Archive for inventing
Many of the greatest inventions in America came from immigrants. See Steve Brachman’s article, “American innovation has been fueled by immigrant inventors” at IP Watchdog. Nearly all of our inventions, in fact, came from people who were either immigrants or descendants of immigrants (sometimes we seem to forget our own roots!). Immigrants with skills and a desire to succeed often become great entrepreneurs that create jobs and wealth that benefit the rest of us. Today, unfortunately, there is a lot of misunderstanding about immigrants.
Sadly, many people with great innovation potential and good education find legal immigration is nearly impossible or takes many years. They are punished with unreasonably high barriers to entry. Making the barriers greater for them will only hurt the economy and our innovation potential.
The Sovereign Man Explorer newsletter (from Sovereignman.com) of Feb. 5, 2017 has an excellent article on immigration to consider:
Everyone Loves a Good Ol’ Immigrant Witch Hunt!
Republicans aren’t the only ones who want to limit immigration. While democrats are crying foul over Trump’s policies towards immigrants, they have initiated a little foreigner witch hunt of their own.
A whole bunch of Democrats in Congress introduced a bill that would have the Secretary of State, and other federal agency directors, create a list of foreigners believed to have manipulated the election, or tampered with American political parties.
It would give the government power to freeze their assets, and bar them from entering the United States.
And this would happen based solely on the investigation and recommendation of the State Department; no due process.
What this means:
This is some pretty weak criteria for having your assets frozen and being barred from entering America. True, Trump’s plan to ban all immigrants from particular countries is extreme as well, but at least he doesn’t plan on freezing immigrants’ assets.
This essentially could rob immigrants’ of the products of their labor, while stifling their international mobility, just because their name ended up on a list.
How much evidence is required to end up on the list? We don’t know. Can they get off the list, have their travel allowance returned, and have their assets unfrozen? We don’t know. Will this be used politically against enemies of politicians? We don’t know.
This is a vague and ill defined bill which gives more power the the Feds to arbitrarily harass immigrants. And it proves this attitude is held by both major American political parties.
Innovation thrives when there is certainty and an environment where the risks of developing a new business or other innovation can bring returns. When there is the risk that government with the stroke of a pen can seize assets without due process or otherwise take everything by changing the rules of the game, there is uncertainty that chokes innovation. Scaring away talented innovators and threatening them with the loss of assets for supporting a political opponent will leave all of us worse off.
Of course, a government so out of control that it will seize immigrants’ assets for arbitrary reasons is a threat to all of its citizens as well. It is the ultimate source of innovation fatigue and worse.
Be careful about the vehicle you’ve been driving. As sturdy, tangible, useful, and inventive as it looks to you, it may turn out to be merely an abstraction, perhaps nothing more than the mere idea of “transportation” or “going places,” making it unworthy of the thousands of patents protecting its numerous technologies — if the USPTO and America’s elite judges get their way. An abstract automobile? You don’t want to be caught dead driving one. Unfortunately, since the USPTO’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) just ruled that an MRI machine is abstract and thus not patentable under the odious and vague principles of the Supreme Court’s recent Alice decision, it could be that automobiles and virtually every other machine under the sun could be next on the anti-patent chopping block. Your trusty Toyota or your faithful Ford are about to go abstract on you, courtesy of the USPTO. Look out.
In the PTAB’s elite view, as Gene Quinn explains, all the physical wizardry of the mighty MRI machine as claimed in a recent patent application for an improved MRI is just an abstract idea based on the abstraction of “classification.” It defies logic and defies the requirements of the Alice decision and the USPTO’s rules for applying Alice, but the PTAB has become a patent munching zombie that doesn’t seem bound by logic or law. They are one of the strongest forces promoting innovation fatigue. Many innovators are just giving up or going to other nations where IP rights are more meaningful.
