To squeeze more value out of its many patents, General Electric recently began sharing hundreds of them with Quirky, a New York City-based crowdsourcing site that has raised more than $90 million in venture capital.
With an online community of more than 500,000 inventors who develop products--and share in the profits--Quirky creates and sells many kitchen gadgets and electronic gizmos. (Its best-seller is a flexible power strip.)
Some of the patented GE technologies that Quirky inventors will now be able to tap include fast-focusing optics, fleet-tracking technologies, and barrier coatings that help protect electronics from moisture.
"One GE technology I am excited about is the dual cool jet," says Ben Kaufman, Quirky's founder and CEO. The technology, which GE developed to cool jet engines, could potentially be used to keep electronics from overheating.
Of course, designing an innovative product doesn't guarantee it will sell.
Last year, Quirky teamed with GE on an innovation challenge. The winning idea, which Quirky users developed, was a high-tech milk jug that texts you when your milk spoils.
The product never made it to market (because consumers weren't interested), but Kaufman is optimistic about what Quirky's inventors will do with the GE technology. "We have Quirky community members who are engineers at NASA," he says. "We're trying to build an invention machine."