Last slide standing

How do you end your slide deck ?

With a big thank you slide ?  

Have you really thought about that thank you slide ?  

The most valuable real estate in presentation is devoted to being polite. That’s certainly a worthwhile trait but realistically, by the time you are proudly being polite people have already forgotten your presentation. 

So if you feel compelled to say thank you, than put it in the summary slide. 

The ABC of presentation is tell what you are going to tell them (outline) tell them (body) and tell them what you told them (summary). 

The last slide standing should summarize your presentation and if you feel compelled add  a thank you as the last line to the last slide. 


Patent Strategy

To chart a route leading from a great idea to a strong patent (portfolio) one needs a ‘Patent Strategy’.   Charting routes is a tricky business, especially when we consider that patents should relate to things which would come to pass  in the next 20 years.   A way I found useful for organizing the patent strategy for myself or for my clients is a patent strategy chart of which an example is shown below


The chart has two axis, one axis describes the different elements of the device, and the second axis describes the function.  The first aspect of the chart is that it helps drill down into the details of the invention.  The second aspect is that it helps to map out areas for which the current invention may not be protected, or alternatively areas where currently there is no inventive step and which may warrant a dedicated ideation session.  The concept is best explained with an example and we can take a car as a field in which we want to invent.   Breaking down the car into its elements can yield the following components (body, drive train, engine, power source (hydrogen, gas, battery), sensors, control, etc.).  When writing the components, we can break down into broader or tighter categories, depending on the anticipated scope. While it seems that function is many times a greater source of innovation, sometimes components can also be used in a creative way.  Examples in the car can include, heads up display, screens, radar, or even a swivel chair.  Adding a component by itself is not inventive, however integrating it into the car, and addressing its functionality might be inventive.  Examples of functions can include, getting from A to B, fuel efficiency, fun, playing media, comfort, sleeping, safety, etc.  Of course cars are examples of systems which are protected by thousands of patents, so the chart should focus on the areas of invention.  The invention can be broad, like flying cars, to narrow like a new method for wiping water off the windshield.  If we take the latter example, and our invention is composed of a transparent, windshield wiper .  The principle of operation is ultrasonic transducers combined with a special glass formation process.  An example of a chart can be




After we have a chart, we can place the idea or ideas we have on the chart, for example



In this example, we have three ideas, with some overlap between the ideas.  We have also highlighted white space areas where we currently do not have any ideas and where we are not protected by the current idea pool.  The chart is also useful in mapping out the current state of art, and identifying white space areas in the invention field.  Obviously a solid patent strategy portrayed in this manner provides a lucid picture of areas of  ‘freedom to operate’ while at the same time highlighting areas which should be the focus of ideation sessions or invention creation.

As always in strategy, as in other aspects of life, the devil is in the details.  Adopting the patent strategy chart is a good start to building strategic patent portfolios,  but they are no alternative to sound patent counselling from experienced patent attorneys.


Market Pull or Technology Push

Unmet Need
The best products and services address an unmet need. Startups which identify such opportunities in large markets, grow quickly to become successful companies. When the solution to the unmet need requires a yet to be developed technology, the risk associated with the venture increases dramatically. Just to clarify, a yet to be developed technology is not an integration of several available technologies but something which has a probability of not succeeding.
An example for such a situation is identifying the unmet need for a zero emission low cost fuel source. If we have identified an algae which can efficiently produce emission free bio diesel, than we have a technology path to addressing the need. But if for commercial viability we need to boost the algae production level a hundred fold and experience has shown such development requires ten years, then we don’t have a technology path to walk by.
It is at this juncture that ventures make a dramatic, and usually unconscious decision among several choices. The first is recognizing the prohibitive risk, they seek a different opportunity. The second option is to explore the solution space for alternatives to the yet to be developed technology. The third is to discount the risk and develop the technology.
Ten fold improvement
For ventures pursuing the third option the prevailing benchmark is a 10X improvement in performance over state of art. But this approach actually creates the dreaded technology push. The reason for 10X may be attributed to the semiconductor industry and Moore’s law, which originally charted a two fold reduction in transistor size every two years. Hence if the development of a technology requires 5 years to become a product, than unless it is targeted at 10X, it will be obsolete by the the time it reaches the market.
Technology Push
So the transition from market need to technology push occurs when development times are long and the focus is on future performance. Aggressive targets are chosen to resolve the marketing risks five years into the future. The combination of all these create a spiral feeding itself of aggressive targets, development delays, market risk and even more aggressive targets. In software, you can release a semi featured, partially bugged product, and call it a beta. In other fields you use many terms, but in all cases the revenues remain in a distant horizon.
Its all about the timeline
The only solution to the technology push spiral is to acknowledge the risk associated with time. The project focus, should always be on shortening the schedule. Often the best way to start is by realizing short schedules enable less aggressive product specifications.

