New Search Tool Released

Posted by Douglas Sorocco at February 15, 2007 06:29 PM

The master plan for the site includes several web features designed to deliver patent caselaw information in a more effective manner.  The first - the GimmeTen! feature - has quickly become the most popular page on the site...and for good reason.  Not familiar with it?  Simply bookmark and visit regularly.  That page always provides concise summaries of the ten most recently posted case reviews.  We're confident you'll quickly be hooked.

Today we announce the second feature in our bag of tricks -  the travelling search engine.  By following the steps below, you'll be able to search the site from anywhere on the web.

The best part is the simplicity -- 5 easy steps (4 for most people).  Five minutes tops.

1.  Make sure you're using either Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox 2.0 as your browser.  If you're not, download the latest IE here or Firefox here (both are free).  For the record, is optimized for Firefox.

2.  Start your browser.

3.  Visit

4.  Pull down the drop-down search box in the upper right hand corner and select "Add" (in Firefox) or select "" with the gold star next to it (in IE, see image at right).

5.  Surf the web.  Whenever you want to search the site, simply enter a search string in the box in the right hand corner, pull down the list, select, and hit return.   You can do this from any page on the web...and you'll immediately be transported to a listing of search results from the site.

I've quickly gotten used to searching by party name or full case name as I'm reading on the web.  This little trick has changed my surfing habits for the's a wonderfully efficient way to find information quickly.  We hope you find it useful as well.

As always, if you have any comments or suggestions, please let us know.  You can e-mail Matt directly at jmb @


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What are you listening for?

In rethinking, size does matter

Posted by J Matthew Buchanan at December 1, 2006 02:28 PM

Some rethinkers take baby steps.  Some walk at a comfortable pace.  And then there are those who leap.  Their rethinking of things forces them to bend their knees, coil up the energy in their leg muscles, and spring ahead in one giant rethinker's leap.  And those leaps let others take baby steps that benefit everyone.

Want an example?  Watch this video of Jeff Han's rethinker's leap.  Jeff is a research scientist at NYU's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.  Jeff conducts research on intuitive, "interface-free," touch-driven computer screens.  The video, taken at this year's TED conference, shows Jeff presenting his "drafting table screen" publicly for the first time.

How's that for a leap?  You can daydream endlessly about possible applications of that technology.  For example, can you imagine the power of combining a screen like that with a killer brainstorming app like MindManager?  How about a screen that takes up an entire a brainstorming session, powered by MindManager that works with Jeff's "multi-touch" technology?

It certainly will be fun watching all of the baby steps that come about thanks to Jeff's giant leap.

If you want to see more of Jeff's work, check out this video demonstration.




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Five minute inspiration for inventors and innovators

Posted by J Matthew Buchanan at November 12, 2006 04:38 PM

Inventing, as our good friend Bill Meade likes to say, is a process, not an event. So, too, is innovating.  Both can produce some amazing results when the creative juices are flowing.  Unfortunately, though, both inventing and innovating are like other business processes….they’re prone to getting stuck every so often. 

So what do you do when you or your inventive personnel don’t feel much like inventing?  When the innovation machine has come to a screaching halt?

Yell and scream and throw things (an old boss of mine comes to mind…)?

Nah…remember, this is the Web 2.0 world.  Nowadays, you head on over to YouTube, of course.  It is, after all, the Invention of The Year.  That alone should get everyone thinking of invention/innovation fortune and fame.

All kidding aside, there are some wonderfully inspirational clips on YouTube relating to invention and/or innovation.  I did a quick search and scan this weekend, and picked the three clips below as my current favorites. 

Many people just won’t understand these clips.  Some might even stare at the screen a bit funny, with their head cocked to the side like a dog that just doesn’t get it.  But I guarantee that the inventors and innovators of the world will be inspired by each of them.  

It’ll take about five minutes to read this post and watch all three clips.  If you’re one of the crazy ones, feel free to come back whenever you need a little inspiration. 


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What are you listening for?

Posted by J Matthew Buchanan at October 31, 2006 07:34 AM

This month's FastCompany has an excellent FastTalk piece (subscription or access code required) about an exec at BestBuy and her approach to managing and cultivating innovation.Cov110

The money quote:

"If you're going to turn on an innovation engine, a lot depends on whether managers listen for the brilliance in their employees' ideas that they can then help test, or whether they listen for what's wrong and why it won't work. Nate's idea didn't work at first, but his bosses saw something in it to keep trying. Creating that kind of open environment is the biggest hurdle we face."

So, I ask, what are you listening for -- brilliance and potential or downsides and barriers?

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Tips For Helping Clients Generate More Invention Disclosures

Posted by Bill Meade at September 12, 2006 02:02 PM

Some things have to be believed to be seen ... for example, invention disclosures. Inventing is a process, not an event. Inventing is a business process that identifies, captures, and presents to legal, the potential and actual technical competitive advantages of a company.

My top 10 ways for counsel to help clients generate more invention disclosures are:

#10 Bring Food

The fine art of "sucking down" to inventors is not taught in many law schools. When you have a "show the flag" meeting with your client and their designated inventors, surprise everyone by bringing a lot of delicious food. Our experience with foods that promote invention is to go for smell (sizzling hot pizza, coffee, fresh bread), calories (chocolate chip cookies, milk-shakes) and caffeine (coffee, lattes, Morning Thunder(TM) tea). Also, don't cater the event and call it good. You must bring. The most direct access to the brain is through the mouth. But inventors must see you carry food in, hear about how you cooked it or arranged it, they must feel that you care.

When was the last time you saw a lawyer personally bring food to an inventor? Exactly.

#9 Distill the Disclosure

If you look at invention disclosure forms on the web, especially the disclosure forms of universities, they are 95% distractions, underbrush, and tripwires. What I mean is that from the perspective of an inventor, 95% of an invention disclosure form is scary. Most employees never complete a single invention disclosure form over the 45 years they work. Why? In large part because if an employee ever looks at a disclosure form, they are terrified. They think "This is going to be as ugly as doing taxes!" and they walk away to avoid the secret trap doors of destruction implied by confusion.

If you reduce your invention disclosure form the distilled essence of what you need to evaluate investing in the idea, you will capture more, and more complete disclosures.

#8 Streamline the disclosure

Another way to improve the invention disclosure form is to think like an inventor. Instead of starting with "Prior art" which is a legal term and a starting point that makes no inventing-sense. Instead, try a question "What is the story of this invention?" Have your invention disclosure begin general and then gradually become specific to the idea that is the subject for disclosure. Streamlining can be as simple as reordering the sections so they make sense to inventors. Ask an inventor you know, to tell you the most sensible order, and then try it.

I avoided streamlining invention disclosures because I ass-u-me-d that an invention disclosure form was holy writ and it would cause the sky to fall if I changed it. But my experience has been that ID forms are very easy to change and often, little changes have big impacts on quality and quantity of invention.

#7 Anticipate Objections

Two can't-write-objections we always have to be ready for are "How do I know where one invention leaves off and another begins?" and/or "The invention is not company-related so I can't write it down."

One way to handle the invention ontology (i.e., the form and structure of inventions) question is to tell the inventor "If components of your system can be practiced separately, then disclose them in separate invention disclosures."

To handle the company-related question we typically have to have the inventor explain the invention to us, then we write it down (*Note* Your invention disclosure forms need to distinguish submitters from inventors because not all submitters are inventors.) for them. We take the invention out of the inventor because human memory is stack oriented. We've had inventors obsess on not writing down a non-company related idea, and then once we endodonically removed the disclosure, the inventor completed 10 more disclosures all of which were filed.

Your inventors may not procrastinate in these two ways. But however they procrastinate, you need to keep track of the objections and be ready to unleash armor penetrating responses to those objections. Once you do this a time or two for your client, the inventors stop objecting and start writing!

#6 Bleach Your Language

I'm not talking only about swearing here. "Non-obviousness to one skilled in the art" is the queen-mother of swear words in an invention workshop. Inventors seize-up when they try to parse this phrase. Remember that your audience is waiting for you to say something that will give them a good excuse not to put out effort or take risks. Invention disclosures require effort and represent risks to the inventor. Part of the professionalism of being an attorney is to understand what your buzz-words are and to stop using them when you are around inventors.

#5 Know What You Want

If you can explain to inventors what IP you want in plain English, you transform what they do. An open-ended invention capture exercise is much riskier than a problem-solving meeting. When you know what you want from the inventors, you change inventing from distilling-the-essence-of-engineer-genius, to solving a problem. Open-ended queries for "IP" are in effect, requests for in-process ideas. Technical people hate to expose their in-process ideas to public criticism. I don't know why this is, but I learned the lesson well the first time I asked for volunteers in an advanced marketing for engineers class to work out problems at the blackboard.

#4 No Laughing

Make a rule with all people involved with IP that invention disclosures are never to be laughed at. I ran an invention workshop once where the IP counsel were reviewing invention disclosures as they came in from the inventors. They would nudge each other with their elbows, point at a disclosure, and then laugh together at the idea. These counsel had no awareness that they were sitting in a room of 40 inventors, all of which were watching them.

People who live in bureaucracies are hard-wired to monitor the respect they receive. If they are not respected, they will not put out. So, it is great rule to forbid laughing for those in authority: At invention workshops, At invention disclosure review meetings, At presentations of patent awards.