The anti-patent forces that have taken hold of far too many influential posts in America view property rights and especially intellectual property rights as a barrier to the ideal society they envision. If only we could get rid of patents, they seem to think, drug prices would fall and Obamacare, for example, would not be such a disaster. But the bounty some intellectuals promise by weakening property rights is an illusion, for without IP rights, what is the incentive to take on the risks and costs of innovation if you cannot benefit from the occasional successes that come from your uncertain work? If your hit product can be taken and marketed by others who did not have to spend so much time and money developing it, then the inventor is often at a competitive disadvantage to everyone else. Why bother?
America’s war on patents is a war on the future of innovation. It’s a war we cannot afford to lose.
Abraham Lincoln said that the patent system “added the fuel of interest to the fires of genius.” Today the fires of genius and the fire of innovation itself is getting doused with something less helpful than fuel. These fires are being cooled and, in some cases, extinguished with harsh attacks on the IP rights that once enabled and motivated lone inventors and small businesses to take the fruits of their genius to the market.
The owners of small businesses, the people who generate most of the innovation and business growth in the United States have good reason to be worried. Their ability to attract funding through valuable intellectual property is being compromised. Their ability to protect their products and innovations from the power of corporate giants is being whittled away. This has come from many quarters, but there is a widespread anti-patent movement driven by politics and misinformation. It’s the bitter fruit of a bitter anti-property rights movement that exaggerates the threat of a few bad actors to justify widespread weakening of property rights in ways that will hurt the economy and our society for years to come.
We have seen a recent series of Supreme Court cases that have made it much harder to obtain patents and enforce them. We have seen massive changes in US patent law that make it easier to invalidate patents after they are granted and make it harder and more costly to stop infringers if your patent survives. Now the bogeyman of “patent trolls” is held up as a threat to America that requires more sweeping “patent reform” to make it even harder to enforce a patent, and it looks like both parties are united in a quest to do “something big” to shake up the IP rights that helped drive the American economy for so many decades. Corporate giants benefit from this reform as it clears away the annoyance of other people’s IP rights standing in the way of their marketing muscle. But the economy as a whole and the rights of many are hurt in this process this amplifies innovation fatigue .
Several recent articles highlight just how serious the problem has become. Louis Carbonneau in “Toxic Asset: The Gradual Demise of the American Patent” (IPWatchdog.com, December 10, 2014), surveys the radical changes in the past two or three years:
On the judicial front, in 2014 we saw no fewer than 5 Supreme Court decisions going against patent holders on the various subjects of obviousness (a key test for patent validity), what constitutes “abstract ideas” (which now undergo a more stringent test for patentability), business method patentability, indefiniteness (how you construe claims), reasonable royalty (how you calculate damages), willful infringement (how you punish the “bad actors”) and fee shifting (making losers pay for winners legal fees). All of these decisions have collectively made it harder for patent owners to: i) maintain the validity of duly issued patents (previously presumed by law), ii) pursue infringement claims, ii) prove damages (let alone treble damages), iv) have open discussions with potential infringers prior to litigating, and have left the unsuccessful patent owner at risks of paying millions in legal fees to the other side if the judges so decides.
Parallel to judicial reform at the federal courts, recent US patent reform with the American Invent Act (AIA) introduced a new post grant review mechanism called Inter Partes Review (IPR) which allows a party to challenge the validity of any issued patent before the Patent Trial & Appeals Board (PTAB). Strangely, despite the PTAB being an emanation of the same USPTO that delivered all these patents in the first place, there is no longer a presumption of validity before the PTAB for the patents being challenged while other rules make it easier to invalidate patents based on prior art.
Finally, on the political front, in 2013 the US House of Reps. passed the Goodlatte bill, which would erode rights conveyed to all patent holders despite being primarily directed at NPEs. It is now expected that the new Republican led Senate will revive the bill -currently on hold- in early 2015 and, with a rare showing of bipartisanship from the White House, it is expected to be signed into law. At the same time, 27 US States have passed or are in the process of passing laws that make it harder for people to assert the patents they own.
