Monday, August 27, 2007

Innovative Approach for Image Handling

An amazing new technology for resizing images without distortion of important features is presented in a video at By calculating low energy regions in a photo, pixels can be added or removed in those regions without distorting key features of a photo as it is resized. Brilliant!

Now think about how this technology could be deployed disruptively. As an image processing program, incumbents will be motivated to respond head-on. That's their business and expertise. But what about subtle applications in other areas, such as enhancing the display of Google Ads, improving the display of graphics on signs or VR displays, or providing dynamic displays on electric paper? What business models would allow this technology to provide a disruptive competitive advantage? Food for thought. Correct answers will be given in four or five years.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Problem with Copper and Bird Droppings: Don't Doom Your Innovation Pipeline

Building an innovation pipeline? Great! But before you complete your system, there's a lesson to be learned from a real-world failure of copper pipes discussed in a recent edition of Design News. I refer to "The Case of the Oleaginous Inlet" by Kenneth Russell, Professor Emeritus, MIT, Cambridge, MA (July 16, 2007, p. 118). Here's the problem he faced:
Oils become viscous and hard to pump at low temperatures. In the case at hand, refined mineral oil was being stored in a large tank equipped with a heat exchanger to keep the stuff pumpable. Fairly low temperature steam circulated through an array of ¾-inch copper tubes immersed in the oil and then discharged into a dry well. Several of the tubes broke, which allowed the mineral oil to leak into the dry well and the surrounding ground and finally into Mount Hope (RI) Bay. Local environmentalists and waterfront residents were not pleased by the leak.

I was retained by the operator of the tank to find the cause of the piping fracture. My client, of course, hoped to be exonerated.

The tubing was just plain copper that, for some reason, had broken after only two years of service. Neither refined mineral oil nor clean steam attack copper, so the cause of failure was a mystery.
Scanning electron microscope images of the pipes suggested that the problem was corrosive attack on the outside surfaces of the pipe. This was puzzling because copper is usually inert and does not corrode easily. But ammonia can attack it, and ammonia from bird droppings, dog urine, or other animal sources could have been the cause.

In this case, it appeared that some source of ammonia (bird droppings from above, perhaps) had landed on the copper tubes while they had been in storage, causing weakening of the metal that later resulted in failure of the pipe in use, under cycles of internal pressure and change in temperature.

When it comes to innovation, even a seemingly robust pipelines can actually be surprisingly sensitive to certain waste products from above. Failure to properly shield innovation connections and pipelines can result in an environment where the pipeline can crack under pressure and fail.

Innovation pipelines - the people and processes behind innovation - need to be treated carefully in order to realize the full returns possible on those investments. Special rules, managerial sponsorship and protection, environments where involvement and creativity is encouraged and expected, and other steps can keep those pipelines healthy and functioning for years to come. But if soiled with normal corporate contamination and fall-out, connections can fail and pipelines can quickly become empty and even sources of extreme waste.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Intellectual Asset Help a la Carte? Forget It!

Back when you didn't know the ins and outs of restaurants, do you ever remember watching plates full of good food being delivered to nearby patrons as you anxiously waited for your order? When it came, perhaps there was just a lonely pork chop on an otherwise empty plate. What, just a pork chop? That's my dinner? And the waiter answered: "I'm sorry. Our meals are a la carte." Order a chop - get a chop. Nothing more. Disappointing! For many of us, the dining experience is incomplete without all the extras. Leave them out and the sizzle is gone.

The side dishes are one reason why Korean restaurants are among my favorites. The meal inevitably includes a spread of numerous side dishes to sample with the main course. Even when I order something inexpensive, the sides are there to make the meal exciting.

I think the same concept applies to consulting firms serving clients, whether it involves intellectual assets, business plans, or any other field. A satisfying experience should include extras to create customer delight.

  • Someone wants help with a couple patents? Give them more! Help them consider the digital intellectual assets as well. Look at their portfolio and suggest some trademarks, domain names, even YouTube channels that could help them. In fact, if they like the suggestions, take five minutes during lunch and help them register the domain names on the spot. (Pet peeve: many people wait for months or even years before thinking about the marketing aspects of an invention, sometimes missing opportunities to obtain domain names and other low-cost assets that may have been available earlier. Don't put this off!)

  • Someone looking for help in getting a great invention to market? Don't just help with the marketing strategy -- show them how they can use this invention as the first in a series of related products that can lead to a robust pipeline.

  • Someone wants help with training their people on the basics of patents? Don't just help them with the training - show them how they can build a community of practice in their company to naturally grow expertise in intellectual assets across their company. A self-sustaining community of practice in intellectual assets is one of the most important things some companies can do for their IA systems - and was one of the most important things that I helped bring to Kimberly-Clark during my years there (with the assistance and support of our Chief Innovation Officer, Cheryl Perkins, who is now the owner of Innovation Edge, the exciting firm where I work now as Director of Solutions Development).

In one recent meeting with a client, we noted that their position potentially could be broader than the concept they were focused on. In fact, we offered a suggested trademark to cover a broader scope. It took five minutes to do the search and see that it might be available. It took another 60 seconds to see if the domain name was available - and it was. We even interrupted our meeting to guide them through the simple domain name registration process and secure the domain name for them on the spot. A nice side dish that added a lot of enjoyment for the client. A la carte services? Forget it! Make sure the side dishes are included.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Patent Wiki: Peer to Patent

At an IP conference in New York, I recently met Professor Beth Noveck, the brilliant law professor at New York Law School who has been the driving force behind the new Peer to Patent Project and The concept is to apply the power of the Wiki and communities of experts to help the PTO do its job of finding prior art for pending patent applications. In this program, inventors with pending applications in category 2100 (software-related patents) can volunteer to expose their application to the online community, who will then dig up the best art they can find and provide comments explaining the relevance of the art. The top 10 items of prior art and comments will be sent to the PTO to assist the Examiner.

Why would anyone want to do this? That's the reaction of most IP professionals. Naturally, this process greatly increases the chances that a patent will be gutted by prior art or whittled down to narrow claims. "Even an invalid patent is worth something" - a common statement that refers to the huge expense and risk involved in challenging a patent that stands in your way. But for those interested in having strong valid patents that they intend to license or otherwise use, this system can greatly increase the perceived value of the patent, if it's a good patent in the first place. And it can give the inventors of the surviving patent confidence in their claims.

There is another huge benefit for those who out their patents through the Peer to Patent process: the PTO will expedite prosecution, trimming the normal five+ of prosecution for software patents down to roughly a year. That's for me!

In fact, I have a patent application in the software/security area in category 2100 that I just submitted to the Peer to Patent system. They are selective, limited to only 250 patents in this pilot stage of the system, so I might not make the cut. But if I do, I hope the world will join in the fray to tear my patent apart, because whatever survives will be worth something - and I'll know its worth years sooner than otherwise.

In any case, I hope you'll sign up to be a reviewer for the Peer to Patent community review system, a brilliant idea. And if you see an application from me show up sometime, have at it!