Adobe Invents: Jeff Chien Shapes Future of Imaging

Our founders once said, “Great ideas come from everywhere in the Company.” And, with more than 2,600 patents and counting, we’ve got a lot of them! In this new series of profiles, we shine a light on the amazing people who come up with ideas worth patenting.

Jeff Chien didn’t start off as an imaging expert. His educational background and early career experience was in computer networking—it wasn’t until he joined Adobe in 1991 that he learned his true craft. Now, he’s a senior principal scientist and Distinguished Inventor (a designation that’s given to employees with 10 or more patents) who works primarily with Photoshop and digital imaging.

“I picked up my imaging skills at Adobe. I dedicated myself to learning digital imaging for about three years before working on Unix platforms and was really inspired by the user base. They really care about the product, and it’s great to directly impact these people with my work,” shares Jeff.

Jeff also believes Adobe is unique in that a lot of our employees are artists themselves. This perspective allows us to create products with a unique lens, and Jeff himself has become an artist.

There’s a Patent for That

With 51 patents in his pocket, Jeff is no stranger to the art of patent creation. Describing the process, Jeff claims “I never went out to purposefully file a patent—it just happens. I’ll go and create a feature for Photoshop, and someone will tell me ‘You should file a patent for that.’”

When asked about his patents, Jeff shares that it was the Healing Brush patent at Adobe that really stuck with him and taught him the most.

Working on Photoshop 7 at the time in 2001, Jeff recalls how he and two others created the Healing Brush feature: “It was a huge patent—we may decide to break it up into a couple patents if are to do it again!” The technology behind the feature was based on a physics equation of heat transfer: the goal was to make the Healing Brush smooth and quick, and applying this equation did the trick.

An iteration of Healing Brush was Scratch Removal, which addressed the issue of faulty photo scanning and old photo wear and tear. The goal was to restore photos to their original state: Scratch Removal never made it as Jeff and his team struggled to make it work for the users—they eventually settled down on the Healing Brush the way it works now. This just goes to show how constant iteration is a necessity for finding success and most won’t get it right the first time.

Another familiar feature Jeff patented was Content-Aware Scale. Content-Aware Fill would come years later, but it was Jeff and his team that came up with the industry standard term of “Content-Aware.” This particular feature dealt with size and proportion adjustment, and Jeff reveals it wasn’t always called Content-Aware: “We used to call this kind of feature ‘Smart’ or ‘Magic,’ but those names didn’t stick.”

Looking Beyond Patents

Looking to the future, Jeff thinks that imaging will continue to be a key part of Adobe’s business. “Imaging is memory. What can be more valuable than memories?” The way we capture these memories will also continue to change; Jeff predicts that Photoshop will need to continually adapt to the new methods of capturing photography (iPhone, GoPros, etc) and in order to stay relevant, Adobe may need to continue making hardware (like Adobe Ink & Slide) as well. “It’s very encouraging that Adobe is trying hardware,” says Jeff.

So, what’s next for Jeff? “I see myself as fulfilling a more supportive role for my colleagues who wish to patent their technology.” With all that experience, it’s no wonder Jeff wants to help others.