Carbonneau goes on to explain that in recent Federal Circuit cases, patent owners are being crushed, and in Inter Partes Review (IPR) cases before the USPTO, nearly 80% of the owners of challenged patents are being told by the USPTO that their patents are not valid over the prior art that the USPTO itself supposedly considered before granting the patent in the first place. Carbonneau puts it rather wryly:
The most interesting statistics come from the PTAB [the USPTO’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board, which processes IPR cases] because it only focuses on validity issues based on prior art; the very same prior art patent examiners are supposed to have found and analyze prior to issuing a patent. Since patents going through IPRs are usually the same ones that being litigated, you would assume that owners did a lot of due diligence before investing in a costly patent lawsuit. Well, the PTAB is declaring 77.5% of reviewed patents invalid! And this is not limited to “abstract” software; patents related to biotech and pharmaceuticals, medical and mechanical devices, are being invalidated at an even higher rate! Remember, this is an offspring of the very same agency that inventors paid thousands of dollars in the first place to review applications and issue their patents. Now, after having to pay a quarter to a half million dollars in legal fees (average cost of an IPR procedure for a patent holder), the same agency is telling patentees nearly 80% of the time: “Very sorry we made a mistake; we would not have allowed your application had we looked more carefully for existing prior art. And no, there is no refund available.”
Personally, I cannot think of any industry that could survive more than a month with a nearly 80% defective rate, let alone by forcing you to spend a fortune for the “privilege” to confirm that indeed your title was invalid in the first place! Only a government can come up with such a broken system and get away with it.
The impact of these anti-patent efforts has been a surprisingly sudden break from the trend of increasing IP litigation, with litigation in 2014 down about 13% from the previous year according to a new 2015 PwC report on patent litigation. The problem of explosively increasing patent litigation, a common excuse to justify the slashing of patent rights, is not supported by the data.
Richard Lloyd, writing for the IAM Blog, draws this observation from the PwC report:
Of these three classes [of patent litigants considered], NPE [non-practicing entity] companies have been successful 31% of the time in patent cases brought since 1995; this compares with a success rate for universities and non-profits of 48% and a lowly 18% for individual inventors. Individual patent owners also do far worse with damages pay-outs, getting a median award of $3 million compared with $11.5 million for company NPEs and $16.2 million for universities/non-profits.
There could be many reasons for individual inventors doing relatively badly. Although the PWC study doesn’t provide any, it’s easy to speculate that small inventors may have lower average quality patents to begin with, while they probably don’t have the same kind of litigation savvy as other NPEs and are much less likely to have access to the same kind of litigation expertise that larger, better funded patent owners can turn to.
But what PWC’s numbers also strongly suggest is that the US patent litigation system is strongly stacked against small, patent owning entities. Bearing this in mind, it is worrying that the main packages of reform proposed in the House of Representatives (the Innovation Act) and the Senate (the PATENT Act) are only going to penalise them further.
Lloyd notes that potential irony now that many lone inventors, recognizing that they have little chance of winning and have almost no chance of affording the punitive legal bills they may face if they sue and lose, may be more likely to turn to NPEs (“patent trolls”) for help as the most practical way to realize any benefit from their work.
There is a need to rebuild an innovation climate in the United States, starting with educating our leaders about the need for IP rights and the value of patents. If we don’t teach this lesson from within, it will eventually be taught rather loudly from without, for Europe and China are both moving to strengthen IP rights and strengthen IP enforcement. Europe’s Unitary Patent system could be a boon to IP there, though much remains to be seen, but the changes in China are strong and dramatic. That nation has gone from no patents and no IP system in the early 1980s to the world’s biggest source of IP generation and IP litigation, with many changes steadily strengthening the nation’s IP system. There is a long ways to go for China still and there have been some setbacks, but at current rates we can see China becoming a leading source of global innovation while the US loses its lead.
Will the flames of innovation be largely quenched in that nation? Much depends on what we do with IP rights now, the rights that will shape our culture and economy for decades to come. May the fires of genius be encouraged with something other than the cold water Congress and Courts have been sloshing.