#3 Love-Questions

The single best thing that can happen for a client, is questions from inventors. Questions tell you what the hurdles are at that particular client. If there are questions on the invention incentive program, this probably means that the payment mechanism is bollixed up. Questions on how disclosures are processed often mean that inventors are afraid of their bosses being involved and criticizing them for inventing. Questions that come up across meetings should be converted into the agenda for future meetings. The objections inventors bring up as questions, are the invisible road blocks to an organization mobilizing its IP. If you make it safe for non-inventors to ask questions, you can map the organization.

#2 Offer Incentives

These don't have to be big. Why? There is a branch of psychology called "prospect theory" that is based on the idea that people measure cost by the number of transactions, not by the amount of transactions. For example, prospect theory predicts that people using credit cards will spend more in a month than people using cash. Why? Because credit card users only pay 1 time per month.

Prospect theory can be harnessed to convert employees into inventors. For example, by taking $5 bills to an invention workshop meeting, and when an inventor turns in a completed invention disclosure, you crack down (loudly) on the table a $5 for turning in the invention. Try this. It will cost you at most $200. Write it off. What you will learn will be worth it.

#1 Dance With The One That Brung Ya

Many patent attorneys love the law. Consequently, a meeting with clients and their inventors can become a lecture on the law. Think about this. This puts the inventors in the position of either of your attorney peers (in which case you will talk over their heads) or the position of being law students. How likely is an inventor who is behind on a firmware release will have their creativity unleashed by a thorough lecture on patent law?

Your client wants invention disclosures, in fact, you probably want invention disclosures. So, put yourself in the shoes of the over-taxed, under-caffeinated, under-sugared, distracted inventor, and then make a list of the steps the inventor has to go though to take the shortest path to completing an invention disclosure. What are the steps? I don't know, so I prime the inventors with a little bit of general knowledge about patents and licensing, and then I get them to tell me the steps with their questions.


To help your client get more inventing, you need to think like a non-inventor. You need to get all the minds into the game. If the inventors can take care of the quantity of inventing, you working with your client can take care of the quality. Believe in your clients inventors, show them that you believe before they invent anything, and then support them as they try. Quantity first, quality with inventors learning.

Hope this helps!

Bill Meade

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"if you're against software patents, you're against patents in general..."

Posted by Stephen M. Nipper at April 6, 2006 03:07 AM

Put this on your "to read" list: Are Software Patents Evil? by Paul Graham

This is, by far, the best essay I have ever read on software patents and patent trolls. While you/I may not agree with every point he makes, he does an excellent job of explaining the issues and arguing his points. Well worth the read.

He does say one thing that makes me twitch funny: "We tell the startups we fund not to worry about infringing patents, because startups rarely get sued for patent infringement." Yikes...not the kind of statement I want quoted against me in a deposition. ;)

I also encourage you to read two of his other essays: How to Start a Startup and How to Fund a Startup.

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Intellectual Property Anti-Matter

Posted by Bill Meade at February 3, 2006 11:47 AM

Last March I gave an invention workshop at Michigan State University in East Lansing Michigan. MSU is my alma mater, so the session was a lot of fun because one of my graduate school mentors hosted the session, provided pizza (!), and compelled attendence by his current graduate students.

While I was reviewing the forms and functions of intellectual property, the faces of the graduate students went from interested to appalled. After the subject of licensing came up, one of the graduate students could not contain himself any longer. He raised his hand and said:

"Michigan State is a land grant school. The whole idea of the land grant school is to produce science and technology that is useful for farmers. I don't want my research patented if that means that growers won't be able to use it."

This sparked a lively discussion where we explored using intellectual property in creative ways to advance what I'll call the "land grant ethic." The most interesting idea in the discussion was "intellectual property anti-matter."

The requirements of masters and Ph.D. theses go pretty far towards establishing that the thesis written is new to the world science or technology. At least, the goal is to have an authentic creative contribution in the thesis.

Imagine if after the thesis is completed, that the graduate student sat down with a patent attorney and worked through the thesis to translate research results into patent claims. Several patents would be likely to be captured by this process. Now, imagine that the patent applications written by the patent attorney are published as defensive publications. What do you call the result?

Answer: Intellectual Property Anti-Matter.

The building blocks of conventional intellectual property management can be recombined in many more ways than they are used conventionally. New combinations of IP building blocks may be useful to open source, free software, and creative commons type communities.

For example, ...

The linux community has been engaged in a huge game of catch up to date. The functionalities of commercial operating systems have been re-written from scratch to avoid copyright infringements. Imagine a world in which Linux has finally caught up to proprietary operating systems technologically. In such a world, development of Linux shifts to pushing the envelope of new-to-the-world functionality. If after completing the technology the Linux developers could sit down with patent attorneys and draft patents on the new-to-the-world functionality, and then publish the applications as defensive publications, they can destroy patentability of the new-to-the-world functionalities ... even for proprietary operating systems companies.

Community newtorking people who are on the ground making mesh networks work will discover improvements needed to the technology to make it practical. If after discovering improvements, the mesh network people could defensively publish the improvements, they can open up key aspects of the intellectual property around these evolving technologies.

The big so what of this is that if a community wanted to organize to manage the threats of external patenting to their future, they can employ intellectual property anti-matter to do so. They will only be able to capture new to the world technologies. But, a concerted IP management effort would, in 17 years, be able to open up a considerable amount of design freedom world wide.

Just a thought.

bill meade

[Bill's previous post on THE 6 LIFE STAGES OF INVENTORS is here.]

[Bill's previous post on PROACTIVE INVENTION MANAGEMENT is here.]

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The 6 Life Stages of Inventors: Part 6 Senescense

Posted by Bill Meade at January 18, 2006 11:49 AM

The off-ramps of the first 5 stages of inventing are entry points to invention senescence. In addition, there is a sixth entry point to senescence. This entry point happens when a scanning inventor goes dark.

Seems like this would not be a big deal. But it is. Senior technical people going dark on inventing allows IP drift. Senior technical people often hold the purse strings for the IP efforts at a company. When senior techies stop inventing, their residual images of inventing and how it works at the company begin to drift out of date. Over years, the mental image in a senior technical person who is a senescent inventor becomes obsolete, leading to under funding of IP infrastructure, poor follow through on the business processes that underly IP policies, and ignorance-based-budgeting. Ignorance based budgeting takes place when people argue over budgets they don't understand. In the extreme, the work does not matter, just the changes in budget from the previous year.

Beside big problems, scanning inventor senescense can cause small problems. For example, invention workshops are frequently organized around senescent inventors. This happens because senescent inventors don't advertise that they are done with inventing. Organizers of invention workshops think it only natural to assume that a very senior engineering manager with a lot of history in a technology, would be a strategic contributor to an invention workshop. The workshop happens. The senescent inventor is a focus. In fact, the more junior technical members of the invention workshop will defer to the senior manager like s/he is some kind of "silver back" gorilla. The workshop runs for two days. Everyone feels good. But no invention disclosures are completed. Once the emergency repair team goes in and captures a few invention disclosures, none of them are filed. How can this be?

I think because of the off ramps of senescent inventors. The first off ramps of inventing with a senescent inventor is the "war story." When the "silver back" regales the workshop with war stories, s/he is in the zone. But, if the war stories don't lead to future-looking, gap filling, or competitively preemptive IP, they are an expensive distraction. The second off-ramp of a senescent inventor in an invention workshop is hierarchy. When things are unequal, it is nice to be on top. Senescent inventors allow hierarchy, they enjoy hierarchy. But, hierarchy causes self-censorship. Non-silver-back inventors will not follow the trail of discovery wherever it leads. So in the end, self-censorship causes invention disclosures to not be completed.

What causes an inventor to become senescent? It could be that inventors are born with a certain number of ideas in them, and once the ideas are used up, the inventor coasts. It could be that in a person's ego, there is a stomach for inventing. When an inventor has enough disclosures, patents, and plaques to fill up their ego-stomach, they stop inventing. The inventor might run out of ideas on the current technology they work in, and not be willing to learn a new technology. Oxygen depravation at the highest levels of company management could cause inventing to stop. Creeping sense of entitlement that come with rank may choke out inventing. I read biographies for a hobby. I just finished a fighter pilot biography that talked about generals who make subordinates walk 3 steps behind them. Generals that have alarms put in the hall outside their pentagon office so that when they leave their office all subordinates will have cleared the area. It could be a lot of things that stop a senior inventor.

The most important thing we IP managers know about what stops inventors is that it is our job to detect and remove it. We will never have a list of everything that stops inventors from inventing high quality cool, patentable, licensable, future-looking, gap-filling and competitively preemptive IP. So we need to act as invention off-ramp detectors for our organizations. We need to make lists of our organization's inventing off-ramps. We need to keep track of people who should be inventing, but are not. We need to engage with these should-be inventors and show them the love that it takes to get them plugged into making the company more valuable with their brains.

[All-In-One PDF of this 6-part article is here.]
[Part 5 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 4 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 3 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 2 of this discussion is here.]
[Part I of this discussion is here.]

[Bill's previous post on Proactive Invention Management is here.]

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Open Sourcing Trademarks?

Posted by Stephen M. Nipper at January 17, 2006 09:09 PM

One of my favorite Rethink(IP) readers I've had the pleasure to trade emails and Skype chats with is Flock design guru Chris Messina. Chris reminds me a lot of Kevin Heller. Chris is open source rethinker extrordinaire.

Chris is a fellow blogger (blog: Factory City) and likes to push IP buttons thereon. For instance: EFF the RIAA and Intellectual Property Perpetuates the Intellectual Police State. With posts like that, you can see why he is a "must read" in my aggregator.

It was his recent post entitled The Case for Community Marks that caught my eye earlier. In that post, Chris makes the point that there is a:

need for a mark that is owned, operated and enforced by a community that isn't driven by purely economic interest. Instead, the motivation derives from the desire to uniformly represent their work product as the output of a specific community. Period.

Hmm...sounds familiar.

Section 4 of the Trademark Act (15 U.S.C. §1054), provides for the registration of "certification marks" and "collective marks:"

The term 'certification mark' means any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof--

1. used by a person other than its owner, or

2. which its owner has a bona fide intention to permit a person other than the owner to use in commerce and files an application to register on the principal register established by this Act, to certify regional or other origin, material, mode of manufacture, quality, accuracy, or other characteristics of such person's goods or services or that the work or labor on the goods or services was performed by members of a union or other organization.

The term 'collective mark' means a trademark or service mark--

1. used by the members of a cooperative, an association, or other collective group or organization, or

2. which such cooperative, association, or other collective group or organization has a bona fide intention to use in commerce and applies to register on the principal register established by this Act, and includes marks indicating membership in a union, an association or other organization.

Maybe a hybrid of the two????

The comments are open....

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The 6 Life Stages of Inventors: Part 5 Scanning

Even if you can keep your inventor mentors inventing and mentoring, you tend to loose them. It is not that inventor mentors are unwilling or unable to invent. The problem becomes that they have too much to do to budget any time to inventing. It is just a matter of time until an inventor mentor is promoted high enough to force their inventing into dormancy. If you look at senior engineering managers, you see a collection of dormant inventors.

As an IP manager though, you should not give up on these dormant inventors. I think of the dormancy stage as "scanning" because if you can tickle, suck up to, cajole, taunt, bother, flatter, or otherwise stimulate senior dormant inventors into staying in the IP management game, you can capture a tremendous amount of insight into managing your IP portfolio. Scanners are less prolific at inventing, but when they invent, they deliver strategic inventors that capture architectural control points in a technology.

A typical scanner IP contribution will go like this:

Step 1: Over time as the scanner has not invented, guilt builds up.

Step 2: Eventually, the guilt builds up to a critical mass motivating the scanner inventor to do something.

Step 3: Time and other constraints dictate that the scanner must do inventing covertly. Involving the IP department may be an unpredictable or too large a time commitment for the scanner to deal with. Scanners will put together a skunk works type invention project that works for them and their immediate engineering team given the constraints they are under.

Step 4: The team will invest a few intense, very focused hours into the scanner's approach and then do something in the way of inventing.

Step 5: The scanner inventor will returns to step 1.

To give a concrete example. A scanner inventor who had progressed through Steps 1 and 2 above decided to have their team look at all the team's past invention disclosing activity (Step 3: He came up with a project that worked given the team's constraints). Several years worth of disclosures were spread out on a conference table. The team spent time reviewing the gist of each invention disclosure. Once all the team members had reviewed all the invention disclosures, the scanner asked his team "What are all these invention disclosures telling us?"

In this case, the disclosures were all addressed to a process in a best selling product. As the team reflected on what they disclosures were adding up to, they discovered that in a piecewise way, the disclosures were adding up to protection of an architectural control point. The project the scanner put together had actually articulated an architectural control point. To that time, the team had known what they were doing was important. But articulating vague knowledge into an architectural control point brought clarity and efficiency to the team's efforts.

The team was able to say "Have we missed any ways to cover this architectural control point?" and then (Step 4: Do some kind of IP generation) they were able to quickly generate invention disclosures to complete the protection of a best-selling product's key advantage. Scanners put together covert projects like this that draw on a company's culture, its product market history, its competition, future technology directions, and its inventing potential, and they mix all these elements into a ready-made mini-IP portfolio for bureau-cat IP managers. I call scanner inventors scanner because they lay back and by osmosis scan many environments until they can bring together a critical mass of multi-environment information.

Word of advice: Suck up to your scanner inventors. In fact, for an IP manager, this is the key managerial hand hold. You need to dispense your time in such a way that your scanner inventors know that you know that they are strategic competitive advantages that walk on two legs. You won't have a monetary budget for insuring you fully appreciate scanner inventors. Instead you have a time budget. So you need to spend your time on scanner inventors wisely. Never miss an opportunity to attend a patent committee meeting where a scanner inventor will be present. Be resourceful in creating 1 on 1 time (i.e., buy the scanner lunch out of your own pocket) with scanner inventors. Do detective work on the scanner inventor team's invention disclosure history. Speak knowledgeably with the scanner inventor about the team output s/he is generating.

The only entry point I know of into becoming an invention scanner is being a seasoned inventor and an inventor mentor. Scanners ask the beautiful questions about inventions, and lead to IP managers to beautiful answers. IP managers, don't resent scanner inventors for doing your job for you. Celebrate them for doing your job. Create short circuits so that credit you get for what a scanner has done, makes its way back to the true contributor. Scanners will invent when necessary, and often motivate others to invent. But most importantly, they circle back and reflect upon inventing.

Mendeleyev (of periodic table fame) was a card fanatic. What game would you guess was his favorite? Right, solitaire. When Mendeleyev discovered the periodic table, many of the cells in the table of elements were empty. The missing cells in the periodic table allowed chemists to target and rapidly find elements to fill the missing places. Invention scanners do much the same thing for IP managers by articulating architectural control points for shipping products. They abstract the purpose in many small inventions, and then they ask themselves if there are other future-looking inventions, any gap-filling inventions, or competitively-preemptive inventions that could fill in the protection of an architectural control point.

One way to build an IP strategy is to assemble the architectural control points that scanner inventors have built in their work over the years. This is like assembling the periodic table from individual columns, but who cares how you do it? If you can assemble your IP strategy-in-use. That is, map the IP protection that is already in the portfolio, it is a huge step towards being able to manage the portfolio. And, this approach will give you a different, more reflective understanding of your portfolio than you will ever gain by reading patents.

The invention off-ramp for invention scanners is denominator management. When quotas fall mindlessly on patenting and invention capture efforts, and the invention scanners see their carefully developed protection of architectural control points disabled or inactivated, these managers will become busy somewhere else in their busy schedules. Think about it, the scanner comes up with a project to protect a new architectural control point. S/he gathers the invention disclosures to provide economical but full coverage of a key market differentiator. When s/he arrives in the IP department however, the answer is "Sorry, we've already reached our quota for the year. Come back next year."

What is wrong with this picture? A patent attorney telling an inventor to bring the ideas back next year. The person in charge of policing patent bars telling the inventor to bring back the IP after the patent bar has cut. Given the workloads scanner inventors carry, the next thing cut will be the inventing.

The final stage in the development of inventors is senescence. I will cover inventor senescence in the final installment of this article.

[Part 6 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 5 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 4 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 3 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 2 of this discussion is here.]
[Part I of this discussion is here.]

[Bill's previous post on Proactive Invention Management is here.]

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The 6 Life Stages of Inventors: Part 4 Mentoring

Posted by Bill Meade at January 16, 2006 01:00 PM

*Note* To read comments on posts to rethink[IP] you need to click the permalink. Part 3 of this article series has a comment (with response) from Scott Allred. You can read Scott's comments at the bottom of this link..

The fourth phase in the transformation of an employee into an inventor is mentoring. The entry point to mentoring is having accomplished a body of patenting work, and the development of a sense of intellectual security. This security comes from a feeling of acceptance from other senior inventors in the patenting community at a company. Intellectual security as an inventor allows the inventor’s enjoyment to shift from creating, to creating with and through other people.

Inventor mentors are prolific in their own right. But, their significance to an IP management program is much larger than their individual inventions. Inventor mentors are recruiting on-ramps to the invention program. They are also scouts of high inventor potential, and walking rapid prototyping laboratories for improved IP business processes.

High Inventor Potential:
Inventor mentors specialize in finding what we at BasicIP call "chuckleheads." A chucklehead is often a young engineer just out of school or new to the company. Chuckleheads have are naive in the sense that they don't know what they can't do. The corporate culture-induced cynicism has not yet impregnated the chuckle head's mind and there is raw enthusiasm as well as talent waiting to be tapped. Inventor mentors are sociological chemists bringing enthusiasm, training, future-looking problems, and chuckleheads into inventing reactions.

Rapid Prototyping:
IP managers can be tempted to feel threatened by inventor mentors having to play with, refine, tinker, and invent improvements in, their business processes. I know I was threatened while at HP by my inventor mentors. Once inventor mentors see the invention disclosures that are inactivated by the patent review committee, for example, they often "improve" their process by emulating the patent committee immediately after inventing in a group. What happens is that the ideas and the enablements that would be inactivated by the patent committee, are simply not submitted by the inventor mentor's team. [*Aside* If any IP attorneys are reading this, I'd be interested in what you think about this. Would you trust a senior inventor to filter out ideas like this? What if you are getting 300 invention disclosures a year from an inventor-mentor-led team? In the beginning of the phone company, there were telephone operators that worked for end-users. As the system grew, the operating function shifted to the end users: we are all our own operators today. Is it appropriate for the same thing to happen in shifting invention filtering to inventor mentors?]

