GE gets Quirky

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Mark Little, director ofGE Global Research, Ben Kaufman, CEO of Quirky, and Beth Comstock GE's chief marketing officer, are teaming together.

Have a smart idea? General Electric would like to give you thousands of its patents.

GE, through a partnership with product development startup Quirky, is enabling everyday people to utilize the mega-conglomerate's technology for new inventions. The Quirky community of inventors will be encouraged to innovate on technologies that GE (GE)produces.

Those are technologies most everyday inventors wouldn't dream of touching for fear that they'd get their pants sued off by giant companies -- like GE. But GE emphasized the importance of big companies connecting with a community of entrepreneurs to push forward innovation.

"Despite all the good ideas and great inventions that come out of our company, we don't have all the answers," said Beth Comstock, GE's chief marketing officer. If the inventions sell well, GE and Quirky will get a slice of the profit.

A website set up by GE and Quirky will display an "inspiration platform" that will include a list of patents inventors can access and apply to consumer products.

Quirky already provides an opportunity for inventors to bring their products to market. Users go to the site to submit their inventions, and the Quirky community votes and comments on the ideas. Quirky picks the top inventions from the crop every week and puts them through a rigorous product development process, including branding, design and pricing.

The finished products are sold on the site, and Quirky will even manufacture successful products to land in retail stores. Inventor, along with the community members most influential in the process, collect royalties from Quirky.

But the company says some inventors are scared off by the lack of patents to protect themselves from intellectual property court battles.

"The first thing we think of when we hear 'invention' or 'idea' is patents," Quirky founder Ben Kaufman said. "This truly positions patents where they should be -- to protect the original inventor and inspire new ones."

Though GE and Quirky are open to any new ideas, the primary focus points of the partnership are home-automation technology, smartphone-controlled devices and "the Internet of things." Inventors will be encouraged to submit their ideas and leverage GE's vast array of security- and health-related patents.

Called "Wink: Instantly Connected," Quirky and GE launched a co-branded development initiative to create a line of app-enabled products. They aim to have some of those devices hit the market before Black Friday.

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