From gatekeeper to gateway: Pure Storage patent team continues to redefine inclusive innovation
The Pure Storage patent team is continually re-evaluating what inclusive innovation means for our company. In-house patent groups at other companies are often viewed as innovation gatekeepers whose sole purpose is to handle the legal proceedings for fully formed patents and trademarks.
The Pure patent team, on the other hand, is viewed as an innovation gateway: a space where innovators from all areas of the company can bring ideas and inventions as well as their "A-HA" moments, half-baked cocktail napkin drawings, "what if" thoughts, and "is this a good idea" questions.
The dots have rules
An invention is a dot. Inventors create solutions to specific challenges and future opportunities, typically within their general area of focus, and the term "inventor" is defined by patent offices as "[I]ndividuals collectively who invented or discovered the subject matter of the invention". But the scope of inventorship narrows from there. Being an inventor has many rules.
An innovation is the connection of many dots. Innovators encompass a much larger, more inclusive category of creative and transformative thinkers. Innovators stand far enough away from a problem that they can see how it affects the masses, not just those who may be targeted by inventions; they extend their vision to inclusion, empowerment, and accessibility for all. Being an innovator has very few rules.
Pure Internal Innovation pilot programme
How did the Pure patent team evolve from gatekeeper to gateway? Simple: by creating a new category. It’s called Pure Internal Innovation or PI2 (Pi squared because there are infinite possibilities to innovate). The programme plan is simple; anyone in the company can submit an idea through our Pure IDEAS portal. It’s the same channel as submitting an invention disclosure. At intake, we categorise PI2 ideas and then we act as a bridge between idea and implementation. We connect siloed teams with others, we do outreach to untapped potential innovator pools, we help nurture ideas, we help find a path forward for those patentable ideas which we may have never received otherwise, we strip away preconceived rules of engagement, and we invite everyone to join us on the journey.
We are continuously rolling out the PI2 programme to our businesses through a variety of ways, such as business all-hands, brainstorm sessions, small team meetings, and virtual roadshows. We focus the PI2 programme on innovators because being a named inventor on a patent application is but one step in the innovation process. However, if we cultivate and inspire an innovation mindset, we can empower underrepresented individual contributors and non-technical teams to be innovators in their field, regardless of their area of expertise, tenure or experience.
Connecting the dots with PI2 innovation
One exciting example from the programme came from a genuinely untapped company area. In January 2023, the Pure patent team officially launched the PI2 programme during a visit to our Technical Services offices in Lehi, Utah - an office the team had not previously visited. A few weeks later, one of the general project managers who we met with sent a Slack message. The conversation went like this:
Slack message transcript
Jennifer Asplund So….I don’t know if this is in your wheelhouse. Can I send you an idea I had over the weekend and you can tell me if I’m nuts? I thought, “The only person I can think to send it to is Coz” but that’s terrifying. And then I remembered you and your presentation in Lehi!
Frances Winkler YES! Send me your crazy ideas!! We LOVE CRAZY!
Jennifer Asplund OK, I’m going to run it past the lab guy to see if I even have the verbiage right and then I’ll send it to you. Should be this afternoon. I think it can be either revolutionary (which is HILARIOUS for a non-technical person) or the silliest idea ever. It may even already exist. I’ll keep you posted. (where’s that nail-biter emoji when you need it)
Frances Winkler Don't even worry about that kind of stuff we're here to help with that! but I get it.
Jennifer Asplund Email to you sent. Really it could be the dumbest thing in the world. (Look at me already second-guessing my decision.)
Frances Winkler IT"S NOT DUMB! I LOVE LOVE LOVE IT! This is how we all need to be thinking. How can we be more inclusive in our designs...it's the last thing that people consider, and it should be the first thing. Now...we just need to find the people who can do it!
Jennifer Asplund Oh, I’m so glad you feel that way. It just felt right. Yes, I’m hoping it could be a software update which would be much easier than having to change out anything.
Frances Winkler Exactly! All it takes is one person to speak up and we are including EVERYONE!
Jennifer Asplund Can you imagine how cool it will be if we can actually implement it? Wait - do I really qualify for one of the cool IDEAS pieces???
Frances Winkler Yup!
Jennifer Asplund OMG!!!!
The idea captures an accessibility inclusion opportunity that will be simple for an engineering team to design into a system. It is the kind of elegant solution that is sometimes not considered during first-line technical implementation, largely because it is not an industry standard.
Although not patentable, we took the idea to our monthly Patent Review Board meeting to get a technical perspective and showcase PI2 ideas. The PRB unanimously considered it a clever idea that should be implemented. We forwarded the idea to the Engineering Manager for Systems Enablement, and implementation is now on the product roadmap!
This flagship example is why we need more inclusive innovation programs. We had five previously untapped innovators devise a solution for a customer with a very common disability. Not one of these individuals had ever considered participating in the Pure patent programme. But having recently been made aware of the new category, they felt they had a hotline to something new, a space where their ideas could be shared. This speaks volumes for creating patent programmes that welcome and value all innovative ideas.
A solid case for an open innovation category
Since the launch of the PI2 programme, we have seen an uptick in participation by underrepresented innovators (mainly women) from untapped areas of the company. Therefore, we must conclude that we have provided something that was previously lacking.
By simply adding an open innovation disclosure category (PI2) and encouraging employees at all levels to participate, we have created a bridge for tentative innovators. By removing any high-bar stigma that patent/inventor may carry, we effectively opened an entirely new avenue for those who have never considered participating in a more rigid patent programme.
A bridge to inclusive innovation
While cultivating patents is the ultimate goal, for us at Pure there is absolutely no risk in building bridges for all innovators. Whether or not an idea is patentable becomes secondary to the process that fosters the innovation mindset that is so vital to our businesses.
This bridge can open an entirely new mindset and recognition opportunity for those who have never considered participating in an otherwise technology categorised patent program. This is how we innovate at Pure.
Inclusivity Insights is a regular feature in which companies share stories, learnings, and experiences of their D&I journey related to IP and innovation with the IAM audience. Previous articles in the series: