In through the outfield blog

24 posts from March 2009

31 March 2009

The World Bank ‘Doing Business’

Doing Business DatabaseA recent special report in the Economist on entrepreneurship included an article on the World Bank annual Doing Business report.

I have to confess to not having heard of this before. It is a ‘naming and shaming’ report which rates countries for their business-friendliness, by measuring business regulations, property rights and access to credit.

Since the first edition in 2004 it has resulted in more than 1,000 reforms across the 180 countries on the list.

Most of these have been in developing countries, with the top reformers of 2007-8 being Senegal, Burkina Faso and Botswana.

However, the developed nations have not stood still either, with efforts to make it easier to start a new business. In Canada it is now possible to start a business using just one form.

According the the Economist article, Robert Litan of the Kauffman Foundation, suggests the World Bank may have done more good by compiling the Doing Business lists than a significant part of the enormous funds it has lent over the years.File:Ease of Doing Business Index.PNG

30 March 2009

The Chartered Management Institute ‘does’ the Apprentice

the_apprenticeInteresting to see that the Chartered Management Institute has started it’s first official blog specifically to comment on the latest series of the Apprentice on BBC television.

I know the show is very popular so I assume they are using this factor to attract visitors. However, they are right in thinking the show is an ideal opportunity to illustrate how management should be applied to solve problems. This in stark contrast to what happens most of the time on the show. The very first episode The Demise of Anita provided a lead-in to the role of budgeting.

I think there were several management related issues covered in last night’s show, but with the demise of Anita revolving around her budgeting problems that seems a sensible topic to focus on for this weeks Apprentice blog.

A budget is a statement of expected expenditure or income that has been allocated under a set of headings, for a set period of time. Budgets = incomings as well as outgoings

Sadly you feel that this was the element of budgeting that was severely lacking in yesterday’s task.  Anita was very diligently counting up how much was being spent by the girls, but no mention was given to exactly how much they expected to make.  The checklist outlines some steps you should be taking when drawing up your budget (the following is just a sample).

1. Identify the key plans and objectives - In its simplest sense, to make more money than the other team
2. Determine the key or limiting factors - You only have 1 day’s trading so payback period is very important.
3. What is coming in? - What are your revenue forecasts?  Indeed were there any revenue forecasts?  On this count the boys were much better and factored this into their pitch before heading out to meet the mini cab company.
4. What is going out? - This part Anita seemed to have covered.  She knew exactly how much was being spent.
5. Think through the fixed and variable costs - Last night’s task was simplified in this sense as no labour costs or anything were factored in.
6. Collect all the information you need to set this year’s budget - Another failing for the girls (and to be fair the boys too) here, they gathered no information on how much a car wash could fetch, and therefore how many cars they would need to wash to break even when the money was being spent.  Only in the car afterwards did they question the budget spend and how many cars they would need to wash to break even.
7. Ask some important questions - Basic risk analysis is required when setting a budget, what factors could throw your predictions?  Are your assumptions suitably accurate?

Of course the producers engineer the aprentice activities (usually by allowing insufficient planning time) to ensure things go wrong to provide entertainment for the viewers.

One of the things that really annoys me about the show is the misleading impression it creates of business life. For instance teams really need to work together and support each other when things go wrong. A blame culture is not conducive to business success. Even more misleading is the way ‘Srallen’ is able to fire staff on a whim. Even in these recessionary times HR policies rightly give protection to staff, unless they have received previous warnings, or for gross misconduct. The I am being fired website has more details on what happens in the real world.

A world of cracking ideas

The Science Museum, in collaboration with the UK Intellectual Property Office, has launched A world of cracking ideas, an inventions exhibition aimed at children.

The exhibition is themed around the Wallace and Gromit characters. Wallace is always inventing devices for dropping him from bed into his trousers, automatically making the breakfast, and so on. Typical, I suspect, of the coverage is last Saturday's Telegraph article, which is joky and includes the line "thinking up potty ideas is a national pastime."

Not so potty is the amount of money that has presumably been made by the mismatched pair of Wallace and Gromit themselves. The master who is less intelligent than his silent dog (who constantly saves the day) -- and he doesn't realise it. Despite everything, Gromit is loyal in truly dog-like fashion.

Besides the actual television and movie productions, licensing out rights to use the characters must be lucrative. I had a look to see what intellectual property rights had been registered by Aardman Animations Limited. I didn't find any patents or designs, but trade mark rights have been registered to protect merchandising of products.

Most of these are words such as Creature Comforts and Shaun the Sheep (also Timmy Time and Chop Socky Chooks, which were new to me). Chicken Run was registered by DreamWorks Animation LLC, which is a reminder that relying on a company name doesn't always work. Similarly, a separate company, Wallace & Gromit Limited, has registered the trade mark Wallace & Gromit and also the following, purely visual, British trade mark 2367443 showing Gromit:

Gromit trade mark 

British trade mark 2367441 shows Wallace in similar mode. Both were filed in 2004 and both cover 12 classes of products or services (as registrations are made for specified goods or services in specified classes), such as beverages, snacks, motorcyclist clothing (!) and the obvious entertainment services. The British database can be searched for free on the Web.

