While Apple and Samsung have been embroiled in an epic patent war, the 104-year-old tech giant IBM has quietly set the curve in patent innovation, amassing a whopping 7,534 patents in 2014 alone. That legacy wasn’t lost on engineer Lisa Seacat DeLuca when she arrived at the company 10 years ago. "I noticed that there were these patent awards in people’s offices," says DeLuca. "I was like, I could do that!" She filed her first in 2006, and has followed it up with more than 150 patents—including vehicle-based GPS that can pick up location data from things like your hotel-room key card, a mechanism for identifying exactly what a truck is actually carrying so the ads on the outside can be adjusted on the fly (maximizing ad revenue), and, perhaps most important, an alert that notifies you when a topic of interest comes up during a lengthy conference call.
Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?
In the last year, I’ve started using Twitter a lot—I follow the right people and the right companies that post about new technologies. When things first come out, if you jump on it and start thinking about all the different areas where you can apply that technology, that’s the best way to come up with new ideas.
What's the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
I usually wake up, roll over, and grab my phone next to me. I’ll check Gmail and Instagram, and I’ll check my work email to see if there was anything urgent overnight. I also look at my calendar to see what the day is going to look like. I have twin boys, so I usually spend the rest of the morning getting them ready.
What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?
Patenting isn’t my day job, which is a big misconception. People think I just patent every day, and I’m like no, if I did it all day long, I would have, like, five thousand patents.
What's your favorite Twitter or Instagram account and why?
My Instagram is all family photos. I like to keep up with my nieces and nephews and all that.
During the TED@IBM event, I got to meet Bryan Kramer and also Brian Fanzo, two very social guys who tweet a lot. I like following them and seeing what they’re up to just because it’s a good example of being social, and what it means to be social. They do an excellent job of staying on top of their Twitter accounts. But I also like to mix it up and follow some funny Twitter accounts here and there. I like the Bill Murray parody account—he’s got some really funny tweets.
What are some things you do to refresh your mind when you're in a rut?
Sometimes, I’ll be on a call with a brainstorming team, and it’ll get silent. And we’ll say OK, nobody has any ideas. The best advice I have, and what I live by is: We just hang up the phone! We don’t even continue the process because you’re just not feeling it that day. We stop what we’re doing and maybe reschedule the call for a few days later, and we come back, and everyone suddenly has all these ideas again.
Who outside of your field inspires you the most and why?
My aunt is an Olympian; Her name is Dot Richardson. She has two gold medals in softball. She inspires me a ton because she’s always got a can-do type of attitude. She was one of the oldest people on the softball team when it was in the Olympics, and she just kept with it her entire life. She just goes after what she loves and made a career out of what she loves, so that’s always been inspiring to me growing up.