Are Patent Trolls Chilling Innovation and Will Reforms Stop Them?

patent, patent trolls, reformsOne of my clients has a business that has research and development as one of its core practices. It is always fascinating to hear of some new cutting-edge idea that may be a product or a piece of product. So, as you can imagine, he is very protective of his patents. Protecting one’s patents has always been important but my client’s business is right in that demographic that the patent trolls are targeting. It’s a small business.

More than just software

You are probably familiar with patents on software, the smartphone litigation between Apple and Samsung as well as on the infomercial products featured on late night television. There has been some discussion about patents on medications ( good example of this is Viagra) expiring and companies re-engineering the medication to protect the patent. There are patents on genes for plants and, until recently, breast cancer genes.

Expensive blight

Patent trolls (also known as patent assertion entities) are business entities whose sole purpose is to gain ownership of patents and then sue anyone who infringes on them. Now there is a temptation to oversimplify and focus mainly on any company that sues for patent infringement as some kind of troll. There are examples of shell companies who sole existence is about buying patents and then waiting for infringement. Other companies partner with inventors and co-own patents or outright buy them from the inventors. The questions arise when there is some disparity between the percentage of patents owned by a company that are developed in-house and the ones that were purchased.

As entrepreneurs and small business owners go forward with what they think is an invention and/or innovation that is different from anything else, these patent trolls, or PAE’s, swoop in with threatened litigation. Small organizations typically don’t have the resources to fight back so there are a lot of settlements. Some businesses simply close their doors because there is nothing left.

Talk that the patent system is “broken”

In the US and around the world, there has been talk that the system has to be fixed. According to Rachael Lamkin, it isn’t really the system but how entities can use the courts to harm innovation and even consumers. This perspective does make sense. But there is also the observation that ideas are getting patents and the argument follows that ideas are not inventions. No matter what your perspective, there has to be some kind of change made to the patent system.

Legislation being introduced all over the world

It isn’t simply that businesses are being handicapped or ruined, consumers lose out when things are discontinued or costs increase. According to a Boston University study, patent trolling cost the US economy $29 billion in 2011. These problems are not exclusive to the US. There is a law that came into effect in April 2013 in the UK. Other reforms are being looked at as well. There is discussion about overhauling patent laws in Europe and maybe introducing a universal patent law.

This does affect all of us. We could very well work for a company that is sued. Farmers are being sent warnings that they are infringing on genetically-modified plant patents when seeds they did not plant are growing in their fields. These costs get passed onto consumers, clog up the court system and perhaps create a chill for inventors, entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Join the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz, this Friday, June 28th at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT to discuss patents, patent trolls and innovation.

Are patents being filed for new inventions or to create a (temporary) barrier in the marketplace?

How are patent trolls affecting innovation?

What kinds of protections could legislators put in place to limit or eliminate patent trolls?

What kinds of protections can entrepreneurs and small business owners put in place to protect their patents?

How do you see patent reforms affecting innovation?

image: iStockphoto by mwookie


Is It Time To Unplug From Digital World and Why?

#Unplug, Fast Company, digital worldThis week Fast Company has been running a special focus called #Unplug.  This has been an interesting discussion and it seems a good topic for the weekly Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz.  While there has been discussion about how our brains are changing due to our involvement with the digital world, there are still questions about the level of stress we impose on ourselves and the sociological impact which leads directly to how things are done in the business world.

Quick neuroscience lesson

We are all aware of the pressure to complete multiple tasks as efficiently as possible. We may not be aware of what goes into accomplishing this feat. It is understood that the frontal lobe of your brain (right behind your forehead) is responsible for organizing, decision-making, planning, problem-solving, impulse control, working memory, judgement and a few other functions. If you repeat a behaviour, your brain creates a new neural path. It is possible to encourage poor impulse control by attending to every ping your device gives off. Or consider handicapping your decision-making abilities by spending 10-20 seconds on a site and expecting to have gleaned the most salient points.

Social skill development

We are all familiar with trolls who leave comments berating the author, the subject of the post or both. We also know that doing that face to face has serious repercussions and would be the height of boorish behaviour. Yes, most of us are not trolls. However, that doesn’t necessarily leave us off any hooks.

There are patterns of communication online that involve sharing one’s message telegraphically. Plus, the lack of face to face conversation allows people to say just about anything. As we see the workforce change generationally, skills such as small talk, conflict resolution and debate (the civil kind, not the beat-your-opposite-into-submission verbal interchange) are affected. This affects customer service, developing business relationships and getting work done in a collegial environment. There are times when a conversation, not a text message, accomplishes what both parties are working on.