Prisoners of Hope: How engineers and Others Get Lift for Innovating by Larry Vincent is an unusual book on innovation that I found to be a refreshing guide to strengthening innovation with great practical value. Part of what makes this book unusual and, for some, perhaps highly challenging, is that it is written from the perspective of a preacher turned innovation champion, filled with references to biblical material, including frequent passages cited from scripture and analogies, sometimes extensive and detailed, drawn from the Bible. Although I treasure the Bible, initially this approach caught me off guard. In fact, at first I felt the attempt to find practical secular lessons for innovators from Bible stories was strained, even to the point that I initially disliked the book after the first chapter or two. But after a few more pages, I began encountering many valuable insights and modern case studies that revealed the author really did understand the practical challenges of bringing innovation to life, especially in a corporate environment. Once I got past my initial challenges with the unique angle of the book, I found it well worth my time, even inspiring. I still struggle with some of the passages using scripture to explain innovation and its challenges, but others may enjoy that. On the other hand, I was impressed by his application of Ezekiel’s “dry bones” vision in the Old Testament, where the prophet Ezekiel saw a valley of dried bones that became living humans again. His treatment made it a very apt and interesting analogy for the challenges inventors face in breathing life and commercial success into their inventions.
Lanny Vincent understands innovation and the life and challenges of innovators, especially those in corporations. Inventors and innovators are the “prisoners of hope” of the title, people driven and even held captive by their vision of changing the world with their innovation. It is their faith and hope that drives them forward, and this faith and hope allows for many biblical insights to be relevant. Whatever their feelings about scripture, this book can be valuable for them and for those who guide or influence them. Vincent understands how they can be more successful.
Aspects I especially enjoy are the numerous case studies and examples. While many come from the consumer products industry, especially from Kimberly-Clark Corp. where Lanny Vincent had a great deal of industrial experience, the lessons and practical guidance from the author will help engineers, scientists, and other inventors in many disciplines, and may be especially helpful to leaders responsible for innovation and business development. In these case studies, Vincent draws out key lessons to guide and inspire innovators today.
One of my favorite sections is in the middle of Chapter 6, “Inspiration and Appreciation,” where Vincent recounts how we worked with a team of automotive engineers in Michigan to help them innovate in the area of automotive suspensions. As he observed their responses and discerned that they were there because they had to be, not because they wanted to be, he departed from his normal process. He sought a way to help those jaded survivors of extensive downsizing become more inspired about the innovation task before them. He asked them to tell him the basics of the suspension system, including the history of its development. Admitting his naiveté and asking the engineers to share their knowledge seemed to engage them. They were then asked to draw a timeline of the development of related systems and then to characterize major epochs of the timeline as if they were historians. Then, in light of the past, how would they characterize the next era of development? They energetically and swiftly responded, and then Vincent simply explained that that was the area where they needed to invent. The invention workshop turned out to be highly productive.
One of the interesting insights regarding corporate barriers to innovation is the tendency for companies to promote successful innovators in their ranks to new positions where their rich innovation experience may be unused or essentially lost. The wheels of innovation are constantly being reinvented in companies as those who succeed are moved away from the field where they were able to create success.
Vincent also calls for corporations keep inventors and innovators close to projects as they become commercialized. There is a tendency in large corporations to hand off new products to others and leave those with the original vision and passion out of the picture by the time consumer feedback is being obtained, but Vincent identifies this as a huge missed opportunity. The inventors and innovators may have exactly the insights and knowledge needed to interpret and apply the feedback from the market, and they should play a pivotal role in refining and adapting the product as it moves forward.
The photocopier, one of the most valuable inventions in the modern world, began with the all-consuming passion of one man, Chester Carlson, who sacrificed almost everything he had for years to realize his dream of “dry printing” using electrostatic means. In the end, he became wealthy and successful, but the years of effort required should be noted by all seeking to launch a major new invention. One of the most important lessons in his story is that he obtained a valid and valuable patent, otherwise companies could have taken his idea and left him behind. You cannot neglect IP if you are an inventor.
