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From Dragon’s Den to Master Inventor

As a child, inspired by the TV show Dragon’s Den, I created a Book of Inventions. These included a vacuum cleaner with a ride-on seat for a toddler, a wooden travel cot that folded up incredibly small, and ‘unique’ designs for high heels. I’d forgotten about the book until I received the title of Master Inventor at IBM. This is given to inventors who are prolific, strive to innovate, and who mentor and encourage others to do the same.

I’ve always had a passion for wanting to come up with new ideas and I don’t think I’m in the minority in that. Many people with STEM backgrounds and engineering skills are good at tinkering with things, are curious about how things work, and progress to making their own things. I’m fortunate in that part of my job allows me to think up new ideas and submit them to the patent office. But that passion for innovation isn’t only relevant to patents: thinking outside of the box in everything you do can lead (sometimes) to amazing advancements in technology, and is a culture we should all embrace.

I currently hold 15 patents and they vary a bit! I have patents to do with user interfaces, augmented reality (AR), authentication and social media. As you probably already know, a patent is a set of exclusive rights that are granted to an inventor for a set period of time, often 20 years, in exchange for a detailed public disclosure of the invention. For an idea to be patentable it needs to satisfy three key criteria:

  1. It must be novel (new) – not disclosed anywhere before, no-one else has done this.
  2. Operable (useful) – can someone take your patent, build it, and it work?
  3. Non-obvious (inventive) – different to what someone ‘skilled-in-the-art’ would think of.

One of my favourite patents concerns AR. If you imagine wearing an AR headset, like Google Glass or Microsoft HoloLens, you can see the world like normal through the glasses, but with additional overlays on the screen. These overlays might get in the way of your view, so we patented a method where the glasses would calculate your focal length to determine if you were trying to look at the overlay, or if you are trying to look through the overlay. If you’re trying to look past it, then the transparency of the overlay is increased so that it isn’t in your way.

Being a Master Inventor is, however, about far more than having patents. It’s about mentoring others, running innovation events, reviewing patent ideas, and encouraging innovation in day-to-day life.

So how does this connect with what I do with GSE UK? Well, I’m chair of the New Technologies stream at the GSE UK annual conference. I have a passion for new and emerging technology and I’m always keen to learn more. The New Technologies stream mostly covers new developments within the mainframe world but isn’t limited to that. I also think it’s super important for us to continue learning things outside of our immediate day jobs – and it’s great fun to simply learn about new tech.

In the past we’ve had presentations covering, among many other areas, 3D printing, running MVS on a Raspberry Pi, and about the remarkable Mayflower fully autonomous ship. I can’t wait for the 2021 conference this November, Virtually the best way to learn about Z. If you have any ideas or suggestions for presentations at this year’s virtual conference, please get in touch.

In my next blog, I’ll look at software engineering and ‘the big debate’ around software patents, I’ll attempt to explain how I come up with new ideas, and why it’s important to learn about things that aren’t necessarily related to our day job.

Sophie Green is a CICS Explorer Software Developer and Master Inventor at IBM. She is also chair of the New Technologies stream at the GSE UK annual conference. Sophie writes here in a personal capacity: all views expressed are her own and not necessarily those of IBM and GSE UK.

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