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Beer's Role in Innovation

beer and innovationMany great—or seemingly great—ideas come to fruition during the course of drinking a beer. When you’re out with the guys (or girls), one or two cold ones could have you rhapsodizing about how you’re going to change the world. This is most likely when self-lowering toilet seats, automatic pet petters, and self-twirling ice cream cones were all dreamed into existence.

Believe it or not, beer has had an effect on world-changing innovation. Oh, no. Not these As-Seen-on-TV inventions. While the automatic pet petter just changed everything for your dog, none of these beer-soaked innovations will change the world. So, how exactly has beer changed the world?

Driving Innovation

Self-driving cars are all the rage in the news lately, with Google and Uber fighting it out over patents and racing to the front of the line for consumer release. While they were focused on cars for the everyday driver, the first self-driving truck delivered 50,000 cans of Budweiser 120 miles in Colorado.

That’s right. The first self-driven truck was used to deliver beer.

Budweiser has come a long way since the days of the horse and cart, right? In the first days of beer delivery, customers only had access because their drink of choice was brought daily by horse and wagon.

You're probably familiar with the Clydesdales, still often used in Budweiser commercials to tug at heartstrings. These horses were bred by farmers along the banks of the River Clyde in Lanarkshire, Scotland. The Great Flemish Horse was the forerunner of the Clydesdale, which was bred to pull loads of more than one ton at a walking speed of five miles per hour.  While that kind of pulling power was amazing during those days, it was still slow and expensive. Each hitch horse needed 20 to 25 quarts of whole grains, minerals and vitamins, 50 to 60 pounds of hay, and 30 gallons of water per day.

Is it any wonder that Anheuser Busch was the exclusive US licensee of the Rudolph Diesel patents? One might assume Ford or the railroad would have been first on board with the development of diesel powered trucks, but it was actually beer. Of course, we’ve seen what happened to Ford throughout history due to their unwillingness to innovate.

Knowing how much was needed to keep those magnificent horses healthy and hardy, it seems diesel was a logical next step. This is a classic example of early adopter customers driving a new technology.

Effect on Jobs

As with most disruptive innovation, jobs were impacted first when the diesel truck was introduced and again with the self-driving truck. There is a fundamental difference between the two cases, as we’ll discuss.

When the diesel trucks were introduced, of course some people found their skills were no longer necessary. The overall net effect, however, was not that terrible. Those who took care of the horses and replaced the stables did feel the sting. Those jobs were replaced by mechanics and garage managers. Those who drove the horse-drawn wagons were replaced by truck drivers.

It’s worth noting here that the Teamsters Union was formed to protect those who drove teams of draft animals, such as oxen, horses, or mules. While they didn’t stop diesel trucks from eventually taking all the jobs, they did get workers organized. Organization led to training, which then led those horse and mule drivers to drive trucks instead. There’s one problem solved.

With some training and education, the jobs for mechanics and garage managers were eventually filled, too. What seemed insurmountable was, in fact, just a small step toward the future of trucking. Now, according to NPR, truck driving might be the most predominant job in America. Thus far, the trucking industry has been nearly immune to the automation that has eliminated thousands of other blue-collar jobs in the past forty years.

Until now.

The jobs that opened when trucks replaced horses were still blue-collar jobs that required little in the translation of skills. With some training, a teamster was able to move from reins to steering wheel quite easily. Now, with the introduction of self-driving trucks, those skills needed won’t transfer quite so easily. A truck driver is not as likely to take up robotics, coding, or engineering.

The number of jobs that could be lost and the impact it could have on American workers is something we’ve never before seen.

Using Your Crystal Ball

The rumbling around autonomous vehicles is nothing new. We’ve known the idea of a driverless car has been a part of the future for a while. Even watching movies from the 80s gave us an idea of what was to come, because once something is imagined, it’s only human to try to make it real.

Scenes from Total Recall and Minority Report aside, we could have known what was coming without letting our imaginations run away with us. The US patent system has served for years as a form of crystal ball for those who know how to read it.

With some indication that driverless cars would rise up and disrupt the trucking industry, steps could have been made years ago to begin preparing for the enormous economic shift we’re about to experience. Truckers could have been given the chance to train as programmers, builders, and maintenance techs for the autonomous cars that are coming to take their jobs.

Part of using the patent system as a crystal ball is understanding how to interpret what you find, and that’s where we come in. We’ve developed and honed several tools that can find and explain the patents in question, regardless of your type and size of query. Even the most unique outlier—like this oil drilling patent that affected medical devices—gets picked up with our tools. Imagine if Blockbuster had seen the patent Netflix acquired for mailing media in time to plan for their future.

The autonomous cars are already here. There’s no time to look ahead to the future for these truck drivers. But they may be able to drown their sorrows in beer, if they can afford it. One potential bright side: Many great—or seemingly great—ideas come to fruition during the course of drinking a beer. That’s how innovation keeps us moving forward...


A version of this article was previously posted to Huffington Post. You can read it here.

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Categories: IP Innovation, Disruptive Innovation