Chester’s path to invention and innovation began in poverty at age 13, working as a printer’s assistant. It was there that he began thinking about better ways to print. He went on to graduate from Cal Tech and then, still at the edge of poverty, dedicated his spare time to tinkering in his kitchen, looking for ways to pint without wet inks, taking advantage of the potential he saw with static electricity as a tool for moving dry particles onto paper.
Carlson patented a copying process in 1937, before he’d really figured out how to make it work. Author Dean Golembeski tells us that he hired a German refugee named Otto Kornei to help him. Working on a budget of 10 dollars a month, they finally managed to reproduce an inked message by electrostatic means. Kornei saw little future in the process, so he went on to a regular job. Carlson spent the next six years looking for corporate backing.
Battelle finally bought into his patent, and Carlson vanished into the work of developing the process. First his marriage fell apart. Then Battelle gave up on the process. Finally, a little company called Haloid bought the patent rights and hired Carlson.
Haloid turned to a Greek scholar for help in naming the process. Since it didn’t use any photographic liquids, he suggested that they base the name on the Greek word for dry — xeros. He suggested that they call it “Xerography.” That word was simplified to “Xerox,” and Carlson’s dream was finally on its way. It took another 13 years to produce the first really successful Xerox machine, but then Carlson was suddenly worth 150 million dollars.
Endless toil, an all-consuming passion, years of sacrifice, then an invention, a patent, and years more of work to obtain corporate investment and eventually commercialize the process–this was what it took for Carlson to achieve success and wealth. And then he dropped dead at age 62, a lonely man. Was it worth it?
Frankly, one thing that passionate inventors often need is a touch of balance in their lives, with more attention to family and personal growth. Chester’s zealous focus appears to have cost him his marriage and perhaps his health. Sometimes that kind of balance gives people insights and connections that help them bypass some of the fruitless decades of futile meandering that occurs in many inventor’s lives and more directly realize their goal. It also gives them longevity. High stress for decades to realize your passion, only to be promptly terminated with an early heart attack, is too common a pattern in “successful” business leaders and innovators. Again, with balance, more complete and meaningful success may be realized and enjoyed for much longer. Don’t overdo it, inventors! Slow down, pay attention to your family and your health, and open channels of creative inspiration to realize you dream more efficiently.
As we discuss in Conquering Innovation Fatigue, the profit motive can be important for inventors but is often not the real incentive behind the quest to invent. Steps that eliminate the opportunity to profit from invention, though, can be serious barriers to a nation’s innovation potential. The profit motive can be important for prospective innovators. However, a focus on profits can be utterly destructive to innovation within a corporation, where the incentives to those who lead other would-be innovators can create new barriers that kill the innovation future of the company. Ironically, what can be a helpful incentive for innovation to an individual can easily become a disincentive once distorted by the internal workings of a corporation. This is illustrated in recent analysis from Clayton Christensen. See an overview in the article “Clayton Christensen: How Pursuit of Profits Kills Innovation and the U.S. Economy” at Forbes.com. Christensen argues that ratio-based metrics for profitability distort corporate thinking and reward behavior that ultimately destroys the future of the corporation by creating short-term benefits in apparent profitability. We illustrate a related problem in the book with the Apple Tree Analogy, in which metrics for short-term profitability for an apple harvester get a dramatic boost when the apple trees are toppled, making it much faster to harvest the fruit. The future, though, becomes barren.
Corporations need to carefully consider the metrics they use for profitability, as Christensen teaches, and unlearn some of the sacred concepts they were given in business schools. They should also go one step further an consider the impact of their metrics on not just the long-term growth of the company as a whole, but also the individual innovator and the innovation culture within the company. Listening to the voice of the innovator inside the corporation should be an important exercise for its top leaders.
