Meet Johann, the Romanian who can approve a patent for any innovation! One can only imagine how much work is behind obtaining such a key and unique role, which requires lots of skills he can master with ease. Johann is an expert in research and IT and among his many accomplishments he has done an amazing job in developing social networking. A small part of his work, as well as his view upon Romania and its promising future, in our first interview of 2017.
Name: Johann Stan
Hometown: Targu Mures
Abroad since: 2003
Living in: Den Haag, NED
Current position & company: Patent Examiner, European Patent Office
TGR: Patent Examiner - a key role not many people on Earth can brag about. Do you feel you are part of a selective group?
JS: It is indeed very difficult to get this job. One has to be an expert in a technical field and master the three official languages: English, French and German. Besides, it requires a lot of other soft skills. I do believe that patent examiners do one of the most important tasks in society: making sure inventions get the best protection possible.
What's the most interesting patent you have approved?
As the most interesting patent I would highlight a new method to suggest users queries submitted by Facebook. It is known that sometimes users are bored and therefore Facebook will suggest queries that help them make new connections or discover new interests.
Do you prefer working with start-ups or rather multinational organizations?
I actually do not have a preference. Sometimes the inventions submitted by start-ups are very inventive. They disrupt. Multinationals often make small modifications to existing technologies. However, both can lead to extremely valuable patents. Maybe I still have a small preference to see disruptive ideas.
From the outside, it seems like an extremely challenging and diverse workplace. What is your main driver, what motivates you?
It is indeed challenging, as every decision I make has a direct impact. It may help a business grow substantially, it may help a startup attract new venture capital or it may trigger the end of a project. What drives me is to help Europe grow. I always felt a European citizen and this was also the reason why I moved back from the USA. I want to contribute to the growth of Europe. Another driving force is definitely my curiosity towards innovation. As patent examiner, I see the inventions for the first time. They are not disclosed anywhere else. I basically have a direct access to the future of technology, as most of these inventions are made public only in about 18 months form the time I see them.
Besides patent examination, you have also built an impressive career in IT and research. Which was the turning point and who do you mainly have to thank to?
Two former professors of mine told me I would be a good researcher. Therefore, I decided to do a masters and not immediately apply for a programmer job. Then I got a position at Bell Labs. In Bell Labs I had many role models. Colleagues who innovated in optic fibers, IT infrastructure etc. I copied their work ethics. I developed a passion for innovation and changing things.
Can you name your finding you are mostly proud of?
I worked for almost 4 years on the technical problem of how to improve user experience in social networks. During this work, I developed methods for the protection of users. One of these methods got patented. It consists of a method for controlling the publication of messages on a social networking server, comprising intercepting a message containing text data, the message being provided by a user registered on the social networking server and intended to be published by the social networking server, extracting keywords associated with the text data based on a semantic analysis of the text data, and blocking the publication of the message if at least one extracted keyword is included in a set of keywords associated with another user registered with the social networking server, said user being included on a list initially defined by said other user. Basically it help detecting posts which may contain e.g. our name and validate them before publication. Maybe a given user does not want his political views to be disclosed by another user. Nowadays Facebook allows this control only in case a given user is tagged in a post. However, I can easily post a message on Facebook, which discloses a personal information about somebody and put the name of the person as a keyword. We wanted to provide users a means to control this also.
That is indeed extremely interesting, I thought someone is behind all this work but I had no idea it's a Romanian Congratulations! Where can I read more about that?
More information can be found here.
Now, let's talk a little bit about our country. Do you see yourself settling back sometimes? What could convince you?
Of course. I would love to work for an IT company that has an R&D department and is interested in patents or maybe establish a patent consultancy business in Romania one day. However, right now I feel that I have a lot to learn and I will stay at the European Patent Office for at least a few more years.
How often do you travel to Romania?
4-5 times a year on average. I receive many invitation to IT conferences, which is a great sign as it shows that Romanian IT is becoming more open to research and patent protection. I see this as a very important step.
What do you mostly miss about Romania?
Family, friends and food.
What changes do you see in the Romanian society lately?
There are more and more people involved in amazing projects that they do besides their work. People, especially the young care more about their communities. The civil society is evolving. This has a regulatory effect on policy makers. People seem to follow more the decisions made by city councils or the parliament. I see more people involved on Facebook in discussions related to new law proposals. People understood that Romania needs new laws that provide people more freedom. A good example is the law that requires a political party to get a significant amount of signatures to run in an election. This favors establishement parties. The pressure to change these laws has to come from bottom-up and the civil society appears to have understood this or at least is moving towards the right direction. I do hope this trend will continue.
Please tell me something particular about Romania that you would usually say to a foreign friend.
That it is amazing. Travel as much as possible in Romania. Visit all regions. Explore the Danube Delta. Explore the mountains. Hike in the mountains. Drive on the Transfagarasan (with limited speed though). Do one of the Spas in Targu-Mures. Eat local. Experience the culture and talk to people. People are very kind and friendly here.
What is your biggest dream?
Together with some friends we want to hike 100 km in less than 30 hours in May. My biggest dream right now is to succeed this hike, which is a huge physical and mental task. More long term, I am committed to changing Romanian IT. I want to bring in more research and work on policies that will motivate Romanian IT companies to open up to R&D.
Any final remarks regarding our home country?
Yes. A huge number of great Romanian talents live abroad. Romania needs you. Get involved. Bring your expertise home. Give talks. Initiate discussions on policies.
Well, we are definitely on the same page here! You from the outside have to be the motor of change and together with the rapidly growing Romanian economy, we can build a better future for our country! Thanks, Johann, for your involvement!
For more about his complex work, you can also check out Johann's personal blog.
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