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Saturday, 23 April 2016

Inventors And Innovators Need to Cross The Chasm, Part 1

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Even If You Build It, They Might Not Come

Inventors and innovators tend to think that, people will buy whatever they invent. Is this true? Are they merely living a fantasy?

There is a famous movie from 1989 called "Field of Dreams". The movie starred Kevin Costner, Burt Lancaster, Ray Liotta, Amy Madigan, and James Earl Jones. The plot goes like this: Ray had a bad relationship with his deceased father. His father was a major, big-time baseball fan. One day, while walking in the corn fields, Ray hears a voice telling him, "If you build it, he will come." Ray sees the vision of a baseball diamond in his field. His wife reluctantly allows him to build the baseball diamond.

Eventually, the desperate Ray is able to see some baseball players come on the baseball field. These aren't just any ordinary players. They are the ghosts of famous baseball players. Ray gets visions, and seeks out players who did not live out their lives in baseball, and baseball players who are retired from baseball. The visions become real, and eventually, Ray meets his deceased father again, on the baseball field, as a young man....

Why People Don't Need Your Invention 

But that movie was a fantasy. If you build it, will they necessarily come? As the innovator or inventor of a new-fangled invention, would it be realistic to imagine that people will come in droves, knocking on their doors to buy the product. Think about it:
  • People already have an existing solution for whatever you have invented or created. Why would they need your product?
  • Early iterations of the product tend to be riddled with problems. Why shouldn't they wait for your technology to mature, so that they can enjoy a more stable and robust solution?
  • Early iterations of a product tend to be expensive, because the volume is small. When there is volume, costs go down, and product pricing goes down as well. If it is not urgent to purchase your product, why shouldn't they wait?
  • Waiting for a while before buying a product means, a consumer gets to choose from competitors' offerings. Competitors may have identified flaws in your product, which they overcome through their later solutions. If your product is not mission critical, why shouldn't they wait? 
  • Early purchasers of a product tend to be "guinea pigs" who might be left with outdated technology. Later iterations of a technology might not be backward compatible with earlier iterations.
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Inventors and Innovators Who Ended Up Broke

There are real life case studies that you, as innovator and inventor, should be aware of. There are people who, despite being bright and brainy, ended up broke. Not every inventor will become a rich man. People who think that they might do well like Thomas Edison (founder of General Electric) actually miss the point. Thomas Edison was not only an inventor, he was also a marketer and a savvy business man. He knew how to promote his products. He knew how to compete against competitors in the same industry. He knew how to persuade other inventors and innovators to work with him. And he knew when to team up with his competitors for their mutual good.
Thomas Edison's life would be a great case study for this blog. I plan to cover it sometime in the future. But for now, look at these case studies, featuring Trevor Baylis, Nikola Tesla and Frank McNamara:

Case Study #1: Trevor Baylis

If you've ever heard of the wind-up radio, or used one, you've used an invention from Trevor Baylis. In 2013, Trevor Baylis was so broke that he told the Telegraph that he has to mortgage or sell his house to survive. He invented his wind-up radio, and other electrical items using similar technology, in the 1990s. Despite receiving honorary degrees, getting letters of congratulations from royalty, and even being photographed with Nelson Mandela, he did not profit from his invention.
From the Telegraph:
Despite the apparent success of his wind-up radio and several follow-up products employing similar technology including a torch, a mobile phone charger and an MP3 player, Mr Baylis says he has received almost none of the profits.

Due to the quirks of patent law, the company he went into business with to manufacture his radios were able to tweak his original design, which used a spring to generate power, so that it charged a battery instead. This caused him to lose control over the product.

Source: Telegraph, Trevor Baylis: I've wound up broke despite inventions (2013)
He has realised the problem, and the article states that since 2004, Mr Baylis has been funding a company to help inventors bring their products to market.

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Case Study #2: Nikola Tesla

You've probably heard of Tesla Motors, the electric car company helmed by CEO Elon Musk. But the name Tesla refers to Nikola Tesla, a European electricity genius who headed to America and worked for Thomas Edison, and later became the inventor of more than 700 patents. His most important patent was AC (alternating current) electricity, which could allow electricity to travel long distances. Despite all his acclaim, he died poor and penniless. Some people think that Nikola Tesla had a sharper mind than Thomas Edison, but Thomas Edison died with a $12 million estate, easily one of the richest men of his time.