Contests can be one of the most interesting innovation tools. With the right challenge and incentives, creative groups from across the world can help invent and innovate rapidly. The creativity of crowds fueled by a content was just demonstrated in the Shredder Challenge contest that was launched October 2011 by the U.S. government’s DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). DARPA wanted to know what could be achieved with computer tools in reassembling shredded documents to recover the originals. Since many different approaches were possible, this was an excellent candidate for crowdsourcing. Rather than hire a huge team for a short while to pursue many different paths, or use a small team pursuing many paths over a long period of time, just throw this one out to the crowds for healthy competition. The objective in this competition was to create a system for reconstructing shredded documents. The system would have to demonstrate success by reassembling the shreds from five documents whose shredded remains were posted on a website. As reported at Gizmag, the “All Your Shreds Are Belong to U.S.” team won the $50,000 prize for this contest by assembling all five documents two days before the Dec. 4 deadline. Given the hours that the winning team put into this competition, $50,000 was a very good deal for DARPA (and the American taxpayers) and not such a good deal for the winning team. If you consider all the thousands of additional hours put in by many other teams working on the competition, DARPA got quite a lot for a small investment.
Companies can and do this kind of thing as well, with varying degrees of success. Capturing the imagination of people with the skills needed for the problem is the key. Prizes help, along with fame and bragging rights. Intellectual property issues can get in the way for some companies. I’ll point to Local Motors as one of the leading examples of for-profit crowdsourcing. Their business model is sophisticated and highly refined, something I’ve written about here previously.
As for the hilarious title of the winning group, you might enjoy reviewing the history of the classic phrase, “All your base are belong to us.”
Ask the leaders of a business how much they spend on printing. The response can be interesting, even hilarious. It’s an expense that is easily overlooked yet can be substantial. Few companies know if they are being overbilled. Decisions may be handled by cloudy processes where influences other than quality and value sometimes hold sway. Indeed, the fundamentals of the procurement process in many companies leave inefficiency if not outright abuse. The problem isn’t just in printing, either. Many parts and services handled through standard procurement systems can result in excessive costs. Enter an interesting business model innovation: E-Lynxx. For added spice, we’re talking patented business model innovation. Yes, E-Lynxx has a business model enhanced with the aura of two US patents.
William Gindlesperger is the founder and CEO of E-Lynxx. My source tells me he has over 25 years of experience in the printing industry, where found that the decision making process was antiquated and left companies vulnerable in many ways. He pursued business model innovation to come up with a system that could make the process transparent and more efficient. Under his business model, be provides software and services up front at not cost, getting paid only when the client saves real money from his work. Then he gets a cut of the savings. Low risk.
When a company turns to E-Lynxx, they receive software and training in how to use E-Lynxx’s open auction system. Bids are offered to a large array of qualified vendors who then bid on the deal. The vendors can see the competitive bids and so can the client. This transparency helps bring costs down substantially, often reducing print costs by 25-50%. E-Lynxx gets part of the savings. What’s not to like? Well, those who aren’t getting as much gravy might not like it, but if it’s your business, these kind of cost savings should be welcome news.
Here’s claim 1 of E-Lynxx’s first patent, 6,397,197, assigned to the CEO and founder himself:
1. A method for competitive bidding by print information product vendors comprising steps of: inputting a plurality of vendor records into a storage of a general purpose computer, each of said vendor records having a data field identifying a print information product vendor and a buyer identification data field identifying a buyer that said vendor is associated with, at least one of said vendor records having a vendor capability data representing a set of vendor manufacturing capabilities of the vendor identified by said record; inputting a buyer’s invitation-for-bid data into said general purpose computer, said buyer’s invitation-for-bid data having a buyer identification data, and having an invitation for bid on a print information product job from said buyer; calculating a vendor requirement data from said buyer’s invitation-for-bid data, said vendor requirement data representing a set of vendor manufacturing capabilities required for performing said print information product job; comparing said vendor requirement data to a plurality of said vendor records having a buyer identification data field identifying the buyer from which said buyer’s invitation-for-bid data was received; identifying at least one vendor record as qualified, based on said comparing; transmitting a vendor’s invitation-for-bid data based on said buyer’s invitation-for-bid data to each vendor identified by said at least one vendor record; inputting into said general purpose computer a plurality of bid data, each from one of said vendors to which said vendor’s invitation-for-bid data was transmitted, each of said bid data representing a bid price; identifying a bid data from said received bid data having the lowest represented bid price; outputting a selected vendor data representing the identity of the vendor corresponding to the bid data identified by said identifying step; and transmitting an order to the vendor represented by said selected vendor data.
