Insights from Software Architect Gary Michalek on Driving Patentable Innovation from Collaboration
Innovation flourishes in a culture where employees are encouraged to be creative and vocalize ideas. At Compuware, we’ve learned there are things you can do to help sustain this culture. One of the small, but important, ways we’re doing that is through our new Compuware IP wall, located in a main hallway near the front entrance of our Detroit headquarters.
The new IP wall displays all of Compuware’s mainframe software patents, which include a description of the products or utilities and their inventors’ names. The roughly 10-by-10-foot tabular installment of glass panels hung from wires strung between fasteners is too conspicuous to ignore when walking past. It’s a reminder to all that the company values employees’ ideas and wants to acknowledge them in a public way.
Why Mainframe Software Patents Are Valuable
“Compuware’s patents are tangible evidence of this company’s historic and ongoing commitment to the mainframe platform and our continuing investment in it. They are proof of our technical expertise and our commitment to enhancing our mainframe products as they continue to be essential to mission-critical applications across the planet,” Kiley LePage, Compuware Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary, said.
Patentable technology must be considered new, useful and non-obvious. These are also core tenets of innovation—and patents are a manifestation. Of course, patenting inventions isn’t easy, especially as the mainframe software patents space is becoming more crowded. The bar for innovation is higher than ever.
To motivate employees, Compuware uses a patent incentive program where inventors receive a financial reward for filing a mainframe software patent application and additional money upon the issuance of a patent grant. It’s an easy way to motivate employees to “reach the admirable goal of having a patent issued in their name,” LePage said. “It’s pride of ownership. If you’re a developer, that’s an incredibly high honor to have a patent issued in your name.”
Driving Patentable Innovation from Collaboration
One of those developers is Compuware software architect Gary Michalek. He was the brain behind Compuware’s Topaz Runtime Visualizer, which provides unprecedented visibility into the often-complex interactions between mainframe programs and internally is referred to as “Gary’s Awesome Idea.”
When asked if, after obtaining three mainframe software patents and driving Runtime Visualizer, he experienced a jolt of creativity that propelled him to generate innovative concepts, Michalek said his ideas originate from customers’ needs, internal technical obstacles to overcome, or searching for ways to make his job easier. All of his patents involved collaboration with fellow Compuware developers because, “After all,” he said, “software development is a team sport.”
For Michalek’s first patent, product manager Irene Ford presented a customer need to Michalek, who then designed a solution and developed some of the code. Senior software developer Ken Cauvin did most of the coding. Ford helped test the enhancement and verified it met the customer’s need.
For Michalek’s second patent, he worked closely with software developer Walter Falby to design and code a communication link between Compuware mainframe code (written in C and assembler) and Compuware’s File-AID Data Privacy code (written in Java). This invention was critical to the success of the first release of File-AID Data Privacy.
For Michalek’s third patent, Field Technical Support presented an especially difficult problem at a major Compuware customer site. At a high level, Michalek identified the algorithms and the pieces of information those algorithms required to solve the problem. Software developer Hesham Dean created a brilliant interface for the user to specify this information. An early version was shown to the customer and was met with enthusiastic feedback. Software architects Andrew Lipin and Barbara Szydlowski designed and wrote the object-oriented Java code to do the work.
Address a problem, collaborate, create the solution, determine whether the solution is patentable, repeat—Michalek said this is his process. At Compuware, we hope stories like this will be told with greater frequency as employees and visitors pass by the new Compuware IP wall.
There are several ways to drive innovation, and displaying a wall of mainframe software patents is only one small means of doing so. Then again, perhaps what seems like a small reminder of the innovative dynamism of both the colleagues with whom you work and the company of which you are a part isn’t so small after all.