GE Teams Up with Quirky for Patent Development


What products would you make smarter? That’s the question General Electric is asking in its bid to create consumer-facing products with GE patents. 

No stranger to the Internet of Things, GE has once again partnered with Quirky, a type of social network for inventors to license thousands of its patents to Quirky community members for development.

“There are a host of consumer applications that we haven’t had the ability to focus on,” Beth Comstock, CMO GE told the The New York Times. “That just isn’t our core business.”[more]

The partnership has been split into two initiatives: a platform where GE will open its patents to the Quirky community for development, and a co-branded product development project that will result in app-enabled connected devices, called Wink: Instantly Connected, that will be developed by Quirky’s review process and sold in major retailers. 

“We’re making it really easy for owners of intellectual property, like GE, to explore new uses,” added Ben Kaufman, Quirky’s founder. “For them, it’s extra revenue with little risk, and for us it’s a whole new avenue of different types of invention.” Kaufman said Quirky—launched in 2009—receives more than 1,000 ideas weekly, of which, two or three might end up as manufactured products, and profits are split with the creators. They’ve produced more than 200 products to date that made it to retail and with recent VC funding of $68 million, are poised for growth.

Some of the G.E. patents being made available include optical tech holographic and lens technologies, thin-film encapsulation tech (used to protect electronic devices) and telematics used in vehicle-navigation systems. As for any successful products that come out of the partnership, GE will share revenue with Quirky and the inventors. Last year, GE and Quirky joined forces with a challenge to use “smarter software” to improve everyday objects. The result—a smarter milk jug. Not making the cut was a crock pot controlled from the web and a chair that issues alerts for bad posture. TechCrunch noted that the partnership between the two companies equally served each other, noting that Quirky often puts out organizational tools and nifty cooking accessories, a far cry from GE’s high-tech turnout. 

Similar to P&G’s Connect + Develop program, GE and Quirky are disrupting product development, but the two firms aren’t the only ones in the game. Recently, Nike announced its Nike Accelerator, which will partner with tech startups to create mobile tie-ins to the Nike platform. Target and Walmart also have incubator programs that encourage developers to submit ideas for new products and digital initiatives.

And on top of everything, Quirky just launched a new iPhone app and revealed its new branding, as explained in a blog post:

On March 29th, at our last quarterly Town Meeting, the Quirky community looked on as Ben Kaufman unveiled our plan for a company-wide rebranding, one that is destined to change the face of Quirky forever. If you missed the event, we highly recommend that you watch the recording, because this project means big things for Quirky, and we mean BIG. Like, Apple-unveiling-the-iPhone big.

At the heart of the project lies a simple principle: that the one great equalizer in the creative field, the one all-embracing skill, is the ability to draw a stick figure. Anyone, anywhere can draw a basic figure, and at Quirky, we believe that the ability to invent should be just as universal. To embody this, we’ll be asking each community member to draw a simple picture, a unique identifier, which will be combined with others to form a diverse, ever-changing pastiche of the Quirky community. This change will impact every facet of the company, both physical and digital, from user profiles and web design to brand assets and retail displays.

Product packaging will also see a revolutionary change, with the introduction of skin packing, a new kind of packaging that uses heated plastic to bind items to cardboard, creating a beautiful, eco-friendly form factor that’s truly one-of-a-kind. From the front, each unit will appear as a standard retail box, but flip the card around and you’ll find… a product, plain and simple. Retail doesn’t get much easier than this, and that’s just how we like it.

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