Selling Ideas

A Level Playfield
Apps are a great example of reducing the required resources to take a software idea to revenue. The critical question is what is the Return On Investment for the App market. This question has two aspects. The first relates to any investment decision in apps. The second is more general and holds lessons for any idea market.
App Statistics
App stores publish general statistics on downloads, and overall income, but refrain from publishing detailed statistics. Running through the published numbers reveals that apps in general do not provide a return on investment. The simple calculation is dividing the announced income from apps by the number of apps in the App Store resulting in an income of less than $10,000 per app. Since the required development cost of an app is estimated at around $50,000, it’s clear the ROI is difficult to justify. This also explains the absence of detailed statistics and a focus on success stories. After all success stories, as the lottery industry well knows, are a strong sales driver for app developers.
So the problem with lowering the barrier to revenue is that it promotes a gambling approach, where the thrill of participation offsets the low potential of winning. Another advantage of apps is the fact revenue is often not the primary success driver and downloads often count as the critical parameter. This works well for app developers as it provides short term measures of success.
Between Apps and Ideas
While apps create a thrill, and provide short term measures for success, many other idea markets lack these characteristics. Patents for example, have an ROI of several years, and there is little measure of intermediate success. One way to resolve these problems is creating idea competitions. Most of the crowd sourcing and open innovation sites use competitions to create the required thrill and induce idea submission. The problem with this approach is the ROI for the inventor. If there are hundreds of participants and only one or two winning solutions it’s clear the ROI doesn’t justify investment of time or resources. This also highlights the scalability challenge of open innovation sites.
Inventor Networks
A possible solution is to create an inventor network. After all in inventing, like in anything else, it’s all about the people. The network through peer review and mentorship creates a community spirit which addresses the time to ROI. The network should include an active buyer community which helps direct the invention process, provides feedback and even some short term monetary motivation. Intellectual Ventures is a great example of an early innovator in this space. It is actively building a worldwide inventor network. Inventors in the network are exposed to request for inventions as well as other inventors and collaboration opportunities. The inventors can submit their ideas to IV, and IV partners with inventors on bringing the best of these ideas to market. Future inventor networks may be fashioned as a social network where ideas are developed between network members and directed by other members towards buyers. But this already is the start of the pitch of my next startup.
To sum, I am a strong believer in idea markets and open innovation and their potential to accelerate innovation and create a better world. Drawing on lessons from the current activities in this field, I think the key elements to enable a sustainable idea market are

  • return on investment
  • active engagement model
  • potential for large upside – success stories
  • How much is an idea worth ?

    Valuation Gap
    In a market place of ideas, the central question is how much is an idea worth ?
    When we consider the technical and market risks going from an idea to revenues as well as the time and required capital resources, we quickly realize that the $ value difference between a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ idea are small. There is an obvious gap between the idea originator who focuses on the business potential, and the buyer, who sees the risk and required time and capital.
    This is the reason many people pursue the entrepreneurship route. Entrepreneurship stresses the importance of execution and adaptability. Investors in new ventures invest primarily in the the team, realizing that ideas evolve over time.
    One approach to overcoming the valuation gap, is by assigning the value of the idea as a percentage of future income. This approach is best applied when the idea provides a wide enough basis for creating a revenue. It is more challenging in cases where the idea is a small ‘feature’. An alternative approach is to streamflow the path from idea to revenue. This is possible in industries with very well defined interfaces. A fascinating example is the evolution of the app market, which has lowered the barrier for software enabled ideas to reach revenue. Additional examples of industries which have streamlined the idea to revenue process are the toy industry, the Silicon IP business in the semiconductor industry, Amazon with its platform for publishing online books and even YouTube for the entertainment business. In all these cases, the execution barrier has been lowered and the requirements to enable an idea and create revenue have been lowered.
    Future Extensions
    An open challenge is extending this concept to additional industries. It’s clear that the key is to create a well defined interface which streamlines the ideation process. Of course such a process will also provide internal benefit helping better focus internal research goals and procedures.
    One may argue that this process creates ‘many of the same’ ideas and restricts innovation. I look at this in a different light. Today people have access to computing, graphic and image capabilities which in the past were restricted to top researchers in academic or industrial labs. In the near future the same will be true of chemistry, material science, biology, etc. this will happen either as universities open up their research labs or the cost of equipment will drop as a result of technology breakthroughs such as 3D printing. This process will democratize research and create new opportunities. Most will be incremental and will benefit from the streamlined process. A few will be groundbreaking, and these, as all great ideas, will expand the boundaries of our perception and capabilities.

