At this Atlanta-based energy firm, IT employees are encouraged to dream up technical solutions to business needs that existing vendor products can't address. Six of the 10 patent applications the company published in 2013 were for things invented by IT employees. Named inventors on successful patent applications receive $500 awards, plus an additional $2,000 for patents that are granted. In addition, inventors are eligible to receive a percentage of the royalties the company earns for commercial use of patented items. Southern Co.'s IP Incubator program provides funds to kick off pilots and build technology prototypes.