GE and crowdsourced innovation platform Quirky are teaming up to support and encourage the creation of connected devices for fleet management, health care and sustainability solutions that participate in the so-called "Internet of Things."
Under the new relationship, GE will make thousands of existing patents available to the Quirky product development community starting in May.
The two companies hope these technologies will serve as the foundation for next-generation smart appliances and consumer products -- co-branded under the Wink: Instantly Connected -- that can communicate status, updates or other data to smartphones or Web software dashboards.
The idea is to encourage innovation that builds on GE technology without fear of potential patent infringement or retribution akin to the ongoing conflict between Apple and Samsung over smartphone innovation.
"For years, patents have become widely misunderstood and misused. We are going to return patents to their original purpose to act as a blueprint for technological and societal progress while protecting inventors and becoming the source of inspiration for future creators," said Ben Kaufman, founder and CEO of Quirky, in statement about the new GE-Quirky collaboration.
"This is good news for innovators, consumers and our country," said David Kappos, partner at law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, commenting on the GE-Quirky relationship. "There is tremendous value in patented ideas, and it is wonderful to see new collaborative ventures aimed at moving ideas into the marketplace."
Three initial areas of focus
Quirky, launched in 2009, is one of several Web platforms focused on encouraging collaboration on new product development. Its in-house team of engineers and designers considers ideas from all over the world, bringing concepts from sketch to store shelves. Some of its national retail and sales partners include Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and Amazon.com. Right now, the community includes almost 400,000 inventors.
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