Managerial Hand-Hold:
The first managerial hand-hold for inventing mentors is infrastructure. Inventing mentors need a place and a time around which to form their inventing communities. One way to provide these is to set up inventing office hours. Reserve a conference room every Friday afternoon from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm for a year. Make a double batch of chocolate chip cookies on Thrusday nights (add 2 packages of butterscotch pudding and one egg to the standard Toll House recipe). Let all the employees at your site know they are invited to come and ask invention questions, eat cookies, and turn in any invention disclosures that they’ve completed in the previous week. Inventing mentors will learn of “office hours” and bring their rag tag team in every week.

A second managerial hand-hold to keep inventor mentors productive is fairness. Mentally put yourself into a patent committee meeting that is being fed by a team of enthusiastic inventors lead by an inventing mentor. At the table are:

- Patent attorney for the assigned business entity or technology.
- Managing Counsel who sits in on all meetings to keep patenting criteria consistent.
- Patent Coordinator from the business unit of the first inventor to speak to technical and market aspects of the invention.

When an inventor mentor's team gets into a hot strategic area, they will often have 10 to 50 invention disclosures per meeting to review. If there are say 65 disclosures total in a meeting, an unseen bias against the inventor mentor can creep in as disclosures are reviewed. Think about it a string of 5 invention disclosures all with better than average patentability that are directly on the strategic patent survey for the division. This is every patent attorney's dream. The first five are filed as patent applications without discussion.

Then, a couple disclosures from other inventors, and another string of 8 invention disclosures from the inventor mentor's team again. Something happens when the inventor mentor's name comes up again. It somehow seems unfair that this inventor is getting so many patent applications. Silently, the bar goes up for the inventor mentor. Unless the idea is so strongly non-obvious that the managing counsel in the meeting will want to write the patent, the rest of the disclosure with the inventor mentor's name, will be inactivated. Even though the idea quality, idea strategic value, and disclosure quality of the inactivated disclosures is higher than the quality of the disclosures that are selected to be applied for as patents.

An inventor mentor sees the patent committee meeting as a meritocracy: may the best ideas win. The patent committee will theoretically, see the process as a meritocracy as well. But the theory in use during the patent committee meeting will not be a meritocracy unless the IP management team intervenes. Patent committees evolve implicit norms as they meet time and again. These norms are not discussed. And their undiscussability is also not discussed. So, a simple managerial hand hold for keeping your inventor mentors going is to articulate the criteria that your patent committee should be using. Should be using according to company IP policy. If your patent committee follows the IP policy, your inventor mentors will not shut down on you.

Even if the policy is using a roulette wheel to select disclosures for patenting. People will deal with processes they can understand, inventor mentors see patent committee selection processes as just another corporate game that is fun to play. But, if your disclosure selection process selects disclosures based on reasons other than those articulated in the corporate policy, your inventor mentors will be at risk. The problem is that if your patent coordination process is a meritocracy, you will have to tolerate skewed distribution of patents among inventors.

At HP the top inventor as of 2005 had 145 patents. This inventor is a patent agent working in one of the HP IP offices. This could seem very unfair to some companies. But at HP the question is "how good" the IP is, not "how fair" the IP process is in terms of uniformity of patent distribution. At Micron four top inventors all have in excess of 400 patents. Again, the value seems to be "how good" not "how fair."

Many patent committees will not select patent applications based only on merit. A variety of other factors can crowd merit off the table. For example, "This is this inventor's first disclosure, we need to file on it to encourage them." Or, "We are not getting enough disclosures in this area of technology, we need to file on this disclosure because we need more coverage here." Or, my personal favorite non-merit-based reason "Might be useful." When taken with the "This person has more than his/her fair share of patent applications this meeting" norm that inventor mentors have inflicted on them, these seemingly innocuous norms can become an oppression to your company's best and brightest inventors, your inventor mentors.

Rag tag team:
Inventing mentors create inventing teams out of unorthodox collections of under-valued people. Chuckleheads, old birds that have never been appreciated for what they can do. An inventing mentor is a kind of recycling engineer of careers. The metric important to the inventor mentor is ideas that excite the patent committee. Given this metric the inventing mentors will provide resourceful combinations of under-valued people to generate a steady stream of strategic IP. Mentors build strong short-lived teams with norms like “No invention disclosure no cookie at office hours.”

The most common off ramp for inventing mentors is alienation from the patent committee. That is, going from closed loop interaction giving the IP department what it wants, to becoming open loop. When a mentor can feel the ground shake as s/he sends massive quantities of cool, strategic, licensable, and patentable, IP into the patent committee, the mentor is “in the zone.” But when patent committee feedback is delayed, or when feedback becomes negative because of unseen political realities, when negative feedback is condescendingly given by senior people, or when negative feedback suddenly starts to be given by junior people in the IP organization, inventing mentors shut down. When an inventor mentor sees the patent committee selecting randomly from his/her ideas, they fall off the grid.

[Part 6 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 5 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 4 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 3 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 2 of this discussion is here.]
[Part I of this discussion is here.]

[Bill's previous post on Proactive Invention Management is here.]

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The 6 Life Stages of Inventors: Part 3 Status Seeking

Posted by Bill Meade at January 13, 2006 11:58 AM

By: Bill Meade, Ph.D.

After employees have completed an invention disclosure ... and lived (Stage 1: Discovery). And, after they have calibrated themselves to the ideas that their company wants from them (Stage 2: Calibration), there is another stage in development that is difficult to describe. I think of it as "status-seeking." I'm pretty sure that this is a distinct stage in the life cycle of an inventor because:

#1 for a 6 to 12 month period after they are fully productive within the IP management system, the newbie inventors only invent by themselves.

#2 These "post-newbie" inventors become very quiet. Their appearances at weekly invention office hours drop off. They will eat the BasicIP inventor cookies, but only if you take the cookies to their desk. When these post-newbie inventors talk to you, they corner you in a 1-on-1 situation, and then they ask a lot of questions about the inventing social environment. "How many patents does X have?" "How long has Y been inventing in the blockso area?" "What is the record for invention disclosures in a year?" "What is the average file rate?" "Who is inventing in widgets?" So, like Neo being interrogated by Agent Smith, post-newbie inventors can be seen to be all ears.

#3 The post-newbie inventor's risk profile shifts dramatically. The inventions coming from the newbie inventor become less forward looking and more "safe" in the engineering culture of the company. While in their first few disclosures the inventor delighted in thinking "outside the box," during the status-seeking phase of development, inventions suddenly focuses "in the box."

Entry point for post-newbie inventors to the status seeking stage is having 2 issued patents and 5 to 10 patent applications in-process. At this point the post-newbie begins to be "known" among other inventors for something. For example, an inventor may become known for creating building blocks for all to use in a technical area (i.e., a “genius”), for being prolific in a certain kind of inventing across technical areas (i.e., being a “renaissance person”), for being an opportunist (i.e., having a splatter-gun pattern across fad surfing-technologies and/or insinuating themselves into other people’s inventions), for being a “one trick pony” (i.e., refusing to invent outside a domain), etc. [*Aside* Please email me any fun/surprising inventor reputations that you've heard about. Inventors can be savage in their honesty describing in reduced-form, what other inventors do.]

The off-ramp for status-seeking inventors is exclusion from membership in the inventing community. If, after an inventor has produced a significant body of patentable work, the community accepts them as a peer, the inventor will stay productive and progress to the next inventing life stage: mentoring. If the inventor fails to find a niche in the inventing ecology, they fall off the grid and stop inventing.

Non-traditional inventors are particularly at risk in the status-seeking phase. For example, engineers who move from technical areas into for example, sales. Cross functionally mobile people, are a fantastic source of inventing. However, sales organizations rarely have any tradition or infrastructure for inventing. While the IP attorneys will be delighted to accept invention disclosures from non-traditional inventors, getting the inventors paid for their invention incentives can be a big problem. Beyond this, getting these inventors integrated into the community of conventional inventors is even a bigger problem.

The managerial hand holds for managing inventors in the status-seeking phase are to make sure there are lots of accolades to go around, and to look for ways to create new niches of inventors. I’m not sure why the status phase has mortality at all. It seems like a calibrated inventor would see an invention that needed inventing in the normal course of work, recognize it, stop, and write an invention disclosure. But this has not been the case in my experience. Calibrated inventors often fall off the grid.

There is a strong social aspect to inventing. I can't provide much more guidance on how to harness sociology. But, IP managers need to be sensitive to the sociology around newbie inventors. An annual dinner for inventors is a good thing. But, to maximize profit coming from your inventors much more is needed.

Post-newbie inventors need to feel the love. They resonate to enthusiasm about what they have done. They never get enough calibration information. They are nourished by the communion of kindred minds produced by fellowship with other post-newbie and senior inventors. So, post-newbies need to be drawn back into community. They need to be checked on, encouraged, and given tough love slap therapy when they come up with ideas not up to their potential. But this slap therapy has to come from another inventor. Not a boss or a bureau-cat like an IP manager.

Like raising teenagers, getting an inventor in with the right friends (i.e., other inventors who are supportive) might be a good strategy. You can develop inventing talent, you get a lot more patentable, licensable, and litigatable IP if you bring your inventors up on success. So, as an IP manager you need to watch for small successes you can celebrate. You need to watch for "successes waiting for an inventor" that you can use to "set up" your inventors to have the successes they need to keep growing as inventors.

