Empowered Employees Innovate
A few decades ago I was working as a software engineer at a casino gaming company. I had been tasked with helping to write the software for a game based on a popular rock n roll bad. The game had been designed by an outside company. My team's job was to simply write the software and follow the design as it was given to us.
When we put the first prototype of the game on the slot machine I looked at it, and said, "Wow, this just pays flat. In fact, it isn't even fun." My boss who had been standing nearby asked what I meant. I quickly broke out what I would have done had I been the game designer.
Wow, this just pays flat. In fact, it isn't even fun
Honestly, I figured my boss would just brush off the critique. After all, nearly every software engineer at a casino gaming company is some kind of an armchair game designer. However, my boss had a different reaction. His eyes grew wide. He replied, "Not only is that a good idea, it is patentable."
Not only is that a good idea, it is patentable.
It is important to point out that my boss was a well seasoned casino industry veteran. He grew up in Las Vegas. He knew slot machines inside and out. Not only was immensely knowledgeable, he served as an excellent mentor in all things casino gaming. One thing my boss always believed in: It is a game designer's job to champion the player experience. When he evaluated my idea, he felt I had done exactly that.
Shortly, my boss picked up his phone and began making calls. He contacted the head of the art department and requested that an artist be assigned to assist me in modifying the game. He then called the company mathematician to have the game's probability tables modified to reflect the modification. Lastly, he had the engineering team put together a scope of work. Within a few short hours, we had a plan in place.
By the end of the day, my little spark of innovation was now an officially sanctioned project, and on its way to becoming a reality. My boss had a fundamental belief that good ideas should be championed. A good idea, in this case a spark of innovation, would lead to a superior result for the customer. My boss empowered me to make the changes necessary to bring it over the finish line.
Within weeks the news version of the game was up on the slot machine. Everyone agreed that it not only played better, but resulted in a much better player experience. People from multiple departments stopped by to check out the new version of the game. From our observations we had captured lightning in a bottle.
But the story didn't stop there, my boss saw my idea as unique. He contacted the company attorney, and asked him to review the game. The next thing I knew, we were in a meeting discussing patent potential.
Not only did my boss champion the patent, for which I would be a primary inventor, he asked me to write the initial patent draft myself. He realized I wouldn't be taking the place of a patent attorney, but by writing an actual patent draft, I would be going through the entire exercise of how a patent is filed. It forced me to understand the patent process at a very deep level.
Patents can take many years to file and become an approved patent by the US Patent Office. Patents have to be examined, and compared against prior inventions. The patent office employs examiners to make sure what is patent is an actuality something new.
Both my boss and I ultimately left our employer. Years later he and I were reunited at another company. Our patent we filed seven years prior followed us to the new company! The new company purchased the patent portfolio of the prior company. Not only did I receive a patent incentive award from the new company, but my former boss and I were jointly nominated for patent of the year for our seven year old patent filing!
My old boss not only empowered my idea, but also helped empower by career. At the new company I was elected to the patent review committee. Which meant, I would be one of the people evaluating new innovations for patent potential, and helping the new company build out its innovation portfolio.
One single moment of employee empowerment lead to a new innovation and a superior product.
About Mark Ross
Mark holds multiple industry patents. He is currently the technical director at an iGaming company based out of Las Vegas. He is the author of books, technical whitepapers, and an accomplished film director as well. Linked In.