Nikola Tesla was a good looking European immigrant who became a great American inventor and innovator.
Sadly, he died broke.
From Forbes magazine:
With more than 700 patents to his name, Tesla invented radio, the coil transformer, wireless communication, fluorescent lights and the alternating-current motor, which allowed electricity to flow over long distances. He had about as much business savvy as a puppy; he might have been fabulously wealthy had he not signed away AC royalties to George Westinghouse and patent rights to a wireless broadcasting system to J.P. Morgan.

Source: Forbes, Pioneers Die Broke (2002)
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Case Study #3: Frank McNamara

Frank McNamara was a businessman who, in 1949, had dinner with a business associate at a swanky upscale club in town. Unfortunately, he had forgotten to bring his money along! His wife, probably a very understanding lady, came to the club and settled the bill. She might have raised the issue once or twice after that, which led Frank McNamara to hatch the idea of using credit cards in restaurants. Mr. McNamara turned it into a business centered around credit for eating at restaurants, and earning interest on outstanding balances. Along with some friends, he made it a success. Thus was born Diner's Club - the first credit card. It soon attracted some serious competition from imitators.

His problem was that he believed that the credit card was merely a fad. By 1953 he had sold Diner's Club for $200,000. With the cash, he entered the real estate business. By 1957, at the relatively youthful age of 40 (I will be 40 in a while, so I feel it keenly) he suffered a heart attack and died, poor and penniless. (References: Biography.com, Fact or Fiction: Inventor of Credit Cards Died Penniless? (2014) AND "Frank McNamara and the Credit Card" (undated))

If only Frank had stayed the course.

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What Next?

Obviously, as the case studies above show, inventors and innovators need to learn how to profit from their inventions and innovations. Even if you build it, it might not come. "It" refers to riches, wealth, prestige, fame and fortune. "It" refers to a better life. "It" refers to the Impossible Dream that Don Quixote had been singing about. And yet, there are, for sure, successes from among inventors and innovators, people who manage to make something of their inventiveness and creativity. The most important aspect of success for an innovator and inventor is to get people to start using the product. With more users, come sales. With sales, come funds for research, development, reiteration, redesign, promotion, marketing, and diversification.

But how do you get more people to use your product? We will cover that in Part 2 of this article.

Back to Top OR Why People Don't Need Your Invention OR Case Studies on Inventors Who Died Broke
Continue Reading...

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

MOSTI Funding for IP: ScienceFund, TechnoFund, InnoFund

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As some of you innovators and inventors in the technology sector may know, MOSTI stands for the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. It is one of the more important ministries for you, because MOSTI is the ministry that gives funding for technology and innovations.

If you're not in the mood to read about MOSTI background, skip the next section and scroll down to the picture of the RM10 note. Alternatively, you can jump straight to the funding portion or read about the ScienceFund, TechnoFund, or InnoFund.

Background of MOSTI

From the ministry's "About Page", here's the timeline of its brief history to date:
  • 1973: Established as the Ministry of Technology, Research and Local Government.
  • 1976: Changed name to Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (MOSTE).
  • 27 March 2004: Restructured to Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) to lead the National ICT Development function, Multimedia and Innovation.
  • 2007: Science and technology function divided into Biotechnology, ICT, Industry, Sea to Space and S&T Services clusters.

MOSTI's OBB Programmes

MOSTI has five Outcome Based Budgeting (OBB) programmes:
  1. STI Development Programme
  2. STI Services Programme
  3. STI Acculturation Programme
  4. Ministry Management
  5. Policy Evaluation and Performance Management
I couldn't find much information about MOSTI's OBB programmes, but I guess that it means MOSTI's funding programmes are based on budgeting considerations. So, if STI development is an important consideration, then registration of IPR related to technology and innovation will be a ministry priority. You, the inventor and innovator, benefit from it.

MOSTI's MKRA

MKRA stands for Ministry Key Result Areas. The more important MKRA seem to be MKRA 1 and MKRA 2. 
  • MKRA 1: Generation of Innovation-Led Economy via Science, Technology and Innovation. Its KPI's (Key Performance Indexes) are (a) New Investments, (b) Total Jobs, (c) Contribution to GDP (RM in billions), and (d) Technology Investment (RM in billions)
  • MKRA 2: Intensification of Research and Development in STI. Its KPI's are Number of IPR filed or registered.

Unfair Advantages and IPR

When you think about it, MKRA 1 and MKRA 2 are linked. Venture capitalists and angel investors like to invest in businesses that have, as they like to say, "an unfair advantage". Patents and other legal hurdles represent unfair advantage, which competitors have to work around. And it is not so easy to work around a patent (although, there are ways of dealing with it, like cross-licensing or patent pooling). 

