Here’s a riddle for you: what do Zeppo Marx, Harry Connick Jr., Julie Newmar, Abraham Lincoln, Marlon Brando, Jamie Lee Curtis, me, and five other members of the Southwest Airlines Network Planning Department have in common?
Answer: we’ve all been named as inventors in a United States Patent!
It’s true! Six of us in SWA’s Network Planning Department were named in a U.S. Patent that was awarded last November. Our patent—number 8,050,936—was issued to the itinerary generation engine of our schedule editing and publishing software, named SPN, that the six of us worked for years to create. One of the many cool things SPN does is to create all possible connecting itineraries inside SWA’s point-to-point network based on geography and a very large set of parameters; then it applies a very complex, specific, and unique set of selection rules to rank, then select, only the best itineraries for publication. We designed it to be totally unlike any other itinerary generation engine in the industry, and the U.S. Patent Office and its attorneys agreed!
Obtaining a U.S. Patent isn’t easy. You could say it’s like the Academy Awards of inventing, but it’s way more than that—it’s an amazingly complex and incredibly time-consuming process that’s heavy on staking claims and even heavier on proving them! Creating, documenting, and “shepherding” the application through the patent pipeline took a tremendous effort by Southwest’s Legal Team and their associates. I’m sure the U.S. Patent Department people have probably seen everything, twice, and they’re very thorough at determining what truly is unique vs. what is a knock-off…and although it takes a long period of time for this process to play out, our Legal Team eventually persevered! It took nearly six years from the time Southwest first filed for the patent in December of 2006 to the time we were awarded it in November of 2011, so besides uniqueness, a patent takes patience—which Southwest has!
This isn’t Southwest’s first time at the patent “rodeo.” Our Legal Department colleagues have really gotten good at making sure that Southwest’s uniqueness is covered by patent protection where possible. SWA has received a number of patents that name Employees as inventors on things like the cool electronic power stations in our gate areas, many aspects of our award-winning website, southwest.com, and even certain pieces of our unique schedule optimizer.
Building the SPN Connection Generator was a tremendous challenge, but it was also a LOT of fun, due in large part to the huge dose of Southwest Spirit that infused the project. Very, very special thanks to the SWA Technology Employees who worked with us—no, who partnered with us—to define our business requirements and then built and delivered the SPN “vision” (we had the “Dream Team” of developers and analysts and, amazingly, most of them are still with the Team!). And to my fellow Network Planning brothers co-named in US Patent 8,050,936—it doesn’t get any better than this!