At the recent Personalized Imaging Global Town Meeting, Dennis Olbrich recognized one of the Kodak Alaris team members for achieving the milestone of acquiring his 200th United States Patent. Joe Manico was surprised at the attention he received at the start of the meeting and was quoted as saying, “I had no idea, I’m just glad that I got to the meeting on time”. Joe joined PI in November of 2012 as a Patent Engineer, but he has had a long history of innovation and intellectual property that started back in 1975. Since then, Joe has come up with creative inventions and has acquired patents in areas of technology including; digital imaging, film and digital cameras, innovative digital displays, printers, and print finishing systems.
I asked Joe a few questions about being a Patent Engineer…
Q: What is your background, your schooling for instance? How does one become a Patent Engineer?
A: “I have taken a very unconventional path and do not recommend it, to quote my High School Guidance Counselor after she learned that I had won a NYS Regents’ Scholarship, “We never thought you were slow or anything but we never expected this?” I didn’t expect it either. I was more interested in making rockets and models than school, except for the chemistry and physics labs. I got lucky; over the years I’ve had a lot of different jobs in research and development which exposed me to some brilliant mentors, all kinds of new technologies, and engineering and scientific techniques and procedures. These experiences provided me many opportunities to solve problems and to be creative. It helped working in environments where there was more interest in the right solution than the right process or credentials. I’ve always been drawn to work that involves innovation and creativity, and when that work involves technology that leads to intellectual property.”
Q: You must constantly be writing on the back of napkins or waking up in the middle of the night with ideas. What best practices do you have for maintaining focus, organization and process?
A: “Yes, many scraps of paper. It’s critical to always write it down. In whatever your preferred form, paper or digital, make a sketch, write a few sentences, anything to document the idea, even if at the time sounds funny or seems impractical. The next step is to refine or expand the original scraps of paper or digital note into a more formal format. For inventions, a simplified ‘Patent Application’ format works well for me; title, date, a brief abstract, and a few annotated sketches. For product concepts, I like the ‘Print Ad’ format, which gives you one page to communicate the features and benefits of your idea to a potential customer. What’s nice about these forms of documentation is that they can help convey your ideas to a broader audience and by using these slightly more rigid formats it forces you to really think about your idea and solve potential problems with it or think about alternative approaches. The same thing goes for a simple print ad; it forces you to think about it. If you do this enough it becomes a habit. As far as organization my natural way of thinking is to ‘compartmentalize’. Everything related to an idea goes in the same labeled mental, hardcopy, and/or digital folder.
Q: Do you ever get “inventor’s block”, like “writer’s block”? After 200 patents, how do you keep coming up with fresh ideas?
A: “I wouldn’t call it a block, but sometimes you know there is a better solution that you just haven’t thought of yet. All patents are solutions to problems. If you like to think about problems you will have ideas. The more you focus on a specific problem the more ideas you will have on how to solve it. It’s about picking right problem to focus on. The real key for me when managing your own ideas, or problem solutions, is to embrace and discard with the same enthusiasm. If you are working on a problem, dump an idea as soon as you think of a better one. It’s hard and counter-intuitive, but don’t get emotionally attached to your ideas. It will help you have more ideas.”
Q: How does your team support one another in what would seem like a competitive environment?
A: “That’s a great question. A diverse team can analyze a problem from many different perspectives and provides broader set of potential solutions. If the team has a mutually agreed upon objective and includes many different disciplines and skills then your chances of success really increase. We are fortunate to work in an environment where people are more than willing to share their ideas and opinions. I think people realize that the more we work together the more we all will succeed.”
Q: Why are patents important to a company like Kodak Alaris?
A: “Generally speaking, patents are important to any company involved in innovation that leads to new products and services. Companies need to protect their efforts and investments in research and development and patents provide that protection.”
Q: Do you think you will make it to 300 patents?
A: “Well, if I do I’ll make it to Wikipedia, that’s their prolific inventor threshold. I don’t really have numeric goals like that; I get satisfaction out of the process. I like to invent things, file patents, and see inventions in products. But, just like with cats; they chase things, they kill things, and they eat things but each of these activities provides its own rewards or there would be no multi-billion dollar cat toy industry. You have to learn that every idea will not become a patent or make it to the market, but you can’t win if you don’t play.”
Q: If you weren’t a Patent Engineer at Kodak Alaris what do you think you would be doing?
A: “I’m not sure but I think it would involve working on inventions in some form. I’ve always liked making things, drawing, and writing but my current role provides the resources and opportunities that are very rare to come by so I really appreciate the work and do my best to make the most of it.”