If you think of a prolific inventor, names like Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla come to mind. A quick Google search will provide you a Wikipedia page listing inventors with more than 200 patents –Shunpei Yamazaki currently leads the list with 5,707 utility patents.
If you look closely at the list, you will find Steve Simske, a professor in systems engineering with 203 utility patents to his name.
Simske attributes much of his success with patents to luck and the team he worked with.
“First off, HP had lots of really smart engineers that I could work with,” Simske said. “And second off, HP doesn’t assert their patents.”
Asserting a patent refers to the process of identifying someone else using the intellectual property without properly compensating the patentor and taking legal action to obtain proper compensation. In Simske’s experience, HP typically cross-licensed their patents with other companies, enabling both companies to use the patent without legal consequences. This cross-licensing facilitated increased collaboration between companies.
Collaboration on an array of patents
Simske’s first patent, “Click and select user interface for document scanning,” was co-invented alongside Jeffrey Lee and Patricia Lopez and patented in 1998. The patented technology segments an image using artificial intelligence, allowing a person to scan in a document and click on parts of the document they want to extract. Today, this technology may seem familiar, but in 1998, Simske’s patent was one of the first technologies of its kind.
Simske’s patents are as diverse as his research interests, involving many forms of technology – ranging from security printing to life sciences to illicit trade prevention.
His research, and subsequent patents, on brand protection and anti-counterfeiting for HP products resulted in an invitation to, and involvement with the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Councils from 2010-2016. He participated in councils on illicit trade, illicit economy, and the future of electronics.
Simske’s 203rd patent, “Hybrid memory devices,” was co-invented with Ning Ge and George David. This patent details a means of storing information in memory, varying either a short time or a long time using only slight alterations in the manufacturing process.
Engineering patent processes
Simske describes the process of working on a patent as the reverse of other engineering projects.
“First, I start with where I want to get,” he said. “I start with a logic model and work backwards from there.”
He will also try to find ways to increase robustness by making two or more systems work together. For Simske, perhaps the most crucial component in the patenting process is the team you work with.
“You want to work with a team of people that are smarter than you,” Simske said. “Look for the unique brilliance in someone and learn from it.”