Battery inventor inducted to the Hall of Fame, for developing game changing tech

Developing a battery for implantable defibrillators...can save lives. This is one chemist's story about how she navigated the patent process and her thoughts on how diversity is important for invention.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

Esther Takeuchi is a chemist at the University of Buffalo and has so far filed 148 patents. So it's not surprising that she was recently inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Takeuchi invented a lifesaving battery that is used in more than 300,000 implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) per year. It's called the Lithium/Silver Vanadium Oxide (LI/SVO) Battery.

In a way, she's become the Babe Ruth of clean tech, joining other heavy weights such as the inventor of the digital camera and barcode in the Inventors Hall of Fame.

SmartPlanet: How does it feel to be part of the Inventors Hall of Fame?

ET: It is a very big honor to be considered among this creative and impactful group of people.

SmartPlanet: How has your technology changed implantable devices? How does it feel to have developed something that is saving lives?

ET: Being part of a project that made a difference in a tangible way is very rewarding. I am glad that the work that was done has a positive impact on patients and their ability to live a longer life. In retrospect, the technology that was introduced did enable the widespread adoption of ICDs.

SmartPlanet: When you developed the battery that enabled implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs) and got to meet Obama? What was meeting him like?

ET: Meeting an active President was one of the most memorable events of my career. President Obama gave a speech about his interest in and support of science and technology. Innovation has been a real strength of the US and has been a driver of the economy. It is important for the US to maintain that innovation edge in order to thrive in the global economy of today.

SmartPlanet: Can you tell me about how you created ICDs? Are you surprised at the wide spread use of the devices?

ET: I did not work on the ICDs themselves, but rather the battery that powers the ICDs. When we started the project, we had a belief that we could make a suitable battery and one that would be better than anything else at the time. It was strong motivation to move the project ahead since there was a specific problem that we wanted to solve. The early days of the development process were exciting times as everyone was striving to move forward with the same goal.

SmartPlanet: What problem about battery life did ICDs solve?

ET: The battery provided enough life for the ICD that it was reasonable to implant the device in patients. If the battery life was too short, it meant that there were more frequent surgeries for the patient to replace the device. Additionally, the battery needed to respond quickly when the patient needed defibrillation. This meant that the therapy was delivered more quickly when needed.

SmartPlanet: Where do you see battery technology now? Where do you see it in 10 to 15 years from now?

ET: It is a very exciting time to be involved in batteries. There are so many potential new applications ranging from medical devices that treat cardiac disease, neurological diseases and diabetes to electric cars to implementation of renewable energy. Battery technology is taking major steps forward as new scientific tools are applied to these systems. I believe that batteries will continue to improve where their ability to last longer, be smaller, less expensive and more powerful will increase.

SmartPlanet: Why do patents drive you?

ET: Patents are a path to taking a new idea and making it practical. Often it is expensive to launch a new product. A patent provides time to regain the investment in the idea before others can sell the same thing.

SmartPlanet: How important are patents to helping start companies? Do you see it as an important part of our future? To help drive the economy?

ET: Patents are important. Small companies need to be focused on launching products. Patents provide the time needed to commercialize something and regain the investment. Without patents, it is difficult to have a product oriented company.

SmartPlanet: Why are you an advocate for diversity in science?

ET: I am convinced that part of innovation is perspective. What is viewed as creativity may be in fact a different point of view. If people view problems in different ways, their solutions will reflect that. Thus, people with different backgrounds and perspectives will enhance innovation and creativity. As I mentioned above, keeping on the cutting edge of innovation will be important to our future economy.

SmartPlanet: What are you inventing now?

ET: We are working on new and improved battery systems. The potential applications are very broad ranging from medical devices to large storage systems.

SmartPlanet: Where do you like to think? In your lab? At home? What's the process of invention like and how do you know when you want to patent an idea?

ET: I think all of the time. Ideas are always rolling around in my head. I can not predict when an idea will strike me.

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