Louis Nerone spent quarter of a century at GE’s historic NELA Park quietly inventing better light bulbs. Last month, Nerone, who is a principal engineer at GE Lighting Solutions, was awarded his 106th patent. All but five of those have been assigned to GE, which adds up to about four patents per year. Last year he received eight, though. “It comes in spurts,” he shrugs.
Nerone’s inventions generally manage the amount of electricity that flows into the bulb. His innovative electronics, which remains hidden in the caps and bases of bulbs, makes fluorescent lamps and LED lights stay bright, last longer and consume less power. Odds are good that GE compact fluorescent bulbs in your neighborhood store have Nerone’s engineering inside. “It’s not something people would even notice,” he offers modestly. “It’s not a highly visible thing.”
Unless you are a GE manager looking at the bottom line, or a homeowner concerned about her electricity bill. One time, a product manager whose margins were shrinking because of the rising costs of a bulb part supplied to GE by a different manufacturer came to Nerone for help. Nerone tinkered with the problem and made the part, which controlled the amount of power that went into a fluorescent light, cheaper and simpler and the lamp more energy efficient. “He wanted something that was not there yet,” Nerone said. “That’s where a lot of the stuff comes from.”
It could be called “innovation on demand.” Nerone says that many of his inventions started as a response to someone else’s problem. “We fool around in the lab for a while and see what’s there,” Nerone laughs. He says that he “likes to come up with the solution first and see how it compares to what is already on the market. Sometimes you realize that you have something good.”
It’s as easy as that, says Nerone who spent his high school years reading GE transistor manuals. He joined GE a few years after he received his doctorate in electrical engineering from Cleveland State University.
Nerone makes joining GE sound like a no-brainer, just like his inventing. “I thought that GE was a really neat company,” he says. “Twenty-five years ago they had an opening. So I applied.”