Which leads us to…

We are creating a world that has both positives and negatives for brain development, social interactions and, for the point of the KaizenBiz chat, business practices. The same devices that are introducing more distractibility and shorter attention spans are also allowing people to collaborate without being physically in the same place  as well as in emerging markets to connect with their customers more directly. As you are reading this post, you are probably thinking of a multitude of ways the digital world benefits you personally and professionally.

But when do we call it quits, how long and why?

It isn’t so much giving up the devices altogether (although Baratunde Thurston shut himself off for 25 days) and that may be a nearly an impossibility in the business world. The intriguing thing about the #Unplug focus on Fast Company is the questions about unintended consequences.

  • We are positively reinforcing ourselves to stay connected at all hours of the day every day and rewiring our brain to crave that stimulation
  • We might be Unplug History" href="" target="_blank">weakening our creativity
  • We are fighting our own biology
  • We might be inadvertently choosing to damage our health and our job performance
  • We might create an inordinate amount of stress for ourselves because we learn to be intolerant of boredom, patience or delayed gratification

Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t that the digital world is inherently a source of danger or evil. I am a proponent of social networking and the ability to integrate my work life and my personal life. But like the focus on Fast Company, it makes sense to apply some critical thinking to our work and lifestyle choices. Perhaps it makes sense to design consciously how we participate in the digital world.

Why do we accept that we must keep connected to our smartphones, tablets and other devices?

How do you evaluate the pros and cons of staying connected vs unplugging?

How could collaboration change if we unplugged ourselves for a designated time each week?

Great question borrowed from Fast Company…what do you miss about life before the digital age?



Taking a Closer Look at the Emotional Life of Goal Setting?

Goal setting, emotionsAt the turn of each year, the #KaizenBiz community looks inward and talks about goal setting and what each member hopes to accomplish. It was no different this year. Many of us are familiar with the SMART goal format (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) and the variations about goal setting.

Now that it is mid-year, it is a good time to look at what goals were set and examining their emotional life.

There is an emotional life to goal setting

With goal setting, we often overlook or underestimate the emotional life of goal setting. There are so many frameworks that focus on action and the metrics. These are certainly key pieces to the process but what about desire, hope, fear and anticipation? Here are three frequent motivators for goals:

  • We want something
  • Someone else has told us we want something
  • We think we are supposed to want something

This is where it can get murky since not all of our motivations are clean. With social media, we might read a tweet or post from someone who is announcing some new endeavour or accomplishment. Sure, we might feel happy for their daring or their success while still questioning our own capability and decision-making. Imagine a conversation with yourself like this, “Good for them…should I be doing that? I’m not doing that. Maybe I should be doing that…” and we experience doubt.

Some people get through this moment of doubt quickly but there is still the moment of comparison. Comparing ourselves to others is really based on perception. Think of a time when you shared feeling unsure of yourself to someone and he/she responded by saying how confident you seem.  Meridith Fineman has a great post about comparing herself to these self-reports of awesome-ness and feeling inadequate.

Use the motivation stuff carefully and experience your emotions

No one wants to feel inadequate so we often seek something to motivate and inspire us to return to action. If you do a quick search on Twitter about motivation or inspiration, you will find lots of encouraging words and quotes. Winners don’t give up… be fearless…follow your dreams and many others are right there for you to read. And there is nothing wrong with these sentiments specifically. But in this moment is the real work – how we  how we manage our emotions through the ups and downs of goal achievement. This is true even when we live and work in cultures that define when and how emotions are expressed.

Boatload of information

Our idiosyncrasies, mindsets and human-ness will support or hinder our goal setting. Some areas to pay attention to:

  • Alignment between the personal & professional- It is tempting to have a “Work Me” and a “Home Me” but this could trigger cognitive dissonance..
  • Your imagination- Visualizing your success (some call this daydreaming) allows for you to imagine the hopes and fears embedded in the goal. The negative side is that being too positive can lead to a psychological phenomenon that makes us feel as if we already achieved the goal before we start.
  • Avoiding commitment- Trying to straddle the desire to take risks with the desire to avoid risk dilutes the goal setting process.
  • Open or closed mindsets- Carol Dweck’s research about mindsets fits so well here. The emotion of confidence is fueled by belief that we are or are not change agents.

Nakedly stating “I want this” (to ourselves)

That would be quite a statement at the outset of goal setting. The accompanying emotions could highlight what is driving the desire for a particular goal at a particular time. Maybe even foster more innovative thinking about the ultimate end of the goal. Our answers will come when we take a closer look at the emotional life of goal setting.

