This post comes from Brian Saffer at the Infragistics blog.
A software developer’s ideal goal in their career is to create something that will forever change the technology industry; something so significant that even several generations down the road, people will still be discussing its importance. A common issue with this is that there is no guaranteed way to predict what is going to be invented next. Developers usually have a minimal idea of what the “next big thing” will be, and thus, have little to no idea on how to prepare themselves for this. This may seem impossible to avoid; however, a workaround exists and can be found with just a quick Google search for patent applications.
Inventors must submit a claim to protect their idea called a ‘patent application’, which prevents their work from being stolen by others. As a result of this process, Google has taken the luxury of creating a colossal database containing millions of patent applications from around the world. Each entry contains a plethora of details regarding what the final product will be and specifications of how it will work. In most applications, images are even provided to give viewers a more concrete understanding of the concepts presented. The best part is that this patent application database is open for public viewing. So, what does this mean for developers?
Despite a patent application being nothing more than a mere premature sketch of a final product, these documents can actually be used to predict upcoming niches in the technology industry, even if they often fall short of evolving into an actual invention. For example, a developer working with financial software who thoroughly examines the Google Patent Search may find an application for a new version of an operating system on the rise. That same developer can then use this knowledge to both ensure that his software is compatible with what is already on the market and also be prepared for future operating systems before they actually launch.
Another example of the sheer predictability patents may provide can be observed with Apple’s much rumored “iWatch”. Apple recently submitted a patent for “flexible batteries” which fit perfectly into something roughly the size of a watch. The same company has also submitted patents for similar parts of a watch in the past, such as a wrist band. While Apple has never publicly announced the release of an “iWatch” and these patents are not direct proof of their newest invention, it certainly could be construed as "confirmation" for it. This simple, yet frequently overlooked method of getting ahead of the game may be the ideal solution to a developer's problem of frequently being caught unaware of future innovations that impact their products.