Critical elements for becoming a successful inventor

IBM Master Inventor Series


“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.”

— Bluepedia

 Critical elements for becoming a successful inventor

By Brent Hodges

Growing up I helped my dad build some kits, which for their time, were relatively sophisticated audio components.  I’ve always had a fascination for how things work.  More recently I’ve begun to wonder why things work the way they do.

My first invention

In 2007, to demonstrate the value of adopting software development practices, I created an Early Defect Removal Model.  Several people who saw it encouraged me to patent the idea.  While the thought was intriguing, the process was overwhelming.  But I decided to take it on.  It took me months of calendar time and weeks of clock time.  In retrospect, the mistake I made was doing it alone.

Joining an invention team

Five years later, as part of a monthly internal education session where the excitement of patenting was presented, John Moore (an IBM Master Invertor) gave an overview of patenting and made an appeal for those listening to join an invention circle; typically, a group of four people who meet once a week for 30 to 60 minutes to discuss ideas for solving a problem with a novel idea.  That same day I contacted John and he invited me to join a new invention circle he had just formed.  His explanation of the inventing process turned my multi-month ordeal into a multi-day collaboration with three new colleagues, who are now my friends.

What is this simplified process?  Keep your mind open to recognize a problem without an obvious solution.  Do a 30-minute search to see if someone has already patented your idea.  If not, then write-up your idea; describe what problem your invention solves, what is novel and how it could work (you don’t even have to build it).

Why do I invent?

Of course, there is a certain level of prestige, it will clearly elevate your technical eminence, it will challenge you, but most of all, for me, it’s fun. It’s fun because of the people I work with in our invention circle.  I discovered many years ago that most jobs are people jobs.  I used to think to be a successful software engineer require significant skill and experience.  And it does.  But to be truly successful requires an equal mixture of interpersonal skills – with your agile squad, your extended colleagues, and your management.  Inventing, too, is a people job.

Want to work with other inventors?

I’ve been fortunate to be a member of an invention circle with John Moore, Greg Boss and Tamer Abuelsaad; all Master Inventors.  Often in a matter of minutes, a thought bounced among the team members results in a novel, patentable idea.  Listening to the exchange of ideas you can almost feel the invention emerging directly from our thoughts.


John also introduced me to John Cohn, an IBM Fellow and self-described Distinguished Agitator, who joined our invention circle to invent and patent an Anonymous Notification Message Generator.  John Moore taught me to look for troubling situations; there’s often an invention hidden in a poorly defined or executed process.  Tamer taught me the value of including a diagram or flowchart to demonstrate how the invention could work; it also helps you crystalize your thinking.  Greg taught me to record every idea; no matter how sure you are you’ll remember it, writing it down or saving a voice memo guarantees it.

In addition to introducing me to a greatly simplified inventing process, inviting me to join an invention circle with three Master Inventors, John has also been my mentor.  This is another critical element for becoming a successful inventor.

Want to be an inventor?

It’s easy.  Join an invention circle, find a mentor, embrace what bothers you, discover the hidden invention, then seek out someone else to mentor.  Come join us.

Brent Hodges is a Client Advocacy Program Manager at IBM.

The IBM Master Inventor series is a collection of articles that uncovers what it’s like to be an IBM Master inventor.  In this series, find out more about the many ways IBM supports these inventors, the motivation behind their inventions and patents and also advice and guidance for budding inventors who may be looking at IBM for their careers. Stay tuned as we bring you the experiences of these unique talents at IBM.

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One thought

  1. Brent, I was also appointed a Master Inventor so I know how much effort you put into becoming one. I also know John Cohn! It’s so rewarding when you get that first patent certificate! I actually never intended to file more than one, but somehow it happened. I can think of worse habits than inventing! Hopefully if I come back to IBM I can resume from where I left off.

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