Qualcomm’s Durga Malladi says innovation attempts will inevitably be riddled with failures. You try and the odds are it will not work. “The key to developing an innovative mindset is to keep trying as you always learn something from failure,” says the senior vice president of engineering at the world’s largest provider of smartphone chips. Malladi has to date filed over 500 patents in the US.
As other patent holders in this column have said, filing for a patent is not rocket science. Once you file one, the next is relatively simpler, as one understands what can become a patent, and the process of filing it.
“But it requires lots of patience. Invention should be a part of your life and not a job. You should be having fun doing it. When you think of filing your first patent, you have an idea, but can you prove it is actually an invention? One needs to interact with lawyers, which helps to clarify your thoughts, and you need to think of multiple ways to solve the problem,” Malladi says.
Malladi did BS from IIT Madras, and then did a PhD from the University of California in adaptive signal processing. He joined Qualcomm immediately after. Over the past 24 years, he has headed many departments. He is now on the business side, but technology, he says, remains his first love.
He recollects working on satellite communications, a project that did not work. But he says the failure was the best one he had, as the team learnt a lot, and they later applied those learnings to 3G, 4G and 5G research. “Our idea was to connect to anywhere in the world using satellite communications. The design was good, but it was a commercial failure. That made me realise that a great idea may not be a commercial success.”
Malladi says you should not think immediately of commercialising. “Go from a whiteboard phase, writing equations, doing simulations and analysis, to the prototyping phase. In this process, you will learn a lot about eventual commercialisation, and the practical limitations of what you are doing.”
In the mid-2000s, he was working on a project to establish communication between two devices directly without a network associated with it. But nobody wanted it. “And then eight years later, in 2014, we were trying to solve a different problem of vehicles communicating with each other, and we remembered this old technology.”
They reworked it. “When we started, it was supposed to be for two devices, but eventually it became a new technology. These days I see some of that technology in vehicles as we move to autonomous driving. That is the beauty of not focusing on the end-use case, but focusing only on the technology.”
Durga Malladi, senior VP, engineering, Qualcomm