Ironically, past inventions are often what make our future. For example, in 1916, when Georgia Power was still the Georgia Railway and Power Co., T.F. Johnson invented the Johnson transmission clamp, which enabled line crews to work safely on high-tension lines while they were still energized. Being able to keep the power on for customers while making repairs revolutionized transmission operations.
For years, employees and companies in the power industry readily shared these types of company-generated solutions and ideas with others. This culture of sharing among utilities has been a good thing, and the industry benefited from many innovations. However, letting great ideas “get away,” so to speak, has become less practical as our industry has become more competitive.
Several years ago, Georgia Power used an employee quality circle approach to help generate work-related solutions, and in doing so, improved the company efficiencies while helping motivate other employees to look at their own unique solutions to their work-related processes. Today, Georgia Power is still finding ways to stay on the leading edge of innovation. Our employees are still great innovators, and their inventions and ideas are still of vital importance to the company and the industry. So we developed an Intellectual Property program known as Everyday Solutions as a way to nurture and protect employees' innovations. It was created to formulate a plan and establish a process to educate employees, protect their ideas and extract additional economic value, where possible.
The program works across all functional boundaries and advises employees on many aspects of product and innovation protection, including proper labeling of documents for patents and licenses. Participants are acknowledged through a rewards and recognition program. The inventions and procedures are widely varied and include everything from a portable oil filter cart for FD fans that doesn't require the fans to be taken offline, to a squirrel shield device for power lines. They have enhanced reliability, safety and operational efficiency while also helping reduce costs.
Our employees have submitted hundreds of innovations through the program and dozens have been protected. Many also have been patented and licensed by others. Most of the Everyday Solutions ideas come from employees who simply asked themselves, “How can we do this better?” They looked at a problem and found a way to fix it, or created a process to accomplish a task more safely.
Some of our innovations include the Klondike jumper aid, which gives a safe and easy method to support a mechanical jumper when used on energized lines, and the Energy Management Decision System, which, at a high level, addresses the business problem of tying energy data back to costs by scheduling equipment depending on fuel costs or renewable fuels.
Georgia Power's Training Team Leader David McQuaig, who is involved in innovation, is not an inventor by trade, but he had an idea for an easier and safer way to support a mechanical jumper, so he submitted it to the Everyday Solutions program. Now McQuaig has help in patent protection and licensing.
Georgia Power sales executive Ed Harmon is the inventor of the Energy Management Decision System. Harmon found that, “If you have an idea, chances are that idea came to you because you were trying to solve a business problem.” Everyday Solutions was able to help Harmon work through the protection process and was there along the way to answer any questions that arose.
Many think only degreed engineers can invent or design something “important enough” to be used throughout the power industry. Our experience has shown that employees from every sector of our company have innovative solutions to everyday problems. I encourage other utilities to embrace employee innovation by helping educate employees to think “outside the box.” Protecting employee-driven innovations can add value back to your company by improving a work process or product design, thereby improving operational efficiencies.
With Intellectual Property and Everyday Solutions, we're now moving to better protect our intellectual property and create greater value for our employees, customers and shareholders.
Our employee innovators are proving to be the real heroes and pioneers in what promises to be a great future and legacy for Georgia Power, as well as a great contribution to our industry. I challenge your utility to find a way to capture and monetize your employees' innovative efforts, too.
Christopher Savage (firstname.lastname@example.org) currently servies as the manager of Intellectual Property and Everyday Solutions for Georgia Power. He holds a graduate degree in Business, and serves on the Georgia State Intellectual Property Round Table as well as the Licensing Executive Society and is very active in the community. Savage also holds a commercial and instrument pilot's license and serves is a major in the Civil Air Patrol.