Here’s claim 1 of their second patent, US 7,451,106:
1. A method for facilitating a buyer’s selection of a vendor via automated comparison of records and bidding by vendors of customized goods or services via a computer operated system, comprising steps of: prior to receiving job data from a buyer pertaining to a job for which the buyer seeks a vendor, receiving electronic communications from a plurality of vendors, the electronic communications being used in establishing a plurality of vendor records which are stored in an electronic memory associated with the computer system, the vendor records corresponding to each of a plurality of vendors and having vendor capability data identifying a plurality of capabilities for said vendor to provide a customized good or service; each buyer using the system generating an electronic communication providing information identifying a plurality of vendors for inclusion in a pool of vendors associated with said buyer to potentially receive a job solicitation, wherein the system stores electronic data sufficient to identify every vendor pool and its association with a corresponding buyer based upon the buyer transmitted vendor pool identification information which occurs prior to analysis of job data pertaining to a job for which bids are sought by or on behalf of the buyer; receiving an electronic communication defining a job data from or on behalf of at least one buyer, after said buyer’s vendor pool is determined, said job data including a job descriptor data which specifies a plurality of characteristics of said customized good or service for which said buyer wishes a bid; automatically comparing via a computer processor said vendor records to said job data, wherein said comparing includes comparing said plurality of characteristics for said customized good or service with corresponding plural capabilities for vendors from the pool of vendors associated with said buyer; automatically identifying via a computer processor at least one subset from the buyer’s associated pool of vendors as qualified for receiving the solicitation, based on said comparison; thereafter transmitting the solicitation to only selected members from the identified subset of the buyer’s associated pool of vendors; receiving bid response data from at least one of said vendors which received said solicitation, said bid response data identifying each of the vendors from which it was received and a bid price; and outputting to said buyer an electronic communication providing at least one of said bid response data.
And here’s claim 1 of 7,788,143:
1. A method for facilitating a buyer’s selection of a vendor via automated comparison of records and bidding by vendors for customized goods or services via a computer operated system, comprising the steps of: prior to processing job data from a buyer pertaining to a job for which the buyer seeks a vendor, receiving and processing electronic communications from a plurality of vendors, the electronic communications being used in establishing a plurality of vendor records which are stored in an electronic memory associated with the computer system, the vendor records corresponding to each of a plurality of vendors and having vendor capability data identifying a plurality of capabilities for said vendor to provide a customized good or service; receiving an electronic communication from or on behalf of any buyer using the system which provides information identifying a plurality of vendors for inclusion in a pool of vendors associated with the buyer to potentially receive a job solicitation, and storing electronic data sufficient to identify every vendor pool and its association with a corresponding buyer based upon the received electronic communications from the buyers providing vendor pool identification information, the vendor pool identification information being processed prior to analysis of job data pertaining to a job for which bids are sought by or on behalf of the buyer; receiving an electronic communication defining a job data from or on behalf of at least one buyer after the buyer’s vendor pool is determined, the job data including a job descriptor data which specifies a plurality of characteristics of said customized good or service for which the buyer wishes a bid; automatically comparing via a computer processor said vendor records to said job data, wherein said comparing includes comparing said plurality of characteristics for said customized good or service with corresponding plural capabilities for vendors from the vendor pool of vendors associated with the buyer; automatically identifying via a computer processor at least one subset from the buyer’s associated pool of vendors as qualified for receiving the solicitation, based on said comparison; thereafter transmitting the solicitation to only selected members from the identified subset of the buyer’s associated pool of vendors; receiving bid response data from at least one of said vendors which received said solicitation, said bid response data identifying a bid price for the corresponding vendor; and outputting to said buyer an electronic communication providing at least one of said bid response data.