Join us Friday, June 14th at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT on Twitter (use the hashtag #KaizenBiz) and add your insights and expertise to this conversation:

How much of our emotions are tied into our goals?

What effect could avoiding our emotions have on achieving our goals?

Does the increase in distractability change how we achieve our goals?

How are emotions like envy and frustration used in goal setting?

What advantage would be present if you acknowledged your emotions while setting goals?

What goal did you set at the beginning of the year and how close are you to accomplishing it?

About the author:  Elli St.George Godfrey, founder of Ability Success Growth, small business coach and executive coach, is the host of KaizenBiz. I’m passionate about business becoming a more human-centered place so I host this chat to connect business ideas and develop people.This passion shows up in my work with my clients. Whether you are expanding locally or internationally, Ability Success Growth guides established small business owners and executives to unlock the CEO within during times of transition and growth.



Social Media, Advertising … and You

Lois Martin Marketing, advertisting, social mediaThis is chat guest post is by Lois Martin (@loismarketing), longtime KaizenBiz community member and marketing and public relations advisor for small to mid-sized businesses. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Lois provides strategic planning, social media management, graphic design and copywriting services.

Two or three weeks ago I became involved in a “side” conversation with fellow Tweeps during the #KaizenBiz chat. The conversation caught Elli’s attention – along with several others – and resulted in my landing in the guest seat (or should I say “the hot seat”???) for this week’s chat.

It’s interesting to discover business – and discuss business – from many angles during our time together each week. What is most interesting is when the topic of advertising or marketing arises. In the “side” conversation the other week it became clear that many of you are frustrated with what you view as intrusive, disrupting and interrupting advertising in social media. So … let’s discuss!

The best things in life AREN’T free!

If we admit it, all of us have been spoiled by the proliferation of free applications, free tools and other freeware on the Internet. When you stop and think about them, each has been a form of advertising or marketing for its creator. Many of these “freebies” stand on their own and support themselves – but such is no longer the case for major social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Highly-secured server farms and highly-skilled staff cost thousands of dollars to build, maintain and expand as the popularity of social media grows.

Will that be cash or credit?

Trust me – I’m right there with you. I find advertising disruptive and aggravating at times too.

Many of you who participate in #Kaizenbiz know that I am a Formula 1 racing fan. Nothing bugs me more than commercial breaks during the live broadcast of a race. Invariably, a key overtake (AKA “pass”) or another moment for the history books takes place during those crucial three minutes. I can hear all of you saying “Grrrr …” with me! We’ve all been there. Sometimes we are not afforded the luxury of split-screen action or timeouts on the field to allow for Kelloggs, CocaCola, McDonald’s, Honda et al  – who foot the bill for our entertainment.

Hmmmm. When you think about it that way, maybe those commercials aren’t so bad after all. Agreed? Yes, we pay for cable, satellite or other digital subscriptions – but how much would it cost you if the advertisers WEREN’T there?

We now return you to our regular programming …

So here we are back at our topic: social media and advertising. Elli, your fellow #Kaizenbiz chatters and I look forward to your hearing what you have to say – or tweet.

Join us Friday, June 7th at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT on Twitter (use the hashtag #KaizenBiz) and add your insights and expertise to this conversation:

In using major social media – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – do you think that paid advertising displays or posts disrupt your experience? If so, how?

Have you, your company or your clients purchased advertising in social media? If so, what were the results or outcome?

 Would you prefer to pay for a subscription to social media as an alternative to viewing or reading advertisements? If so, what would be a reasonable monthly fee for Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn?

 Who has been the most effective with advertising in social media?  Have you purchased a product or service as a result of a social media ad or “page”?

 What are your thoughts about targeted advertising in social media? Do you find it intrusive – or smart?

About the author: Lois Martin is a marketing and public relations advisor for small to mid-sized businesses. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Lois provides strategic planning, social media management, graphic design and copywriting services. Lois’ clients include a number of retail, financial, motor sports and specialty contractor companies. For more information, contact her at Lois (at) loismarketing (dot) com


The Strategy Misunderstanding

Welcome to our inaugural guest blogger post. Periodically we will be featuring members and friends of the KaizenBiz community. For this post, we are featuring John Richard Bell, a KaizenBiz community member, retired CEO of Jacobs Suchard’s North American coffee/confectionary business and former strategy and branding consultant to several of the globe’s most respected blue-chip consumer goods companies.

            Let’s start a conversation…

Strategy has to be one of the most misused words in strategy, misunderstood, tactics Continue reading