I suspect that what is going on during the status-seeking phase is that post-newbie inventors are seeing themselves anew. So, the time period of status-seeking may be what it takes for an inventor to develop a fresh "residual self image" updating his/her place in life, career, and company. Inventing is a celebrated activity in American culture. Becoming an inventor brings a lot of cultural implications into an employee's life. IP managers can have a tremendous positive impact on post-newbies if they take the trouble to be catalysts to the development of residual self images that are positive, rooted in company culture, and rich in inventing fellowship.

The next post in this series will review the fourth life stage in an inventor's development: mentoring.

[Part 6 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 5 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 4 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 3 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 2 of this discussion is here.]
[Part I of this discussion is here.]

[Bill's previous post on Proactive Invention Management is here.]

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The 6 Life Stages of Inventors: Part 2 Calibration

Posted by Bill Meade at January 12, 2006 12:12 PM

By: Bill Meade, Ph.D.

The second life stage of inventors begins the *instant* the inventor receives feedback on an invention disclosure. What is invention feedback? It is information on how the company will or will not use the invention. Will the invention be filed as a patent? Of so, on the fast track or slow track? Will the invention be kept as a trade secret? Or, will it be turned into a design patent or defensive publication? Or, will the invention be inactivated? Inventor motivation goes through a profound and often painful transformation during calibration.

Feedback on an invention disclosure is like receiving a grade on an essay question in college. Except, invention feedback is pass or fail. If the inventor’s disclosure gets filed on as a patent, s/he passes. Otherwise s/he fails. This is not to say that design patents, trade secrets, and defensive publications are not valuable. Instead, it is just pointing out that the vast majority of IP management systems are at root, patent management systems. The real goal for inventors is patents and they seem to learn this by osmosis in the process of receiving feedback.

As soon as the inventor’s first invention disclosure has bee declared good enough (or not) to file a patent on, the invention process ceases to be about money or whatever goal was talked about during inventor training. Feedback changes the invention game into a competition. A competition to have the most valued ideas (patents) in the organization. Inventors whether they were seeing dollar signs or ideals in completing that first invention disclosure, instantly transmute in the calibration phase. Before you have employees. After you have intellectual oxen pulling in the yoke of patentability.

To this point in my discussion of calibration the only entry point has been an inventor who has already invented. But, there are other entry points allowing pre-inventors into the calibration stage before they invent. That is, to have pre-inventors sit in on a patent committee meeting before they turn in their first disclosures. The patent committee meeting is where the organizations representatives from business and legal gather to decide how to dispose of the invention disclosures currently at hand. Patent committees are the source of inventor feedback.

Another entry point to the inventor calibration life stage could be exploited by forward looking IP departments. The idea is to allow pre-inventors to watch the patent committee invention disclosure evaluation process. Watching other people's ideas being processes, would provide pre-inventors with a measure of objectivity that would encourage them to internalize the criteria being used to evaluate ideas. Then, pre-inventors can write their first disclosures, and these pre-calibrated disclosures will be much better than they would have been without calibration.

The inventor off-ramps during the calibration phase are disrespect and unfairness. If an inventor hears laughter at a patent committee meeting (or even that his/her idea was laughed at). If an inventor asks why his/her invention was not chosen for patenting and receives silence or a dishonest answer (remember, inventors are hard-wired to detect physiological, psychological, and sociological truth about their ideas), then the inventor is likely to shut down inventing. Inventors who turn in a flock of disclosures in a burst of enthusiasm, and have them all inactivated, need honest feedback if they are ever going to turn in another invention disclosure. It is not uncommon for inventors whose ideas are all turned off to want to give back any invention incentives they received. Inventors whose first inventions are inactivated have a much higher off-ramp mortality rate than inventors whose first inventions are applied for as patents.

Unfairness is always closely monitored by employees, but in the realm of inventing, unfairness is monitored with electron microscopes, radar detectors, and office gossip. Unfairness in how invention disclosures are treated leads to “high-maintenance” behaviors. Behaviors like refusing to invent if the invention disclosures cannot be proven in advance, to be handled with respect. Behaviors like writing an ersatz-patent application as an invention disclosure. If you hear “A good invention disclosure takes 8 hours” from an inventor, chances are good that the environment is suffering from unfairness in how disclosures are treated.

Managerial hand-holds for inventors in calibration phase are many. For example strategic patenting targets. This is something that HP does very well. Every year senior R&D people are surveyed by the IP section of the legal department. The survey is described in Steve Fox’s chapter in Sullivan’s (1998) PROFITING FROM INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL. In short it consists of a list of 7 plus or minus 2 "strategic" technical areas where the R&D manager wants to capture IP in the next year. Having a list of what is wanted that can be communicated to inventors (for example, as a cover sheet to the invention disclosure form) to help inventors understand the criteria with which their ideas are evaluated.

In addition to strategic patenting targets, process rules can also help prevent inventors from being lost in the calibration phase. For example, good rules are:

• “No laughing at invention disclosures, … ever.”
• “Inventors deserve face-to-face explanations why their disclosures were or were not filed.”

Actually, the best tools for calibration-stage inventors are rules that are backed up with business processes. For example:
• Non-traditional inventors turning in their first invention disclosure get a special in-person support process where their invention disclosure is acknowledged with a phone call from a patent attorney who becomes their single-point of contact for IP issues with the legal department.
• When an inventor turns in their first invention disclosure, it gets logged and then kicked out to a pre-selected sympathetic mentor to review with the inventor.
• When an inventor turns in an invention disclosure, s/he receives acknowledgement within a week of the disclosure’s receipt and notification within a week of the payment of the invention incentive.

Rules implemented in business processes can cover a lot of ground in improving the quality of invention disclosures, and at the same time enlist a much larger segment of the company as inventors. If you want to take your company’s inventing culture to the next level, the first place to look is at the business processes backing up your IP policies.

Digression on feedbackless inventors:
What happens when inventors run without calibration? My experience is that 30% of the population of inventors will write up invention disclosures that will immediately be filed as patents. Another 10% to 20% of the population can’t be motivated to turn in an invention disclosure beyond a token first effort. This leaves about 50% of the population that can benefit from feedback. What is interesting, is that much of the feedback needed to write good quality invention disclosures, is a function of practice. That is, a lot of the feedback needed is self-feedback learned in the process of writing.

In an invention workshop I conducted in 2000, I had an enthusiastic pre-inventor. This individual had not heard about the company’s IP strategy until the attending the workshop. As the training proceeded, this person became more and more excited. When it came time to write an invention disclosure, this person quickly dashed off a 2 page disclosure that, when I read it, made my heart fall. “We are entering the, ‘I am not proud’ zone.” is what I thought to myself. Not even close to usable.

I did my best to maintain a positive countenance, and encouraged the inventor to write another disclosure. Of course, in my mind I wrote him off as never being capable of a good invention disclosure, but on principle, I was upbeat and encouraging. The 2nd invention disclosure was … A LOT better. “Still not in the ballpark of filing, but, surprisingly good for someone who won’t ever write a usable invention disclosure.” I thought to myself.

Invention disclosure #3 was BETTER again than #2. “A borderline file?” I thought. I kept smiling, kept encouraging, and started wondering why I had written this guy off after only 1 disclosure. Disclosure #4 was BETTER YET and was clearly of fileable quality. Disclosure #5 made me think “COOL!!” and Disclosure #6 was “Way Cool!”

The moral of this story was that inventors learn by practicing. Like a kid learning to walk, there are a lot of aspects to writing a quality invention disclosure that the inventors will pick up in the process of writing. A second moral was that I, the expert on getting people to invent, misjudged this guy (with certainty) on the basis of 1 data point. Another good rule for calibration stage inventors is to never give up on them until you’ve seen 6 invention disclosures.

The next post in this series will reivew the third life stage in an inventor's maturation process: status-seeking.

[Part 6 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 5 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 4 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 3 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 2 of this discussion is here.]
[Part I of this discussion is here.]

[Bill's previous post on Proactive Invention Management is here.]

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The 6 Life Stages of Inventors

Posted by Bill Meade at January 11, 2006 11:29 AM

by Bill Meade, Ph.D.

Part 1: 1/11/2006

Employees don't turn in all the inventions they discover in the course of doing their normal jobs. Why? My answer is that employees self-censor because people are not logical. We are psycho-logical. We are socio-logical. We self-censor while at meetings. We self censor with spouses, kids, friends and in all social contexts. When thinking of bosses seeing our work, and then reviewing it with ... attorneys ... many employees would rather not think about inventing. Would rather not expose themselves to extra criticism or in today's work environment, extra uncertainty.

To understand inventor self-censorship I am going to constructively over-simplify in this article. Oversimplify by dumping all inventors into 6 life stages. Like insects going through life in stages (egg, larva, pupae, etc.), I assume inventors go through stages. Each of these stages in an inventor's development can be characterized by entry points, off-ramps, and managerial hand-holds. The purpose of this article is to discuss each stage in the hope of provoking discussion about how to manage the most non-linear variable in the IP system: inventors.

The 6 invention life stages are:
1. Discovery,
2. Calibration,
3. Status-seeking,
4. Mentoring,
5. Sensing,
6. Senescence

1. Discovery Stage

The key event of the discovery stage, is the inventor learning their ideas are important … as assets. In a training workshop where the importance of intellectual property was explained, an inventor raised her hand and asked:

“So, what you are saying is that my ideas are important to the company?”

Yes, exactly! This is the kernel idea of the inventor discovery stage.

