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What we learned from attending a random meeting in San Francisco?

Here at GreyB, we, the editorial team, have an intense love for stories. We try to keep the storytelling animal inside us always at work – be it for sharing relevant strategies with the help of stories, or giving a sneak peek into the thought process of our analysts and clients via case studies or other content pieces.

However, every once in a while, we come across fresh, raw stories shared by fellow colleagues we can’t stop pondering over, and make it our mission to share it with the world.

In our brief time today, I wanted to share one such story shared by Mahesh Maan, while he was on a trip to the US for a few client meetings, and to collect an award.

What award, you ask? Well, you will soon find out. But that’s not the most interesting part. It is when he attended a meetup on ….

Hold on, I am revealing way too much. Read the tale in his very words to find out.

What I learned from attending a random meetup in San Francisco?

An interesting thing happened when we – Deepak, Chakshu, Anmol and I – were in San Francisco in March this year. We were there for the Strata Conference, to collect the Edison Award that we had won for our tool Catalyst, and few client meetings.

SF is a geeky place – big companies, engineers, entrepreneurs – you get the real feel of innovation happening there. On the very first day, Chakshu took Anmol and me on a ride to see the offices of the tech giants: Google, Apple, and Facebook. We loved it!

On the way, he told us that SF is a really happening place and a lot of gatherings take place where people of similar interests come together to know and learn from each other. He also suggested that we should definitely try to find one of those meetings on meetup.com and go there to explore.

While Anmol flew away to Cincinnati over the weekend, Chakshu urged me to find a meeting online and go there. Upon searching, I realized there weren’t any meetings related to AI – my area of interest – happening nearby.

However, there was one related to JavaScript that was going to begin nearby in a couple of hours. Truth be told, I knew a bit about JavaScript, but didn’t consider myself good at it. But with no other option, I decided to go there, with least idea on what to expect. Also, I was a bit apprehensive of the kind of people I would encounter there. What if they were all experts on the matter and I was the only novice?!

Anyway, I signed up for the meetup and reached on the address given on the site. It was a small office that belonged to a startup. They were hosting this meet and the people who were attending seemed very friendly, which gave me some confidence. One of the guys gave a short introduction about the meet and its format. The interesting thing was there was no format per se – you just sit, work, interact, do whatever you like. I found a spot, opened my laptop and started working.

Pretty soon, people started settling down and casual chatting started. I asked the guy in front of me (Let’s call him Sam) what he did with JavaScript. Sam said he wasn’t too involved with JavaScript, he just needed it to build an interface for an app he was developing. I asked him ­– what type of app?

Sam told me that he was working on building an AI system that would act as your virtual gym coach. We pretty quickly went technical – The idea was that a series of cameras would monitor your footage while you are, say, doing push-ups. The video would be analyzed by an AI engine and the app would tell you if you were doing the push-ups correctly. Pretty interesting.

By this time, more people around me had started listening to Sam. He told us that he was building a proof-of-concept of the thing that he could take to investors. He had created a video demonstrating how his system would work for the presentation and was expecting the first round of funding of about a million and a half.

During the entire time, Sam was explaining this, I was constantly trying to locate what was the “new idea” in all of this. Having worked on prior-art studies for a couple of years, it had become my second nature. I asked him if he had checked if someone else had built or is building something like this.  He said he didn’t know of anyone working on anything similar.

However, I couldn’t believe it. I had seen patents filed in 1993 that predicted touch-screen mobile phones, whose orientation changed from portrait to landscape depending on how you hold them AND also whose displays automatically turned off when you folded their flap-cover. There was no way someone could not have thought of a video exercise monitoring system until 2019.  In fact, I could bet there would be tens if not hundreds of patents on the thing already.

We had only recently built a tool Catalyst that discovered patents by targeting the problem solved by them. I thought this would be the perfect time to test it. I entered ‘exercise camera monitoring’ and the very first results showed a patent application filed in 2015 by the company 6degrees – it described the exact same thing and more (use of sensors to do the same thing, etc).

I asked Sam if he had heard about the company 6degrees, to which he replied in negative. I showed him their website that had a video showing the same idea and their patent application – Sam was taken aback. Here was a bunch of guys doing the same things he was trying to do and in a much-advanced stage already. In a nutshell, his idea, on which he spent so much time and effort, wasn’t his idea after all.

It was apparent from his face that he was worried – and for good reason. 6degrees had already filed a patent on the very idea on which he was trying to build his startup. Then he started brainstorming over how he could differentiate his offering and everyone pitched in. In fact, it was not just him, everyone who was listening was surprised because they too thought that his idea was indeed new.

But I wasn’t surprised a bit. I knew from past experience that 99.999% of the ideas you would come across wouldn’t be new.

Then another guy came to me and asked me to search his idea on the interface. He was developing a ‘smart classroom’ solution.

We did not find exactly the same solution but we did find some ‘other interesting ways to do it’ things. Almost everyone who was in the discussion searched for an idea, and for every result they saw, their reactions were on the lines of – “Oh, that’s interesting! Who filed that? What year was this filed? and so on…”

At the end of the say, I feel everyone realized the importance of referring to other’s work on the problems you are interested in solving.

Earlier I used to think that patents would be like a second home to innovators and entrepreneurs – a tab forever pinned in their browsers. But to my surprise, I learned that day that in their world, patents exist in a remote isolated wonderland. They don’t know much about the treasures and dangers it holds or how to navigate it – the maps, few as they are, are cryptic. There is a need, therefore, for better maps, more preferably – of a GPS that can enable everyone who deals with technology and ideas – to navigate the world of patents with ease.

Catalyst is one good solution to it, in my opinion. Want to give it a try? Get in touch. 

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