Opinions and Editorials

Jan. 13, 2021

Fortune: How Patents Help Us Invent The Future by Dario Gil

I remember my first IBM patent.

Granted to my colleagues and myself in 2005, it was for a topcoat waterproof material for a photoresist—a light-sensitive substance used to make circuit patterns for semiconductor chips. It was a proud moment for me—especially because I knew that this patent contained novel capabilities that were critical for a brand-new technology called immersion lithography. This technology soon became the basis for how all advanced chips are manufactured, even to this day.

A patent is evidence of an invention, protecting it through legal documentation and, importantly, published for all to read. We scientists and engineers, at IBM and elsewhere, are actively planting the research seeds for the bleeding-edge technological world of tomorrow. At my company, our most recent patents span artificial intelligence (A.I.), the hybrid cloud, cybersecurity, and quantum computing. It doesn’t get more future-looking than this.

The U.S. patent system goes back to the very dawn of our nation. It is detailed in the Constitution, enabling the Congress to grant inventors the exclusive right to their discoveries for a specific period of time. It is an assurance designed to motivate inventors to keep innovating.

One might argue against having patents that don’t immediately get turned into commercial products. But I disagree. Inventing something is similar to putting forward a well thought out theory that may, one day, be verified experimentally. Perhaps it won’t be put to use straight away, but it’s still vital to have theories to enhance our overall understanding of a field and to keep progress going. Having future-looking patents is just as important as having those aimed at products of today, and a broad portfolio of scientific advances always ends up contributing to waves of innovation.