sessions. I typically mentor about half a dozen people at any one time. I have found that even if people do not think of themselves as inventors creating patents, almost all people are. They just need a little help in articulating their creativeness into a standard form (call a patent application). IBM is in the business of innovation, so it stands ready to help you take this step.
Steven Lingafelt is a Senior Technical Staff Member at IBM.
The IBM Master Inventor series is a collection of articles that describes an IBM Master inventor, the many ways IBM supports these inventors, the motivation behind their inventions and patents and also advice and guidance for buddy inventors who may be looking at IBM for their careers. Stay tuned as we bring to you the experiences of these unique talents at IBM.
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