No trade marks showed the two as companions, to my surprise. And what if someone tried to use Gromit showing different expressions, or for other areas of business ? One for the lawyers to sort out.

27 March 2009

"Flash of genius" film

The other day I noticed an advertisement on TV for a new film, Flash of genius. I thought there was a fleeting glimpse of patent drawings.

It's about Robert Kearns, who in 1964 filed for a patent for the first (at least, successful) Windshield wiper system with intermittent operation -- windshield of course being what the British call a windscreen. It involved a cheap timer. Previously, the wiper moved all the time. He tried to interest the Big Three car makers and they said no, yet began to install them in their cars from 1969.

So he sued.

Wikipedia has an article about his life with more on the litigation. He ended up living opposite the Detroit courthouse.

I've already posted about earlier films/ movies which are about real inventors.

25 March 2009

New DNA technique using mixed samples

There has been a lot of publicity recently for the UK Forensic Science Service and its new technique for using mixed samples of DNA and extracting distinct DNA profiles for individuals. An example is the Daily Telegraph story.

The technique is called DNA Boost, and four successful trails in police forces suggest that many "cold cases" can be reopened with old samples tested using the new technique.

The patent application describing the technique is the Improvements in and relating to analysis of mixed source DNA profiles. That was published in October 2007.

19 March 2009

Professor James Boyle and the fight for Creative Commons have already blogged about Professor Boyle’s latest book The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. And having heard him interviewed by Laurie Taylor on a recent Thinking Allowed broadcast on Radio 4, I was excited to hear he would be speaking in to staff in the British Library.

He did not disappoint, being erudite, passionate and amusing in his explanation of the rapid (since the 1970’s) and significant (from 28 years to life + 70 years) expansion of copy right restrictions.

One of his most memorable points for me was the deafening silence from the US Copyright Office when asked how he could make his work copyright free. His point being, that the law has been extended to cover all creative works with no regard to the views of the authors who want to allow access.

Cover of comic, superhero with video camera and creative commons shieldHe talked about my current favourite ‘book’ on copyright issues, produced by his colleagues at the Center for the Study of the Public Domain. It is actually a comic called Tales from the Public Domain: BOUND BY LAW? and is freely available.

He asked how many in the audience would have predicted that the open and non-hierarchical approach underlying the Wikipedia project would have resulted in a resource as accurate as Encyclopaedia Britannica, but twenty times the size, and updated in real-time.

Finally he explained the role of the Creative Commons movement in making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright.

18 March 2009

The Invisible Edge

I have just finished a new book, The invisible edge: taking your strategy to the next level using intellectual property. The authors are Mark Blaxill and Ralph Eckhardt, who are managing partners of 3LP Advisors, an "investment advisory firm focused on intellectual property".

It is packed with (almost entirely American) case studies of how companies used their intellectual property -- mainly patents in the case studies -- to make themselves successful. Or how, sometimes, they failed to realise the value of their property.

Many of the case studies were new to me. They include the story behind 3G technology, where manufacturers have to pay Qualcomm lots of money because of a vital patent; Xerox's success with the patent for the Xerox 914 model, the first viable photocopier, launched in 1959, and Gillette and Schick's fight over razor technology.

I had not realised that after Sony lost the Betamax/ VHS video format war, they concentrated on being a "shark". They would build leads in new technologies, get patents for them, and on the strength of that ask for license fees to use the technology. Japan itself gained hugely from anti-trust actions in the United States in the 1960s which forced American companies to license their technology cheaply. Japanese companies bought in the technology for low fees which enabled the opening up of the American market, an effect that was not understood at the time. I found particularly striking a page with charts showing the rise since 1960 of licensing out, rather than licensing in, technology for Japan and for Korea, as those countries developed their own technological leads.

The book claims that 80-90% of the value of many companies lies in their intellectual property, but that they often don't realise it. Economists, too, have traditionally not taken it into account as it does not rest easily in their models.

My only minor quibbles are that more on Europe would have been interesting (but then the raw material is more available for American studies), and I thought the value of a good trade mark was not emphasised enough. Not every company competes in a field where patents or copyright are vital.

An excellent read for anyone who suspects that their company is losing out in the battle for profits.  

Consultation on fees by UK IPO

The UK Intellectual Property Office is consulting about fees for obtaining trade marks and, to some extent, patents, and other matters. For example a reduced fee if applicants file electronically and eanbling trade mark applicants to ask for help by telephone while filling in the application form.

More details are given in the consultation which also explains about how to respond. Anyone can comment, with the deadline being the 1 June.