Feature Story

The Cisco Patentathon: An outlet for inventive ideas

by Kirsten Chiala

patentathon

See how the Patentathon helps accelerate innovative ideas in cutting-edge technology areas.

A dozen or so Cisco engineers are gathered on the third floor of San Jose's building 10. Some sit in clusters at tables, others at whiteboards, still more by themselves-deep in thought. One might think it's a normal workday, but the ideas being built in this space could become the next breakthrough innovation in the tech world.

It's the event one Cisco engineer said, "takes the pain out of patents"- otherwise known as the "Patentathon."  The event is an inventor's dream – it is specifically dedicated to invention, refinement, and documentation. Much like a hackathon, this event is a nimble, caffeine-driven, food and idea-filled brainstorm.

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Anyone who's been through submitting a patent knows the process can be lengthy. The Patentathon shrinks the timeline and increases the motivation for anyone who has an idea to submit.

How does it work?

Each Patentathon has a different focus area. Organizers circulate the tech themes to the engineering community with a basic problem they need to solve in that area.

The focus could be any number of technology buckets, like cloud, collaboration, machine learning/artificial intelligence, 5G or security.  Engineers then come up with novel ideas that solve real industry problems. They submit a brief invention disclosure, and if it's approved, they are invited to further develop, document, and defend their invention. During the Patentathon, engineers meet with a judging committee face-to-face to challenge and test the merits of their idea, and then they get immediate feedback. That replaces a much longer traditional process of back-and-forth emails.

"The typical patent process can take a lot of time, but this event helps us validate our ideas very quickly on cutting-edge technologies" "The typical patent process can take a lot of time, but this event helps us validate our ideas very quickly on cutting-edge technologies," says Selvaraj Mani, a technical software engineering lead.

Engineers lead future innovation

David Maluf, a Cisco Distinguished Engineer, has been a Patentathon reviewer for four years. He says this process empowers engineers with a sense of belonging and contributing to the future innovation of the company. "Innovation is driven simply by thinking. Thinking about a problem, and how to circumvent it. The Patentathon becomes a medium to collect those ideas in an organized fashion giving inventors a chance to think outside their daily scope."

Innovation is driven simply by thinking. Thinking about a problem, and how to circumvent it. The Patentathon becomes a medium to collect those ideas.

David Maluf, Cisco Distinguished Engineer/Patentathon Reviewer

Engineer Santosh Patil says the process is very motivating. He's attended five Patentathons in the last nine months.

He says the event brings together different groups of engineers. "The Patentathon provides an opportunity to sit down with another business unit and work through a problem or an idea," says Patil.

Despite the high volume of submissions from these events, less than 20% become patent approvals. These are in addition to Cisco's regular-track patent submission process.

Krishna Pathiyal, head of patent development and strategy, who has led the development of the Patentathon platform says, "Engagement with our engineering clients has tremendously improved and we are encouraged by the breadth and scope of the inventions in key tech areas."

The Patentathon not only provides a creative and speedy outlet for engineer's ideas, it's also a winning proposition for Cisco. The event is one of several legal innovations that help the company accelerate its harvesting of intellectual property in cutting-edge technology areas and stay ahead of the competition.

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