GE-Quirky Deal Opens Tech Patents to Almost Everybody

Quirky's Ben Kaufman (center) announces the partnership, with Mark Little (left) and Beth Comstock of GE.

Quirky’s Ben Kaufman (center) announces the partnership, with Mark Little (left) and Beth Comstock of GE.

The inventors of the world are about to get access to the resources of a $245 billion industrial technology business.

General Electric today announced a partnership with the Manhattan-based product-development startup Quirky. It will open up a trove of more than 30,000 patents and technologies to Quirky’s crowdsourced collaborators. The goal is to create a co-branded line of app-enabled, connected devices that leverage industrial-grade technologies for use in the home in applications that help us manage our health, security, water, and air.

Announcing the partnership at Quirky’s Chelsea headquarters, 26-year-old founder Ben Kaufman said it would “return patents to their original purpose to act as a blueprint for technological and societal progress, while protecting inventors and becoming a source of inspiration for future creators.”

Kaufman’s company uses a Web-based collaborative platform to “make sure the best ideas in the world can find their way out of heads and into the people’s lives,” as he says. Quirky’s line of home and office products are currently sold at retailers including Target and Bed Bath & Beyond. Mobile-networked home products to come out of the Quirky-GE partnership will be co-branded Wink: Instantly Connected.

The deal is closely related to GE’s focus on the “Industrial Internet,” which the company’s Global Technology Director Bill Ruh wrote about recently for Techonomy. It aims to take industrial technology and make it useful for everyone, in every home.

Members of Quirky's design team work at the company's Manhattan office.

Members of Quirky’s design team work at the company’s Manhattan office.

GE Chief Marketing Officer Beth Comstock said at the announcement that incorporating industrial technology into the creation of devices for the home will enable everyday consumers to “feel what it’s like to connect to smart things.” For instance, Mark Little, GE’s SVP of Global Research, described how a device used to cool jet engines could be adapted, in a much-reduced package, to replace cooling fans on laptop computers. Other GE technologies that will be opened to Quirky creators include holographic storage technology for archiving large amounts of data; optics technology for rapid, high-resolution image capture; barrier coating technology that uses film encapsulation to protect electronic devices; and telematics and asset tracking technology for vehicle fleet tracking and navigation.

For the next week, anyone can submit ideas for the Wink line at Quirky.com/GE before an April 17 special product evaluation. Ideas selected in the first round will be developed with Quirky’s advanced prototyping technologies, including state-of-the-art 3D printers.

Kaufman, whose enthusiasm for inventing things was on display at last year’s Techonomy Detroit conference, described Wink as “one of the most exciting new categories in consumer products.” It’s a great example of what can happen when a corporate giant has the humility to work with a creative startup.

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