Some time ago, on a visit to IBM's research labs in North Carolina, I witnessed a fascinating demonstration of how 3D polymer prototypes could be placed in what looked like a microwave oven and then 'faxed' to another part of the world.
It seemed solid objects could be digitised and then transported via the ether for resurrection elsewhere. It was a magical feat, made no less impressive once the secret was revealed: laser beams were used to etch a 3D representation of the object and it was this data that, once received in Tokyo or wherever, guided stereo lasers to carve out a polymer replica of the original, thus reversing the process.
Elsewhere in IBM's extensive research labs, other prototypes were on display - from batteries flimsier than a piece of silver foil yet able to power light bulbs, to acoustic speakers as flat as a sheet of paper.
For me, then, last week's news - that for the sixth year running, IBM had filed more US patents than any other company - came as no surprise.
Altogether it notched up some 2,600 awards for patented products, at least a third of which, even though they were only at the design stage a couple of years ago, are now being actively peddled. The aforementioned solid object 'fax machine' is already widely used in the automotive industry for zapping component prototypes around the globe, although generally Big Blue's latest patents relate mainly to software design, network computing or chip technology. Otherwise, the US patent charts are dominated by the multinationals of Asia.
For instance, Canon, NEC, Sony, Samsung, Fujitsu, Toshiba and Mitsubishi took six of the top 10 places, their output of nearly 10,000 product patents overwhelmingly focused on the coming era of digital convergence. This leaves you wondering if Uncle Sam is starting to lose his touch when it comes to technological innovation. Even Microsoft could only manage a mere 199 patents.
But what about Blighty? The answer, of course, is that UK firms were nowhere to be found. Anyone with IT inventive flair usually knows better than to try to raise capital here and, if nothing else, at least erstwhile boffins can secure a decent job in the US - IBM's labs are full of British expats.
As a matter of interest, I thought I'd peruse the UK Patent Office Website to see if it was a hidden goldmine of our IT talent. Not a chance. Apparently, in recent years, the office has been in a state of decline thanks to the centralisation of European patents in Germany, and what patents are filed seem to relate more to obscure pumps, metal working and magnet devices, confirming Heath Robinson is still alive and kicking. But if you want evidence that the UK remains an inventive powerhouse when it comes to computer technology, prepare to shed tears.
Then again, dealers don't need any proof from the Patent Office. Just check the stock and tell me honestly - when did you last see a bit of tin or software bearing that once-proud stamp 'Made in Britain'?
CRN's Nima Green caught up with Chris Labrey for a quick Q&A at CRN's recent European Channel Leadership Forum
We caught up with the Atea chief exec at CRN's European Channel Leadership Forum in London
Andy Gillett has been appointed GM for the UK and Ireland
UK is one of two countries to see rollout of vendor's newest subscription service