    Open Innovation

    The disruption
    In an article by Clayton Christensen and his books, Christensen explains that vertical integration ( in companies or products) is required when the interfaces between modules or stages are not well defined. Hence the ability of open innovation to flourish is a consequence of the definition of interfaces and modularity in the product development cycle. Historically, this modularity has evolved from the process of outsourcing manufacturing and non core R&D activity, as well as the economics of Mergers & Acquisitions. Open innovation is really about creating an idea market. A place where people and companies can buy and sell ideas. Companies use their established processes and gatekeepers to assess and integrate such ideas into their product pipeline. The main advantage of this approach is to increase the efficiency and speed by which ideas become products or business concepts.
    The potential
    To understand the potential of open innovation we can extrapolate from P&G, an early innovator in this field, which targeted to derive more than 50% of its revenues from external innovation. If we extrapolate this across industries and companies and assume all this innovation will be compensated with some ongoing royalties, we find the potential market is tens if not hundreds of Billions of Dollars.
    Current Status
    Open innovation is still in its infancy. We find its definition and practice vary between companies. Some have internal programs, while others make use of the various web sites devoted to the topic. Charting the waters of open innovation is challenging, but absolutely required for prevailing in today’s and tomorrow’s hyper competitive market.

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    Patent Strategy

    Aim High

    So you have a great idea, product or service and you want to prevent your competitors from copying your hard work, what should you do ?

    The simple answer is write a patent, but that is a tactical solution.  Strategy relates to the general question of what is your business, how do you make money, and what do your customers, partners and competitors do.  To protect yourself, you must take into account the eco system that surrounds you.  Often the most important patents do not protect your technology, but rather the enabled application space your technology opens up.  As Einstein said, ” we are able to see far because we stand on the shoulders of giants”.  When you have a unique invention, you have a new view point on the world and the applications it enables.  This application space is central to protecting your IP.  You enable it to your customers by implying a license to use in your products, but shut out the competitors. Even if they solve the problem and bypass your patents, they can’t sell to your customers without your customers infringing on your IP in their products.


    So the IP strategy and subsequent patent generation should be as broad and far reaching as possible.  This implies first and foremost educating your people about the importance of patents, and empowering their creativity not only in resolving their technical challenges, but also in thinking about the challenges and applications of their customers.  The second aspect, which has additional corporate wide benefits is having IP strategy meetings where IP scoping occurs with members from research, development, engineering, manufacturing, marketing and sales, all meet.    These meetings are not about budgets, deadlines, or angry customers. They are about empowering people to be creative.  In a way, this is brainstorming, but without budget axe to chop off ideas, but rather a seed and sow system where ideas are polled to create an evolving IP protection suite.


    While many companies have some patent strategy in place, and motivate people to invent, there is an inherent setback in most patent motivation systems, which renders companies with less valuable patents.     The most common approach for patent write up is to first define the dream set of claims and then enable them with a description.  Even if a brain storming session takes place, the goal is typically to get a good claim set or sets.  From this point on wards, no one has an incentive to add to the description beyond the claim set.  However, in the life of the patent, it is not the claims which create the value, but rather the description.  Claims change over time, either in response to examiner’s questions or as part of continuation activity.  The description on the other hand, and more importantly, the associated filing date are set in stone.  Hence a valuable patent would have a broad, extensive, well enabled base which will support not only the existing claim set, but also future ones.  However neither the inventor, nor the patent attorney have any incentive to writeup such a description, and they typically want to finish the patent as quickly as possible and let the inventor get back to ‘work’.  But actually, its in the description where the inventor should devote his time and creativity.  Furthermore, once a patent is submitted, there is typically no formal involvement or defined strategy for continuations and enhancements, while it is these actions which typically hold most value and provide benefit and update to the patent as the product scope evolves over time