I have seen 2 entry points to discovery: (1) Invention Incentive Programs, and (2) IP Training programs. An inventor who begins inventing because of an invention incentive program sees dollar signs. An inventor who starts inventing because of training program sees the importance of their ideas to the organization. Analytically, these are equivalent because they both produce invention disclosures for the IP department to evaluate investing in.

Invention off-ramps are any reaction of “organizational anti-bodies” to an inventor’s efforts, sufficiently strong to shut down the inventor from continuing to invent and/or from developing further as an inventor. Observations of inventors has led me to the conclusion that inventors are hard-wired to read the eyes, the words, and the group dynamics surrounding their ideas.

The big off-ramp for discovery stage inventors is short-term boss reaction. While the inventor may argue endlessly on principle with his/her boss over technical issues, when the boss “blows up” at the inventor for turning in an invention disclosure, the inventor is highly likely to take an invention off ramp and shut down. This happens, I think, because inventors being human are hard-wired to detect what people think about their ideas. When the boss thinks their invention was a dumb idea, the inventor is strongly inclined to shut down.

An important secondary cycle of invention development is the development of the inventor’s boss. The boss’s invention development often spins off a discovery stage inventor. Picture the inventor's 6 life cycle stages like a gear in a clockwise spin. Boss invention life cycle stages are like another gear that touches the inventor life cycle gear at at 1 o'clock (the "discovery stage") and spin counter clockwise through 4 stages.

Digression on the 4 Invention Life Stages of Bosses:

Bosses go through life stages in responding to invention, just like inventors. The first life stage of an inventor’s boss is alarm. Alarm at the inventor’s inventing is triggered in most companies, by >1 invention disclosures being completed by an inventor. The 5 word mantra of the boss in alarm stage is:

“S/he won’t do their job!”

These 5 words are complemented by 6 unspoken words :

“Because s/he will spend all day inventing!”

Is this hyperbole or is it a rational fear? Ask yourself "In my career to date, how many people have I observed not doing their jobs because they were inventing all the time?" How many employees have you seen that will hear this kind of hyperbole, and then sit down and spend all their work time inventing? Or, any of their time inventing?

The 2nd life stage of the inventor’s boss is saber-rattling. Examples of saber rattling:

• Vague verbal threats to “deal with” inventing while laughing,

• Mocking inventing while in meetings,

• Mock accusations of inventors not being "team players"

• A constant stream of cynical comments about inventing.

Stage 3 of the boss’s invention life cycle takes place once inventors shut down or go underground, this stage is “Forgetting.” Once the boss forgets about inventing inventors can watch and wait for the 4th stage which is the “this was my idea all along” stage. Once the boss takes credit for what s/he was recently rattling sabers about, inventors become free to invent again. And, inventors become free to continue in their development to the 2nd stage of development. Unfortunately, many inventors are “once burned twice shy” so that when the boss becomes alarmed and rattles the saber, these inventors are effectively turned off for life. Rookie bosses and invention programs go ill together.

The managerial hand-holds for the discovery phase are: (a) enlist the inventor’s boss, and (b) train the inventors. This can be done many ways. For example, if the CEO changes the organization’s logo by putting the word “invent” underneath it, many bosses will see invention to be their idea from the start. Other things that IP managers can do to enlist bosses:

• Ghost write an email to the inventor’s boss asking for support of inventing and have a CTO or other similarly high-placed technical manager send the email to the inventor’s boss. In most organizations email is cheap and CTOs are supportive of inventing.

• Cookies. BasicIP has had TREMENDOUS success using cookies in IP mangement. Make a double batch of cookies on Thursday nights and take them to rookie inventor bosses to "preemptively appreciate" the bosses for working with inventors. BasicIP's chocolate chip cookie recipe is stolen from the internet. Substitute as many uncooked oats as possible for flour (inventors don't like the taste of flour and cooked oats make the cookies too hard), and to add an extra egg, and 2 boxes of butterscotch pudding to the standard Toll House recipe. Inventors like this recipe.

• T-shirts. Buy 5 of your company’s logo shirts. Have them embroidered with “Inventor” on the back, and then offer the boss of the inventor a shirt if they will be supportive of their employees inventing. The old saying is that "Managers would rather live with problems they can never solve than with solutions they can't understand." But the IP truism is that managers are happy to live with programs they don't understand as long as you recognize the manager's position and importance in advance.

• Write up an invention disclosure and ask the boss of the inventors to be a co-inventor. Canny inventors often assuage alarmed or saber rattling bosses by using this tactic. IP managers can use it as well.

The discovery stage of an inventor’s development can be a lot of fun if well managed. Or, if poorly managed it can alienate inventors, make enemies of inventor bosses, and make the IP department look like a disruptive busy-body. The next post in this series will look at stage 2 in an inventor’s life cycle: calibration.

Please post comments or email Bill Meade ( with comments, war stories, criticisms, etc. No flames please. :-)

[Part 6 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 5 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 4 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 3 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 2 of this discussion is here.]
[Part I of this discussion is here.]

[Bill's previous post on Proactive Invention Management is here.]

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Five minute inspiration for inventors and innovators is Gold for Startups

Posted by Stephen M. Nipper at December 10, 2005 11:23 AM

Gold. Gold I tell you!

What am I talking about? There's gold in my account!

The Rethinkers love Apparently, we aren't the only ones, yesterday it was announced that Yahoo! was purchasing Congrats Joshua Schachter! is a social bookmarking site with tags that we've covered before. Ignore the social aspect of it...tags+bookmarks is where the gold is. Using, when you find a website that contains useful information...information you want to refer to later, you add a bookmark to it and "tag" it with words you'll remember later. Find a great site, tag it. Find a great site, tag it. (personally, I think' value to Yahoo is the tags....rather than having an algorithm, have human beings determine what a website is about and how popular it is).

I've been using for about a year now. Tagging websites left and right. 296 useful websites later...I have some gold.

Want me to share some gold? How about the best articles on "startups" I read this last year:

Business Opportunities Weblog | How to Raise Money for Your Business
evhead: Ten Rules for Web Startups
How to Fund a Startup
Seth's Blog: The new rules of naming
Startup School transcript
Russell Beattie Notebook » Where’s The Ambition? - Mark Fletcher's Blog: Stealth Start-Ups Suck
Process of Forming a Company
How to Start a Startup

And yes, there is an RSS feed of my "startup" page.

Each of these is worth reading, worth forwarding to startups you know, worth adding to your own (NEW) account.

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Insourcing Quid Pro Quo

Posted by Stephen M. Nipper at November 2, 2005 10:31 AM

Insourcing is one of the main reasons Matt, Doug and I were drawn together almost a year ago. It was a conversation about how to work together to promote the insourcing of patent services to inland patent firms instead of outsourcing them abroad that started this great rethinking project. We've clearly gone beyond insourcing a major Rethink(IP) theme, but that topic is still close to our hearts.

In reviewing my client base recently I noticed something I hadn't seen before (and I'm sure my fellow rethinkers see too in their own practices), namely that the amount of work we are doing for foreign patent and trademark firms has substantially increased in the past few years. Substantially. Maybe The World is Flat has just opened my eyes more to the impact of technology and the Internet on my practice.

I'm not sure whether they are ditching their big city firms and insourcing to the Intermountain West and/or Midwest for customer service, for price, or for other reasons, but it is clearly happening. What amazes me is how quickly foreign IP attorneys get it, but US businesses as a whole don't.

Foreign IP work has traditionally been "quid pro quo," in that "if you send me work, I'll send you work." Perhaps it is due to the low performance of the US dollar or perhaps other factors, but the reality is that having IP work done in the US is as expensive as ever. In my opinion, this is a fact which is causing some foreign IP firms to consider other cost effective ways of protecting their client's intellectual property in the States, and one of those ways is insourcing. The result is that foreign firms are sending lots and lots of work to smaller firms in smaller metropolitan areas, firms that can't possibly support the old school quid pro quo.

Is it the end of "tit for tat" in IP work? I doubt it, but it is sure to have ripples in the market for worldwide IP services.

Other thoughts, insight and comments appreciated (the comments are open)...

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Proactive Invention Management, a Guest Post by Bill Meade, Ph.D.

Posted by Stephen M. Nipper at October 26, 2005 10:28 AM

Proactive Invention Management
A Rethink(IP) Guest Post by Bill Meade, Ph.D.

The biggest problem managing invention is bias.  Not overt "I'm going to crush your skull because I hate you" bias, but instead bias that is made up of the compounding of ordinary little negative assumptions that crop up in IP management.  These are the cultural assumptions, sociological assumptions, and psychological assumptions that educated, smart, busy people agree about without realizing any agreements have been made.  I'm going to call the kind of bias that chills invention "invisibias."  Malcolm Gladwell in his book BLINK (page 81) discusses what I would call cultural invisibias in relation to race.  He describes a web site at Harvard where you can go to test your bias for or against blacks.  Gladwell describes taking the test dozens of times.  He describes his incredulity at being measured as slightly biased against blacks.  Gladwell is half black.

While I was the IP portfolio manager for HP's LaserJet group I discovered my own invisibias through an odd chain of events.  The chain began by giving invention workshops.  When clients asked, I would run invention workshops for them.  Every client asked for something different.  Some wanted short workshops with few people, others wanted medium or long workshops with many people.  Over a 6 month period I ran a variety of workshop formats that made up a sort of stratified random sample across who attended, how long the workshops were, and how focused the workshops were. 