Another patent is still pending.
Business method patents are still alive and can play important roles in some companies. Whether they are needed or not for this company, I like the innovative approach that E-Lynxx is taking to bring the procurement process into the light where more efficient transactions can occur with large costs savings.
Do you recognize how much innovation is behind the simple pleasures of life like a carbonated beverage? A great deal of clever physics and science has gone into the subtle innovations that allow us to enjoy these beverages without, say, risking blindness every time we open a bottle of Sprite. In the early days of soda innovation, there was some risk in opening a screw-top container because the pressure was locked in by the interconnected threads until the screw cap came off: then the high pressure in the container could propel the up and away. Packaging engineers tacked the problem, leading to the first big breakthrough described in a 1961 patent, “Gas Escape Closure Cap” by Leo Garvey, US Patent No. 2,990,079. There were other earlier solutions proposed, including more complex venting caps, but the solution of grooves in the threads is elegant. Part of the patent is shown below, where in the lower right-hand corner you can see a drawing showing grooves in the ridges of the threads of a cap that help allow pressurized gas to escape while the bottle is being opened. A variety of later patents build on that theme, with 21 different patent families citing the Garvey patent. Today grooves in the threads of the bottle are also used, as shown, for example, in US Pat. No. 4392055 of Owens Illinois, providing the same kind of safe venting that Garvey sought. (That also reminds us of the need to consider alternative solutions in pursuing patent coverage.)
Gas venting threads are a tiny tweak of the bottle design that many people overlook, but they play an important role. There are numerous subtle innovations in almost every aspect of the soda bottle, from the design of the flange, the materials use to make it, the shape of the foot of the bottle allowing it to stand without the need for a separate stand or ring, the attachment of labels, the design of the cap, and the basic bottle manufacturing process itself. It’s all worth a toast the next time you have a sip. Innovation adds fizz to our daily lives–and safety.
Doug Gross at CNN has a list of the top 10 tech product failures in recent years (hat tip to Greg Aharonian’s Patnews newsletter). The list includes:
- Apple Newton
- Google Wave
- Microsoft KIN
- Atari Jaguar
- Virtual Reality
Some great ideas and even some cool technology went into most of these products, but they failed for various reasons. Wrong business model, easy or vastly superior alternatives, low-cost “good enough” alternatives, benefits too narrow, company out of touch with the market, poor execution, premature launch, failure to learn and iterate to respond to the market, etc. Their failures important for other innovators to consider, for there are many things that can stand between you and innovation success. Success is more likely to favor the the flexible few who learn from the initial failure and have funds left to iterate to give the market what is really wanted.
I was surprised to see Virtual Reality on the failed tech list, but it certainly hasn’t lived up to all the hype. Here is CNN’s take:
Remember when we were on the verge of living high-tech virtual lives?
When optic sensors, VR helmets and power gloves were supposed to have us living in “The Matrix?” Or at least on the Holodeck?
Turns out, the promises were a little ahead of their time.
“The technology of the 1980s was not mature enough,” says Stephen Ellis, who continues hacking away at virtual reality at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
The main effect of commercial VR-tech that’s rolled out since then has largely been making the user want to throw up.
Virtual reality may have a pathway similar to RFID (radiofrequency identification technology). Years of hype hindered by high costs and inadequate execution, but successful niches will be found where its impact can become enormous as the technology becomes useful and affordable for those applications, while not being nearly as ubiquitous as pundits once projected. There is something there, making it far too early to write off virtual reality or several other of CNN’s top 10 failures as genuine failures. For those who can learn from the marketplace and adjust business models and technology to exploit genuine unmet needs, there are exciting opportunities that we may see shortly.