Sunday, September 18, 2005
Intellectual property can be a very productive way to build value into your enterprise. Even the smallest of start ups and emerging enterprises can take advantage of trademarks and patents.
This has nothing to do with those idiotic rip-off advertisements for help getting a patent. Do NOT do that. Repeat. Do NOT do that. Rather, I'm talking about using your own time and effort to use publicly available resources to build and grow the assets of your enterprise while helping protect its future.
As your organization grows in complexity, you will need to lawyer up. However as a start up or an emerging enterprise, you can create your own intellectual property. I've done it, and I have trouble programming my cell phone.
What's my secret? Some inside track on invention and innovation? Nope. My secret is Nolo Press. I really wish Nolo wasn't so secret, so this post is my little pitch for what they do. Nolo publishes books about applying for trademarks and patents that are clear and easily accessible. The content is presented simply and in logical order. Many small but critical action steps, including timetables, are fully covered with brevity, accuracy and grace.
While writing our first patent using the Nolo book, everyone told me that I might have a shot at the patent language, but that I should never attempt to do the patent drawings myself. No matter what, most insisted, I needed to hire out the drawings to a professional.
Of course, I checked the Nolo book on patent drawings out of the library. It was so good I bought a copy. Then I did the drawings, based only on what was in the Nolo book.
I buttoned up the entire package and mailed it to the US Patent and Trademark Office, following the excellent directions provided by David Pressman, author of the Nolo book Patent It Yourself. I put the Nolo books on the shelf and went back to work. About 18 months later (the PTO is faster now) I got the news. All our claims had been accepted on the first application (not typical) and all of the drawings had been accepted with no changes required.
Since then, as the organization has grown, we've lawyered up this end of our biz. Our wonderful patent attorney Jaen guided us through some really interesting issues and helped us receive five more patents. The idea is to do what's appropriate at each stage of your project.
You don’t need patents. You probably do need trademarks. You absolutely need to be familiar with the subject. I believe it’s very important for start ups and emerging enterprises to have a working understanding of the legal rights and obligations attached to the work they create.
The point of this post is that, in the emerging stages of your enterprise, you can get a lot of intellectual property basics in place by yourself, inexpensively and accurately with Nolo's help.
I've never met anyone from Nolo, but they strike me as a damn helpful bunch. You owe it to yourself to look into their work.
Nolo Press. Patent, Copyright and Trademark: An Intellectual Property Desk Reference
Nolo Press. Patent It Yourself 11th Edition
Nolo Press. Trademark: Legal Care for Your Business & Product Name
Nolo Press home page
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Anyone who tells you it's easy to start and run your own enterprise is lying. If they say anything about fast money, run.
The reality is not like that. Start ups are hard. Birthing a new organization takes harder work and longer hours than you'd imagine. Sustainable cash flow is slow to build. The ability to capture and bank the profit can be even tougher.
For you and I, that's good. For the people who won't make the effort, that's bad.
My purpose in writing and talking about start ups and emerging enterprises is to give up my little piece of the story. Starting and growing sustainable enterprises has never been easier, but the tools and the rules need careful attention.
I've found small, smart, fast organizations to be a wonderful way to keep a bit of my heart and soul intact while making a living.
Sustainable work doesn't mean easy work. It means smart work. It means staying ahead of as many opportunities and problems as you can.
Thomas Edison earned almost 1,100 patents. He said that to invent you needed a good imagination and a pile of junk. I am genetically coded to this school of thought (anyone remember Kohler’s in Lombard, IL back in the day?)
However, what I think Edison really brought to the table was his determination and work ethic. He just kept showing up. He just kept making the campground better. Most of his patents were not original work. They were generally improvements in pre-existing stuff. Thomas Edison just kept making everything around himself better, easier to manufacture and easier to use.
Where did that get him and us? Thomas Edison was the co founder of a little outfit called General Electric, now among the most powerful and - if the PR is accurate - emergingly progressive organizations the world has ever seen.
Edison looked everywhere for opportunity and he found it almost every place he looked.
When asked about this subject, Edison is quoted as saying, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work".
So it goes with your own sustainable work, friend. It's dressed in overalls. It's work, trouble and effort.
However, with planning and good execution, you can change how that work fits into your life and what it contributes to you personally.
A job is something you’ve got to do.
Your own sustainable work is something you get to do.
Run toward the opportunity, not away from it, and remember to wear your overalls.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Headline in the October 05 issue of MIT's Technology Review: Robert Noyce dreamed up the microchip in a 1959 notebook entry.
You don't need me to tell you the microchip and Robert Noyce have changed humanity forever.
I just wanted to point out the notebook thing. Mission critical to your own process of development, friend. Note the notebook portion of that headline.
You need to learn to use notebooks if your enterprise is to flourish. There is no memory bank good enough for what you're going to face.
Much of what you include in your notebook won't ever be necessary again. Some of it will save your ass someday. Some might even lead to a microchip moment for you.
I think of my notebooks as analog blogs with me as the only reader. I can go back years (OK I admit it, decades) to see what I was working on at that moment. What questions I had, how I dealt with the problems involved, etc. No matter, I've got them.
Of course you should put Mr. Noyce's legacy to work and digitize the daylights out of your data, then back it up 16 ways to Sunday. There are 9 zillion new communications and storage devices emerging, a lot of which looks pretty helpful... Blackberry types, heavily tricked out cell phones and all the rest. That stuff will make its contribution where appropriate. But they also break. They can be expensive to maintain and repair, and their ability to operate is subject to forces outside your control.
It's hard to break a notebook. Your notebooks will serve as your free, always at your side, real time brain dump and hard copy backup. Put it all down. Capture the data, the ideas, the possibilities, the contacts, the phone numbers, the eMail addresses, and most importantly, the questions. All the stuff that may serve you later. Your notebooks give you and your own electrical synapses the chance to dance with, and connect the dots in ways microchips will never be inspired enough to accomplish.
