May 23, 2019
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Coming up with ideas, turning them into patented inventions, incorporating them into technical standards through standards bodies, and then making them available to the wider industry through licensing is a key way Qualcomm Technologies contributes its breakthrough technologies to the world. Behind these inventions are thousands of brilliant inventors at the company. Today we are celebrating Qualcomm Technologies’s top multimedia inventor — Dr. Marta Karczewicz, vice president of technology — for her nomination as a finalist for the European Patent Office’s (EPO) European Inventor Award in the Lifetime Achievement category.
One of Europe’s most prestigious innovation prizes, the European Inventor Award honors individuals and teams of inventors whose pioneering inventions provide solutions to some of the biggest challenges of our times. Previous winners of this lifetime achievement award include the inventors of a device for laser eye surgery; the world’s first LCD flat panel display; and next-generation vaccines against meningitis, whooping cough, and other infections. Marta’s 400+ patents and inventions have enabled the compression of video files by a factor of 1,000 without affecting the quality of the final image. These technological advances have transformed the video entertainment industry and made video streaming available to ever-greater audiences. Considering that every day people watch over a billion hours of video on YouTube alone1, Marta’s inventions impact billions of people around the world.
We sat down with Marta to talk about her incredible journey, from growing up in Poland, to the impact her innovations have had on the world we live in today, to advice she has for others — especially women — who aspire to be inventors like her.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: When did you develop your passion for inventing?
A: I’ve had an interest in the STEM field since I was young, so my path never seemed unusual to me. I always enjoyed the problems that I would come across in my math classes growing up. In high school, I was in the top 10 in Poland’s National Math Olympiad. From there, I was given the opportunity to study signal and image processing at Tampere University in Finland, where I developed an interest in data compression.
Q: What is your area of expertise within Qualcomm?
A: I lead a team of about 25 people in multimedia R&D. I specialize in video coding technology which allows videos to be compressed, sometimes by a factor of 1,000, without losing any perceivable image quality. Today I can confidently say that I have worked on nearly every building block that comprises video codecs.
Q: What would you say are your biggest milestones, or contributions, to this field?
A: One of my most notable inventions has been used in the design of the AVC in-loop deblocking filter. The majority of the video coding techniques are applied on the block basis, for example, 8x8 or 16x16 blocks. That can lead to creation of artificial edges between them. The deblocking filter improves the visual quality by removing or smoothing those edges. The deblocking filter was first included in the codec preceding AVC, called H.263+. However, the strength of the filter only depended on coding modes of adjacent blocks and quantization step size. In AVC, the deblocking filter strength also depends on the content of the image — a stronger filter is used in smooth areas, a weaker filter in areas containing textured or object boundaries. A similar deblocking filter design is also used in HEVC.
Q: How would the average consumer interact with your inventions?
A: Every time a video is streamed on an online service or broadcast over a high-definition television signal, it is likely encoded using video standards that I helped develop. One of the most common use cases for my inventions is that they enable the quality of video livestreaming that impact general multimedia entertainment like Netflix or YouTube, but it also goes way beyond that. My inventions have helped enable 8K x 4K video resolutions at 120 frames per second, which is what allows users to use virtual and augmented reality applications on mobile devices. My inventions have also played a role in the advancement of telemedicine by allowing doctors to provide medical care from a distance using teleconference technology, and these new applications will only grow in size and scope with the ongoing deployment of 5G.
Q: What is the future looking like? What are you working on these days?
A: The current standard — called HEVC — finished in 2013, but since then my team and I have continued to work on new ideas for video compression. The resulting video codec was submitted to ITU-T and MPEG in 2015, and has become a basis for a Joint Exploration Test Model, or JEM. This JEM offers substantially better performance than the existing video standards, which led to a release of “Call for Proposals on Video Compression with Capability beyond HEVC” and starting Versatile Video Coding (VVC) standardization in April of 2018. The VVC standard is expected to be finished in 2020. Stay tuned!
Q: How has Qualcomm empowered you as an inventor in your field?
A: My research area is one that requires a long view because the technology inventions are incremental. Part of the reason I’ve thrived at Qualcomm Technologies is that they have a unique appreciation for long term bets in technology. In addition, I have enjoyed immensely the open exchange in standards bodies that I attend representing Qualcomm Technologies. For me, patents are a vital catalyst in this field. They help advance technology by facilitating the transfer of knowledge from one inventor to another. Yes, it is important for companies to protect their proprietary expertise, but they also need to work together to progress. Qualcomm Technologies’ focus on promoting intellectual property has allowed me and my colleagues to share inventions, build on each other’s ideas, and advance technical standards across the industry. We make our inventions known so that others can take them further and be inspired by them. When that happens, it makes me even more proud of what I do.
Q: How can companies encourage more women to become inventors and innovators in the workplace?
A: When women are met by leadership within their organizations that support and help them foster their entrepreneurship and innovation, there is a much better chance that the number of women inventors will grow.
Q: What advice do you have for others who consider themselves aspiring inventors?
A: Keep in mind that sometimes it is good to be naïve. When I was getting started over 20 years ago, I would look at the technology in front of me and think that in this relatively new field of video compression, there must be better ways of doing things. I felt compelled to fix it and worked hard to make sure that my inventions were the best they could be. Being curious and willing to learn are essential when you want to be an inventor.