A word that gets tossed around a lot without necessarily meaning anything is “innovation.” But at the Smart Kitchen Summit this morning, one group took the stage to tackle actual innovation — that is, risky, envelope-pushing ideas and moves — in our favorite place: the kitchen.

CNET’s Ashlee Clarke Thompson moderated the panel, which featured Clay Alexander from Ember, Scott Heimendinger from Modernist Cuisine (and inventor of Sansaire), and Melissa Verzwyvelt from Heatworks. Here are a few takeaways from their discussion:

Patents are a real pain in the a$$.
One thing the panelists could all agree on is that patents are a huge pain. They’re expensive and can take years to get, and often require hiring a lawyer.

“It’s so hard when you have an idea and you want to bring it to people, to realize how much money you need to spend up front on a lawyer,” said Heimendinger. “And then the patent might not be granted for years.”

Heatworks has faced the same struggle with their 60 patents. “We’ve been trying to get our tech to market since 2006,” said Verzwyvelt. “You don’t want to spend so much time and effort to unveil something… and some other company already has the patent for it.”

Don’t just think of typical use cases
Most inventors have an imaginary consumer — and a predicted use case — in mind when they’re developing products. But not everyone will use new products as the inventor intended. “You have to consider abnormal use,” said Heimendinger. Which led him to tell the very humorous story of a Sansaire user who tried to return his device after running it nonstop for six months to create a cannabis butter combination.

IP is king
“We don’t do anything at Ember without thinking about IP first,” said Alexander. Once companies establish a strong IP base, they have options: they can either develop their own product using their patented tech or license it out to other companies.

That’s what Ember plans to do with the world’s first self-heated dinner plate. “We’ll launch the first version, then license out that technology to others,” explained Alexander. He emphasized that licensing was a good way for smaller companies to compete with big corporations.

Will big appliance companies ever be “innovators”?
In short: no. Developing a new and innovative product or technology is a massive risk: it takes tons of capital and time, and in the end there’s no guarantee that anyone will buy it. “Only a hungry entrepreneur will take that level of risk on their shoulders,” said Alexander.

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