I just saw this post from Korby Parnell about getting the famous Microsoft "Patent Cube". As Korby mentioned, I too received a Cube. He even referred to me as his "co-conspirator"--I think I like that term and I've certainly been called worse. 🙂 Korby also mentioned that we also get a copy of the front page of the patent on a wooden plaque. Wow, I didn't know about that part. What a cool idea, although we will have to wait until 2009.
Getting a patent has certainly been a highlight of my Microsoft career. I think the part that makes this special is that in a big company, sometimes it's hard to be recognized for having a good idea. Microsoft said thank you with a few extra bucks in the bank account and the Cube. Honestly, I think I'll probably treasure the Cube more. It's a permanent symbol that represents a moment of inspiration that lasts a lot longer than the money (but for the record, I'll keep the cash too!). When I was at Intel, I got two patents and I've always been very proud of them. In fact, if you are ever REALLY bored, feel free to check out my work here and here (although I left the company before I got any commemorative schwag to stick in my office like a cube). Alas, those were the days when my programmer skills were worth something and I could code x86 Assembly and C with the best of them (second time this month I sound like Grandpa talking about the old days). I think the other great part of the Microsoft patent is that the idea wasn't something that we were required to come up with. It was a cool brainstorming session on my whiteboard in my old office that turned out to be a nifty idea (and the Microsoft patent people agreed). I know Google brags about the 20% innovation-time thing, but Korby and I didn't have that. We just got on a roll and proceeded to throw everything else aside for a short time while we hashed this out (though Korby certainly deserves the main part of the credit as he put most of the meat on the bones of the idea). Microsoft may not provide the official time for that, but they certainly provide the environment and the smart people. When you have that, you often do what you can to find the time (and then apologize to your spouse later for getting home so late).
Of course, the long-standing debate about patents is something I admit I haven't comeup with a well-formed opinion on (and Korby touched on this in his post). When people are protecting their inventions, I think I understand why it is necessary. After all, should software be under any different rules than semiconductors or pharmaceuticals (many open source people might say yes). But when I hear stories of law firms buying up patents for the intent of putting big companies in a position to that suffered by RIM a few months ago, I get worried that the industry will be held hostage by attorneys looking for extortion opportunities. I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV, so I can't begin to understand where that is really heading. What I can say is that corporate innovation is often measured by the number of patents filed and I'm glad I could put one on the board for the good guys (yes, we are the "good guys" 🙂 ).