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In IT, Change, Innovation and Invention Are Not the Same Thing

Joseph Gulla starts a new series on change, innovation and invention involving the use of IT.

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This week, I’m starting a new series on change, innovation and invention involving the use of IT. First, I’ll consider our current situation, which could be characterized as ongoing change and transformation. Then, as the discussion develops, I’ll explore emerging subject areas and technologies in different industries like banking and manufacturing.

The Context for Innovation

I write about innovation because the topic is most interesting and impactful. However, it’s necessary to write about change and invention as well. Innovation is mainly a positive activity that can be uplifting to individuals and society. Earlier this year, I attended a conference where one of the main themes was IT and healthcare. Innovation was a focus in just about all of the medical presentations. In one presentation, “The Influence of Technology on Medical Education and Healthcare,” many innovations were explained by a panel, including a movement analysis lab with IT devices, software used to perform eye exams that completely transforms the method, teaching anatomy using cutting edge manikins, and technology “on the go” using smartphones and sensor devices for procedures like ultrasound exams. Everywhere, the linkage of healthcare leveraging new aspects of IT was positive. These innovations were good for society or at least had great potential to improve healthcare outcomes.
With this innovation comes change. Medical practitioners who make use of the innovative use of IT with medicine should prosper. They should be the future of the discipline, assuming that the linkages prove useful. What about the providers who don’t embrace this innovation? Will they lose their jobs or be out competed by others who embrace this new way? What has happened to cab owners and drivers in NYC? It has been observed that the value of medallions has dropped from a peak in 2013 of $1.3 million to around $200K in 2018. This change in value has resulted from innovative ride-sharing companies competing in the same space as the traditional cabs.

What About Invention?

Invention is different than change that results from innovation. Inventions are things, for example, processes or devices that are made and often protected with patents. A patent is a form of intellectual property that gives its owner the legal right to exclude others from making, using, selling and importing an invention for a limited period of years, in exchange for publishing an enabling public disclosure of the invention.
Why patent an invention? There are a variety of reasons to do this. You might patent an invention with the intent to license it to make money. According to The Intellectual Property Center, IBM made $1.2 billion in revenue as a result of its intellectual property licensing. Apart from revenue, you may be motivated to patent an invention for the ability to protect your right against illegal use of the invention in court.
You also might encourage the patenting of inventions as part of your corporate culture. This is true of many companies. However, IBM has a long history of patent leadership. Based on data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, IBM was granted 9,088 patents in 2018, the 26th consecutive year it has topped America's patent league. IBM focused on the fields of artificial intelligence, cloud computing, security and quantum computing-related patent grants exhibiting leadership in all of these areas and showing off the prowess of its employees and teams.
In IBM’s case, the patents generate licensing revenue, provide the ability to defend the intellectual property in court and are part of the culture of the company. After all, IBM's Research division is a vast organization, spanning 12 labs and 3,000 researchers over six continents. It has earned more Nobel prizes than most countries. Doesn’t it make sense to identify and harvest the inventions of this community to protect its intellectual property and gather its potential for additional revenue in the future?

Next Week  

Next week, I’ll move forward with this series on innovation and IT by exploring select industries, such as manufacturing, agriculture, finance, mining and education. Next week, I’ll start with banking and insurance.
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