Angel investors and VC's like "unfair advantages" because marketing technological innovations takes time. Markets need to be educated, and patents last only 20 years. In the pharmaceutical industry, a patented drug cannot immediately be commercialized. A patent represents only the first step to protect the IP of the drug, after which the pharmaceutical company must run extensive clinical trials to ensure that no ill-effects will come from using the drug. (Read a case study on how an osteoporosis drug was developed and approved, from the US FDA.)

Anyway, on to the most important part of the article.

MOSTI has three funds that innovators and technologists may apply for:
ScienceFund, TechnoFund, and InnoFund.

MOSTI Funding

All right, now let's see what MOSTI has available by way of funds. There are three major funds that you can apply for, namely the ScienceFund, the TechnoFund, and the InnoFund. These are described below.

All three funds have a maximum funding for registration of patents up to RM10,000.00. However, the quantum of funding under all three funds are much higher. To get more information, you can read the Guidelines for the three funds: ScienceFund, TechnoFund, and InnoFund. 

But first, read the rest of this article for a summary.

That MOSTI funding is good stuff.


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ScienceFund

The ScienceFund is described as follows:
ScienceFund is a grant provided by Government to carry out R&D projects that can contribute to the discovery of new ideas and the advancement of knowledge in applied sciences, focusing on high impact and innovative research.
Its objectives are:
  1. to support research that can lead to the innovation of products or processes for further development and commercialisation; and/or
  2. to generate new scientific knowledge and strengthen national research capacity and capability.
 Funding is available for Applied Sciences.

Quantum of funding for each project is up to RM500,000.00. (Para 4.1, Guidelines for ScienceFund)

ScienceFund Eligibility Criteria

The fund is open to all research scientists and engineers who are employed on a permanent or contractual basis from the following organisations:
  1. Government Research Institutions (GRIs);
  2. Government Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Agencies; and
  3. Public and Private Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) with accredited research programmes.
Expatriates working under contract with any of the above institutions are eligible to apply. However, the project must have a permanent Malaysian co-researcher from the same institution, well-versed with the project, to ensure its completion in the event the expatriate’s contract is terminated.

Scope of ScienceFund Funding

ScienceFund covers preliminary research leading to laboratory proof of concept or towards the development of new products or processes. The quantum of fund approved will be determined based on the merit of each application.

Eligible categories for funding include:
  • Wages and Allowances for Temporary and Contract Personnel
  • Travel and Transportation
  • Rentals
  • Research Materials and Supplies
  • Minor Modifications and Repairs
  • Special Services
  • R&D Equipment and Accessories

And that's it for the ScienceFund. Read the ScienceFund Guidelines if you are interested to find out the research priority areas. Also read the Flagship Programmes at Appendix 1, Table 2. (The top three flagship programmes are renewable energy, advanced manufacturing, and electronics.)

TechnoFund

The TechnoFund is described as follows:
TechnoFund is a grant scheme which aims to stimulate the growth and successful innovation of Malaysian enterprises by increasing the level of R & D and its commercialisation. The scheme provides funding for technology development, up to pre-commercialisation stage, with the commercial potential to create new businesses and generate economic wealth for the nation.

Its objectives are:
  • To undertake the development of new or cutting edge technologies or further develop/value add existing technologies/products in specific areas for the creation of new businesses and generation of economic wealth for Malaysia
  • To undertake market driven R & D towards commercialisation of R & D outputs
  • To encourage institutions, local companies and inventors to capitalise their intellectual work through intellectual property (IP) registration
  • To stimulate the growth and increase capability and capacity of Malaysian technology-based enterprises, Malaysian Government Research Institutes (GRI) and Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) through both local and international collaborations.
Quantum of Funding is up to RM3.0 million. (Para 5, TechnoFund Guidelines.)

TechnoFund Eligibility Criteria

Eligible applicants can be researchers and other individuals from:
  1. Small and Medium Enterprises (SME's); 
  2. Institutions of Higher Learning; 
  3. Research Institutes; and 
  4. Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Agencies.
Priority will be given to applications with projects
  • that have been supported by the ScienceFund and have the potential to be commercialised; or 
  • from companies that have obtained the InnoCert recognition.

Companies (SME's) equity must
  • be at least 51% owned by Malaysians;
  • have a track record of 2 years, with financial reports;
  • have a minimum paid up capital of RM10,000.00.

Criteria for Proposed Projects:
  • must contain elements of technological innovation leading to commercialization of innovative products, processes and services; and
  • should be in pre-commercialization stage, with working proof-of-concept.