The next link in my chain of invisibias discovery, was statistical regression.  That is, after about 15 workshops I realized that I had enough data to do some regression analysis to see what factors make high quality invention disclosures more likely.  I regressed filed invention disclosures against number of attendees, and length of workshop.  This produced an explained variation of about 18%.  So, the more people at a workshop, the more disclosures.  The longer the workshop the more disclosures.  But, number of people and length of workshop only explained 1/5 of the filed invention disclosures produced.  

This  told me that I was missing an important variable.  I thought about this and realized that my role as invention workshop moderator was probably an important variable.  Like most production process workers I reasoned, invention workshop moderators must go over a learning curve.  Learning curves have a well understood shape.  This allowed me to look at the 15 workshops in my data, and then estimate where on the learning curve I was for each workshop.  I quantified my guestimate and put these data into the regression. 

The explained variation of this equation jumped for 18% to over 90%.  This told me that I had learned, and that my learning explained a huge amount of the filed disclosures.  So, I leaned back in my chair and asked myself what I had learned over the course of these 15 workshops.  Two words popped into my head "Shut" and "up."

Shut up?  Yes.  You see, unconsciously over the first 15 workshops, I had cut down my presentation.  In workshop #1 I used a lot of formal information like patent trend graphs and problem framing exercises to help people be creative.  These formal techniques put attendees to sleep.   As the workshops progressed I dropped the formal slides and created new slides with answers to best questions employees were asking me.  By the time workshop #15 came around, I had churned the presentation 100%.  My presenting time was down, disclosing time was up, and the quantity of enthusiasm delivered to inventors was way up.  So, addressing the felt needs of the audience was a third link in the chain of discovering invisibias. 

In East Texas during the oil rush of the 1930s, some of the oil was only 6 inches down.  A management professor friend once told me this.  After running invention workshops where high quality invention disclosures began to pour in like an oil gusher, I remembered the East Texas example.  Think about making money from oil 6" down.   What is most important?

The most important problems in proactive oil field management are not the conventional problems of finding oil.  The most important problem is to not drown in oil.  Problem: How are we going to develop this field so that we can get the oil out without wasting it?  Problem: How do we develop the field without painting ourselves into a corner?  Problem: Where are the weak points in our infrastructure in handling unlimited quantities of oil down-stream?  

Likewise when you reduce invention invisibias, you don't have to worry about the conventional problem of finding high-quality invention disclosures.  The problem immediately changes.  For example, in IP departments without flexibility to reorganize and hire, the problem becomes maximizing value captured with a fixed department capacity to process IP.  Problem: What is the annual capacity in patents, trade secrets, and defensive publications of our current IP office?  Problem: How do we optimize our office capacity when we are getting 4x our capacity in good quality disclosures per year?  Problem: How do we raise the bar on quality?  Problem: Why do we have to raise invention quality?  Problem: How do we explain raising the quality bar to inventors?  Problem: What do we do about the applications we started last year that are not as high in quality as the inventions we are reviewing today?

Proactive invention management is a war with 2 fronts.  First, there is a front between inventors and the IP department.  The war on this front is waged to unblock invention and give the IP department full access to the genius of the organization.  The second front is indicated with the internal IP problems that crop up if your dream of capturing all the best ideas of your client base comes true.  You immediately run out of IP capacity.  You need to rethink IP business processes, IP business model management, and IP department specialization.  For the rest of this post, I'm going to ignore rethinking IP management in the IP department.  If there is interest, I'll write another post on this.  For now, back to invention management …

After I discovered invisibias I tried to reduce it by making 3 broad positive assumptions to try to cut out the compounding of many little negative assumptions that were costing invention disclosures. 

1. Big Assumption: We don't know who the most prolific inventors should be

It dawned on me that in making assumptions about who my best inventors were, I was excluding the creativity and ideas of the majority of my inventor population.  To reduce the invisibias I introduce into the process, I needed to include as many inventors as possible.  Operationally this meant I needed to stop trying to focus on high-payoff inventors and switch to inviting all employees to invent equally. 

This open door policy was a worry at first, but turned out not to be a big problem.  My patent attorneys were delighted to see the inventions they had been hypothesizing they were missing in prior times.  IP systems are great at killing invention disclosures down-stream.  The biggest problem to IP department capacity comes from invention disclosures that are too good to kill. 

2. Big Assumption: We don't know when an inventor will come up with an idea.
My invisibias on this at first, was that inventors invent in the process of releasing a product.  So, initially I thought the best time to capture inventions would be just after product release.  To minimize the bias I introduced by assuming a clump of inventing after product release, it seemed that I needed to assume that ideas were evenly spread across time. 

Operationally this led me to conduct invention workshops at timed intervals and to host weekly "office hours" for inventors where I made a double batch of chocolate chip cookies and scheduled a conference room to help organize isolated inventors into a community of kindred minds.

3. Big Assumption: We don't know what field an inventor will invent in. 

IP systems love to assume that inventors invent in the field of art in which they work.  But, in the information age just because an engineer works on a gear design team, it is not safe to assume that the engineer's inventions will be about gears.  The IP community in the US has for the past 5 years be inundated with ideas submitted by people who work in a technical field of art but who are into Linux, digital photography, or other hobbies.  To operationally reduce invisibias assuming a clumping of inventions in one field of art, I assumed that inventions would be distributed across all fields of art. 

On Open Mindedness

I'd like to close this post with the importance of open mindedness in proactive invention management.  Open mindedness is critical to success because of how people evolved / were created / are socialized.  Whatever his/her beliefs are, a proactive IP manager will realize that inventors are hard-wired to look into their eyes and see what is assumed about the quality of their ideas. 

Rigid open mindedness is the best big positive assumption I've found to police the compounding of little negative assumptions that hinder proactive IP management.  Policing assumptions is critical because little negative assumptions are the essence of bias.  After you get past the who invents, the what gets invented, and the when invented, of managing invisibias, you can still screw up.  You cannot over-do policing of invisibias.  There is always more bias to be removed. 

For example, when an inventor looks into your eyes while turning in an invention disclosure.  If s/he sees you roll your eyes.  If s/he hears you laugh.  If s/he detects any favoritism in how you treat disclosures, the inventor will instantly toggle from being an idealist ("I can help the company with my ideas!") to being a cynic ("Good ideas are pearls before the swine of management in this company.").  

A strongly held belief that all ideas are worth evaluating will allow you to look back into your inventor's eyes and sincerely thank them for turning in a completed disclosure regardless of novelty, non-obviousness to one skilled in the art, or utility.  Think about it, the purpose of an invention disclosure is to capture the minimum information sufficient to allow the company to evaluate investing in an idea.  If you can be proactive and force yourself to be open minded, you can conquer invisibias and have more, and better, intellectual property to manage. 


The author, Bill Meade, Ph.D., is the president of Basic IP Management, Inc.

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Rethinking invention, innovation and incentives

Posted by Stephen M. Nipper at October 25, 2005 05:09 PM

Following up on Matt's post earlier is not often that I come across someone, who (like my fellow rethink'rs) "gets it," but I had the pleasure of meeting one such person a couple months ago.

I was at a CLE on Grokster, where the speaker asked whether any of the attendees in the room had actually used BitTorrent before.  Sheepishly raising my hand, I noticed that there was only one other person in the room who raised his hand....a fact that astonished me.  After the CLE I approached this other BitTorrent user (who I didn't recognize as an IP attorney) and introduced myself.  Bill Meade was his name, former HP employee who had worked extensively on setting up HP's inventor reward programs as well as conducting countless inventor workshops.  The more we talked, the more I realized that he too was an IP rethinker...although from an engineering/inventor side.  We instantly hit it off.

Turns out that after he left HP he set up a consulting business (BasicIP) where he does a wide range of IP development services, including:  creating corporate IP strategies, compiling databases for patent portfolio management, developing rewards programs for inventors (thereby encouraging them to invent more), competitive intelligence, trade secret management, invention disclosure collection, etc., etc., etc.  Consider them IP SeaBees.  He might just be able to help some of YOUR clients generate more invention disclosures and otherwise better capture and protect their IP. 

Matt mentioned:  "Later tonight we’ll describe a project that Bill implemented at HP that met with huge success."  He was referring to an email discussion we had with Bill where he was talking about his involvement with HP's "Invent" program.  Turns out that Bill built HP's automatic invention incentive payment system, a program that resulted in a tripling of inventing within a month, an amazing accomplishment. 

Like I said, Bill comes at rethinking from a completely different angle, bringing his own experiences and opinions to the mix.  So impressed was I with what he was saying that I offered him a soapbox...this blog.  Tomorrow, you'll see his first (of hopefully many) guest posts. 

Until then...

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Carnival of the Capitalists - Rethink(IP) Edition

Posted by Douglas Sorocco at September 6, 2005 09:00 AM

Thanks for wandering on by Rethink(IP) for this week’s installment of the Carnival of the Capitalists.  If you are scratching your head trying to figure out what the heck Rethink(IP) is all about – head on over to the Blawg Review (as in “law blog”) and read the synopsis of our blog and our collaborative efforts. 


In a nutshell, we are three intellectual property lawyers from three different law firms (that’s right, we’re competitors!).  We developed a friendship based on a common belief that there’s a better way to practice law and deliver legal services.  The Rethink(IP) project was born out of that common belief.


We each have our own blogs – The Invent Blog (Steve Nipper), Promote and Progress (J. Matthew Buchanan) and PHOSITA (Douglas Sorocco) – and we would enjoy having you stop by over there as well.  It is through reading one another’s blogs and interacting (electronically) with one another that we met, a prime example of the “virtual team” Jack mentions. 