That's your edge. You. And all the solutions, suggestions and whimsy you bring to the party. Capture the drive-by data that appears daily. Notebooks need not be anything fancy. The idea is to keep your efforts written down, noted and reviewable. Transfer some to digital as needed, but the rest can be easily stored, and forever available.
I have friends who are inventors, artists, entrepreneurs and enterprise stars. If you ask in a nice way, you'd find all the best ones keep a notebook nearby. Virtually all of them save them and keep them dear.
This is not a suggestion. I believe notebooks are a requirement. Learn to continuously post the daily details that need capturing. If you don't, those details will most likely not be there to serve you and the rest of us when needed.
This is not Luddite stuff. I want you in full control of your story on the internet yesterday. That's non negotiable.
However, do you need the hottest coolest biz widgets? Do you need the hippest stuff from out there at the bleeding edge? Not likely for most start ups and early stage enterprises.
I do know that the microchip changed the world. It has become a previously unimagined and powerful building block of human society.
I also know the microchip started it's life as a little analog post in a notebook.
Leslie Berlin's book The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley
MIT's Technology Review
Saturday, September 10, 2005
Below is a snippet from a letter sent by Robert Goddard to H.G. Wells. Goddard led an amazing life. He persevered through a lot of rough public handling to lead the world into space.
Goddard credits the ignition of his inspiration to H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, which he'd first read at age 16. He designed and launched the world's first liquid filled rocket in 1926. Got all of 41 feet and changed humanity.
A few years earlier, in 1919, he was an ascending young science star. A Ph.D, working on rocketry research partially backed by the Smithsonian.
He was an intuitive, brilliant, careful scientist, and he'd worked out the engineering and the physics of early rocketry. It was apparent to him that you could do a lot more with rocketry than all but a few folks like H.G. Wells had considered.
He got an OK to publish his scientific paper on the potential for space travel using rocketry. As the publication date approached he surely must have privately felt some anticipation and pride.
His bio as one of the Time 100 continues... "Goddard meant his moon musings to be innocent enough, but when the Times saw them, it pounced. As anyone knew, the paper explained with an editorial eye roll, space travel was impossible, since without atmosphere to push against, a rocket could not move so much as an inch. Professor Goddard, it was clear, lacked "the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."
Goddard seethed. It wasn't just that the editors got the science all wrong. It wasn't just that they didn't care for his work. It was that they had made him out a fool. Say what you will about a scientist's research, but take care when you defame the scientist. On that day, Goddard — who would ultimately be hailed as the father of modern rocketry — sank into a quarter-century sulk from which he never fully emerged. And from that sulk came some of the most incandescent achievements of his age."
Tough, wonderful stuff. Lots of lessons.
I was poking around the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian a while back and got stopped cold by a Goddard quote they'd posted. It was from a letter he'd written to H.G. Wells, dated April 20, 1932. I wrote it on a paper scrap that's been posted over my desk ever since.
"There can be no thought of finishing, for aiming at the stars, both literally and figuratively, is a problem to occupy generations, so that no matter how much progress one makes there is always the thrill of just beginning".
I really love that... The thrill of just beginning.
Goddard didn't know where his work would go. Early on, it clearly didn't go the way he'd hoped, even though he was doing great work. He just persevered. He changed the world, one day at a time, a little bit, all the time.
So, for you, my friend. As you start or grow your enterprise, it will surely not be what you expect. I expect some of it will not be as fun as you think. This isn't a script.
Remember Goddard. Remember that after years of struggle and effort, the thing that he measured his life by was not the rough personal trials and not the global awards. It was the thrill of just beginning.
Don't wait. Your new enterprise is out there to start and grow. What's in it for you? Maybe nothing. Maybe something.
However, I guarantee this. Put it in the bank. Forever, you will always have the thrill of just beginning.
Time 100 article
Wikpedia link to Robert Goddard
Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
Friday, September 09, 2005
When planning your startup or growing your enterprise, you've got to first decide who your customers are and what value you can bring to them. Where are those potential customers hiding? What are your best market opportunities?
When you look at the overall economy, it looks pretty daunting. In fact it looks downright chaotic. You can look at a million details so hard and so long that the forest disappears. You can be left with nothing but a pile of details and nothing to act on.
Good. That kind of confusion keeps out the under motivated.
Where the rest of us can draw motivational breath is in the numbers. The large numbers that produce the apparent chaos are also your opportunity, seen in the right light.
The September 2005 issue of MITs Technology Review includes a book review by Mark Williams of two new books about internet search theory and practice. The first is, The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, by John Battelle. The other is The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired magazine. My summary will be too short, but the basic idea behind the concept of long tails is that carefully searched and sorted, patterns can be pulled from the chaos. Your opportunity is in there, hiding behind the big stuff.
What does this mean for you friend? Here's how Mark Williams describes it in his review: "In the context of e-commerce, long tails have three implications. First, via the Internet, products with little demand can, collectively, create a market exceeding that of the few best sellers. Second, in the same way, that it enables a proliferation of markets, the Internet enables a proliferation of vendors. Finally, thanks to search, a shift from mass to niche markets is likely."
Or to quote directly from Chris Anderson's blog directly, "The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-target goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare."
Yes, yes, yes. You can create and grow your own enterprises despite the headlines, despite the apparent odds, and despite the naysayers. No generation in the history of the world has had this kind of access to knowledge, tools, markets and opportunities.
Tip your approach upside down. The forest is there. The trees are there. Your path through this opportunity awaits.
MITs Technology Review
Chris Anderson's Long Tail blog
John Battelle's blog