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Klaus vom Hofe

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Inspiration and tinkering: inventor at Deutsche Telekom

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A lunch bag that can be transformed into a bread basket. I had this inspiration years ago, during breakfast. Can something like that be patented? I found out what it takes to do so from my Telekom colleague Gerhard Kramarz-von Kohout. He lists four personal aspects that characterize him as an inventor. He is responsible for 14 of the company's 8,000 or so patents. A new one will be coming soon.

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When he received the message from the European Patent Office, Gerhard Kramarz-von Kohout nearly jumped for joy: His latest invention will be granted a patent by the end of the summer. It's a solution that enables people to send messages to police and rescue services over an app. "Currently, you can only reach the control centers by phone and fax," he says. But what if the victims are unable or unwilling to speak, for whatever reason? There was no way for them to notify the police or fire department on the go.

The inventor clearly shows the emotions that the pending award of the patent awake in him: "It sometimes takes several years for patent offices to complete their examinations – this time everything went much faster. It's a great feeling when your own invention earns a patent," he says. Kramarz-von Kohout, who works in Security at Deutsche Telekom, has submitted many inventions to patent offices in the past; 14 of his technical solutions have already been patented. One of them enables audio messages to be sent to multiple recipients in parallel. It was used by Deutsche Telekom to provide employees and other interested parties with professionally produced news and sound bites of the day. In the meantime, this service has been replaced by News, which sends corporate communications to subscribers' smartphones over services such as WhatsApp.

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Gerhard Kramarz-von Kohout

One thing is clear: patents help Deutsche Telekom to identify and protect unique selling propositions. The company owns over 8,000 patents for technical solutions worldwide. Deutsche Telekom colleagues reported around 230 inventions in 2016 alone, of which nearly 200 were actually filed as patent applications – an excellent ratio. When you ask him about his soon-to-be 15 patents, Gerhard Kramarz-von Kohout responds modestly. He points out that he isn't the only active inventor at Deutsche Telekom by far.

How did he realize that his solutions could be patentable? He got his start in the mobile communications industry in 1990 at Detecon. He studied mathematics and discovered cryptography as his favorite topic of interest. He has always been interested in technology and security, and even helped to develop the ATM-card+PIN payment method, which is still used today, when he was working at a Frankfurt-based company in the late 1980s. Encryption is also an important element in mobile communication networks.

"Hey, you could patent that."

But patents? He had no experience whatsoever with them. That didn't start until he told a colleague in Technology about an idea he had. His response? "Hey, you could patent that." – No sooner said than done. And what characterizes him as an inventor? Gerhard Kramarz-von Kohout names four personal aspects:

  1. Expertise: knowledge and experience are crucial. After all, solutions and processes that solve a specific technical problem must be identified.
  2. Be open, read a lot and speak with others. Input and different perspectives are essential to developing ideas further.
  3. Be persistent, diligent and ambitious: inspiration often strikes spontaneously. But then you have to define the technology behind it, which is where the real work starts.
  4. The flow: "Thoughts become malleable." Thoughts beget ideas. Ideas beget solutions. At some point, your mind is simply "in the flow." Then you can really get started. One time, when he was dancing in a club, he came up with an approach for elaborating an idea despite (or perhaps because of) the booming rock music. Or, on another occasion – also accompanied by lots of music, in the car on the way home from a business trip.

One thing is clear: Gerhard Kramarz-von Kohout is not the kind of person who simply calls it a day when work is over. But retiring to a small, quiet room to think about ideas and solutions isn't his thing, either. New, external stimuli, movement and change – both personally and professionally – shape his perspective of things and make him creative. And usually very satisfied, as he has found out.

Should I follow his example and pursue my idea of the foldable bread basket? It's certainly tempting. We'll have to see.

Around 200 new patent applications at Deutsche Telekom: Patents are granted for inventions that are new and creative in all areas of technology. They can also be incorporated in products or processes and protect the innovative strength of Deutsche Telekom's employees. And they are increasingly effective: the number of ideas reported to the Patent department increased from 174 in 2015 to nearly 230 in 2016. Of these, some 200 generated patent filings for the first time. And the numbers keep rising. In total, Deutsche Telekom boasts a portfolio of around 8,000 individually granted patents worldwide.

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