This version of CotC is, therefore, a collaborative effort as well.  These are the posts we found engaging, thought provoking, profound and down right funny.  If it is a little bit disjointed, we make no apologies.  You’re going to have to deal with it because, in the end and despite all of the cool electronic tools we have, getting three lawyers together on a single document is still a lot like herding cats.  It is, however, a great way to “make knowledge.”


As you can imagine, most of the submissions we received this week are hurricane Katrina related.  We have attempted to balance CotC with some other noteworthy posts that we ran across the past week.


So without further ado… Carnival of the Capitalists.




What a week. 


The images we have observed have been truly heartbreaking and elicit so many different emotions – sadness, empathy and anger (and one blog has a handy print optimized page detailing all the relief efforts).  The blog-o-sphere has once again led in the effort to bring aid and comfort (including insurance information) to those in the gulf coast region (a region that is strategically crucial to the U.S. for reasons other than just oil and gas – namely, transportation of food and goods) – most notably Buzzmachine (Recovery 2.0 Planning) and The Truth Laid Bear have worked overtime to focus attention on the many deserving charities and aid organizations (watch out for the scammers) that have stepped up to the enormous task at hand. 


Everyone thinks we will rebuildNew Orleans bigger, better and bolder – but what if, we turned it into one big national park?  Furthermore, will Katrina become the next big infomercial craze?


Of course, Gadgetopia points us to Google Maps’ response – which is an emotional landscape that is too difficult to even comprehend, especially in view of the diaspora map posted by Gongol.  Carolyn Elefant worries about professionals in solo practices (the Working Solo blog timely explores if there is a link between a healthy lifestyle and business success) and Catallarchy has an overview of gouging practices and their effects on consumers.  The Drake Review spotlights the problems that small and medium business will be encountering.


Stocks have also taken a hit and the likelihood of a recession is 20% although, as the blog author relates, people who see the glass half full would argue that there is an 80% chance that a recession won’t happen.


Almost every commentator acknowledges that it is time to change and, as succinctly stated by Cheskin, in light of the death and destruction – bling has lost its glitter.


One little bit of good news, it turns out that coffee is actually good for you.


All Hail the Chief


Chief Justice Rehnquist has passed away and the talking heads are all a twitter – like Katrina, some are sad, some are mad and some are downright glad.  We can’t post anything past Sunday at midnight, so I guess we can’t tell you who was nominated to replace Rehnquist as Chief Justice.


Business Stuff


Ever wonder if you were ready for management – well, the folks over at the Value Management Blog give us 10 reasons why we should stay out of management including our favorite #5 entitled “You're Too Content with the Status Quo.”  Want to know how to be cruel to your employees?  It’s easy – just make up an organizational chart.  For crying out loud, if you do decide to leave because you just can’t take it anymore – take Larry’s word for it, don’t choose the counteroffer, you’ll thank him for it. 


Don’t feel too bad if you misplace your car keys every now and then, California apparently has misplaced almost half of its 70,000 state-owned fleet.  I guess the rules for citizens don’t also apply to government employees.


Wonder Branding’s post “A View through the Windshield of Life” reminds us that it is important when dealing with female customers to not judge a book by its demographic cover, but instead examine their values and needs to determine how best to serve them.  Multiple Mentality takes a different approach, arguing that companies need to be realistic in reaching out to their potential customers, regardless of what others may say, noting that “[m]ost real women have far more flaws. And that’s why we love them.”


In a lot of ways, networking is like marriage…you don’t just walk up to a prospective mate and say “Let’s get married.”  However, patience and the love of a hobby can be woven into an extensive business network.  Another promising area for business is through bloggers networking together to form “mutually beneficial business partnerships” (pardon the shameless promotion, but our little rethink(ip) collaboration seems to be a perfect example of such a relationship).  The author notes that “the blog connection concept might eventually turn into a business all by itself.”  Of course, another way to network is use someone else’s customer list.  One way to do this is through illegally stealing someone’s trade secrets, but the preferable (and legal) way is via “leveraged marketing.


On the tech side, do we now have to worry about hackers in hotel rooms stealing our credit card information and taking pictures of us while we sleep?  If only they’d have better marketed themselves to the corporate office the downsizing would have been prevented and their life of crime could have been diverted.


Thinking of switching teams?  No, not in the Seinfeld sense, but in the ‘life is a team sport’ sense.  No matter what company, family, or gang you’re a member of, they’re all teams (business and gang-bangers in the same post – you’ve gotta love that!).  If you’re unhappy with your current team, you’ve got to break free from the one you hate and pick one that suits you better.  When switching (and even when thinking of switching), remember that there are winners, losers and victims in the crazy game of life and, no matter your team, the field on which you play the game can have a profound effect on the final score.


Ouch – have you been banned from the really big exclusive geek illuminati important social networking conferences?  If you have, you may have been Foo-barred.  Speaking of being barred, apparently California’s attorney general is taking on fast food restaurants – namely, their french fries.


The Importance of a Liberal Arts Education” is offset by claims that Google undermining education by displaying ads for plagiarism and cheating?   Damn them! 


Are you too old to start a business (or, put another way, have you forgotten to buy long term care insurance)?  The answer is, as usual, it depends (no pun intended).  If you understand RSS (better yet, how to market RSS) – you are probably ahead of the game and knowing the intricacies of applying for a small business loan can’t hurt either.  Another option would be giving your downtown some open heart surgery. 


Be careful where you put that business – the cost of doing business may overwhelm your Web 2.0 company – in fact, why not look to the prairie states? (where you can actually get a house for the median price)  Then again, none of it really matters if you simply dell your customers. (“Dude, you got delled!”)  In fact, the signs are that all business will be conducted in Asia by the year 2156.  In the end, be careful who you get into bed with


Meanwhile, marketing to Gen X-rs (is that trademarked – in fact, did a gorilla choose your own company name?) has never been so easy thanks to the Lip-Sticking blog (in fact, it is even easier for women – just make them happy and they will buy).  All it takes is a simple little question “What if I started a business that is the Windows of _________?  We think it would just be better to stop practicing law and start juggling our money between bank accounts in order to maximize interest or better yet, maybe we should just go to work in the stock market.  Maybe there are other things you should put on a “what I want to learn” list.


The future isn’t in plastics, it is the B2B to the hispanic market. The use of celebrities to market to women is discussed over at the Learned on Women blog while the Bizinformer blog wonders how far one will stretch ethics in order to increase profits.  Google is, for all intents and purposes, going to own our souls in the very near future – or at least our mobile devices.


The next time you take your printer cartridges to get them refilled (or if you refill them yourself) – be warned.  You could be committing an act of patent infringement.  At the same time, the invention of the century could be The Life Straw which can clean up to 150 gallons of water by simply sucking through the device.  Such life saving devices will be “the play” of the year now that Katrina has struck.


How to Save the World posits the Ten Most Important Trends in Business (echo echo echo…) while the SF Indymedia blog examines the hidden and not so hidden racism of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Meanwhile, with all the graphs, figures and gizmos – is it any wonder why the music industry (supposedly) can’t make any money on the internet? 


Maybe the music biz should consider Firing the CEO – as Martha says it’s a good thing?  There might be a few folks who disagree with that point – more likely you should fire any attorney who files a million dollar patent application.


Have you ever wondered what exactly ‘Word of Mouth’ advertising means? A lot more than just WOMMA, that’s for sure.  Of course, WOMMA is so old school – or is it new school?  Who knows – but the Media Guerilla may take a stab at explaining all the crazy marketing mumbo-jumbo to us. 


While we are at it – it is good that we now know how to manage losers – as long as we don’t see our coworkers using these tips on us!  Since we have our managing hat on, maybe we should fire all of the relatives of employees we mistakenly hired.  Marketers would never consider themselves losers (is it the medium or the message), so the rest of us should just learn their language and move on. 


Finally, this week’s best blog post -- told in the voice of a rhinocerous -- belongs to The Skwib (if the rhinocerous thing isn’t enough to get you to click that link, maybe “take calculated risks, but no hot dogging” will).  Yeah, we ignored the whole oil price thing, even though it did bring out some strange behavior in folks.  Sue us (just don’t ask for a referral).  It’s all part of having free markets, although others have doctrinal conflicts with it.


Thanks for reading!  I would encourage you to stop by the Blawg Review carnival that is going on right now over at Blawg Wisdom.  You’ll find the best legal commentary available as well as some thought provoking discussions.


Next week’s Carnival of the Capitalists will be over at Evelyn Rodriguez’s blog Crossroads Dispatches (Evelyn is familiar with surviving natural disasters…she was on Phi Phi Don island off the Andaman coast of Thailand last December when the tsunami hit and blogged about her experiences then).  Have a great week!

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Quick...what is innovation?

Posted by J Matthew Buchanan at June 29, 2005 09:59 AM

Last week I had a chance to catch up with a buddy from grad school.  We were discussing heady science issues like we used to, and eventually he asked me about an inventorship issue that had developed in his organization.

We ironed out some of the details, and then he got heady again.  He asked “how many patent attorneys do you think even know what the definition of innovation is, let alone understand the difference between invention and innovation?”

Whoa.  Heady indeed.

My response?  Very few.

And it’s too bad, really.  He added later that he really wanted “…someone who can help me innovate.”


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