Scope of TechnoFund Funding

The Pre-Commercialization (TechnoFund) covers:
  1. Technology acquisition (foreign and/ or local) 
    1. Must be further enhanced; 
    2. Must provide the acquisition agreement, or if such an agreement is not in place, must provide details of the technology to be acquired; and 
    3. Total technology acquisition not more than 50% of total approved project cost. 
  2. the up-scaling of laboratory-scale prototype or the development of commercial ready prototype; or 
  3. pre-clinical testing/clinical testing/field trials.

TechnoFund funding can be used for:

  1. pilot plant / prototype – equipment and supporting infrastructure which is directly related to the pilot plant;
  2. New IP Preparation and Registration in Malaysia only (excluding maintenance)- existing and new IP;
  3. market testing / assessment and/or evaluation;
  4. regulatory and standards compliance;
  5. expenditure for services (consultancy/ testing) not exceeding 20% of project cost applied; 
  6. contract expenditure applicable to IHLs and GRIs only (research assistant); 
  7. raw materials/consumables; and 
  8. technology/ IP acquisition (if applicable) not exceeding 50% of project cost applied.

And that's it for the TechnoFund. Read the TechnoFund Guidelines if you are keen to learn more, especially since there's a promise of RM3 million....

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InnoFund

The InnoFund is described as:
InnoFund is a grant scheme which funds the development or improvement of new or existing products, processes or services with elements of innovation. The project must have economic value and improves the societal well-being of the community. InnoFund can be categorized into Enterprise InnoFund (EIF) and Community InnoFund (CIF).

The objectives of the InnoFund are two-fold, since the InnoFund is divided into Enterprise InnoFund and Community InnoFund.

The objective of Enterprise InnoFund is to increase the participation of micro-businesses, individuals in innovative activities and encourage technological innovation of new or existing products, process or services for commercialisation.

Whereas, the objective of Community InnoFund is to assist community groups in translating knowledge and ideas into products, processes or services that improve the socio-economic standing and quality of life of the community.


Quantum of Funding depends on category:
  • Individuals and sole proprietors can get up to RM50,000.00 under Enterprise InnoFund;
  • Micro or small companies can get up to RM500,000.00 under the Enterprise InnoFund; and
  • Community Innovation Funds can get up to RM500,000.00 under the Community InnoFund.

InnoFund Eligibility Criteria

The Enterprise InnoFund is open to individuals, sole proprietors, micro companies, and small companies.

Whereas, the Community InnoFund is open to registered associations / NGO's, registered cooperatives, and community groups.

Similar to the TechnoFund, priority will be given to applications with projects
  • that have been supported by the ScienceFund and have the potential to be commercialised; or 
  • from companies that have obtained the InnoCert recognition.

Enterprise InnoFund Applicants

For the Enterprise InnoFund, companies must:
  • have a minimum equity of 51% held by Malaysians;
  • have a paid up capital of RM10,000.00 or more (although, startups can be exempted from this requirement, with proof of ability to sustain)
Interestingly, the requirements for companies' sales turnover and/or number of employees depends on the sector.

SectorMicroenterpriseSmall enterpriseMedium enterprise
Manufacturing, Manufacturing-Related Services and Agro-based industriesSales turnover of less than RM250,000 OR full time employees less than 5Sales turnover between RM250,000 and less than RM10 million OR full time employees between 5 and 50Sales turnover between RM10 million and RM25 million OR full time employees between 51 and 150
Services, Primary Agriculture and Information & Communication Technology (ICT)Sales turnover of less than RM200,000 OR full time employees less than 5Sales turnover between RM200,000 and less than RM1 million OR full time employees between 5 and 19Sales turnover between RM1 million and RM5 million OR full time employees between 20 and 50

The Enterprise InnoFund project must be for the development of new or existing products, processes or services with the potential for commercialisation.

Community InnoFund Applicants

For the Community InnoFund, the applicant must be a registered or Government-recognised Malaysian community group.

The proposal must contain innovative elements leading to the development of products, services or processes that improve societal well-being.

Scope of InnoFund Funding

For both Enterprise InnoFund and Community InnoFund, the funding components include:
  • Specialised equipment
  • Pre-clinical or clinical trial or field trials
  • IP preparation and registration in Malaysia only (maintenance not included)
  • Market testing
  • Regulatory and standard compliance
  • Expenditure for Services not exceeding 40% of project cost (consultancy/ testing)
  • Raw materials
And that's it for the InnoFund. Read the InnoFund Guidelines if you are keen to know more.

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Good Luck

Thanks for reading, and good luck to you if you are applying. If you need a consultation about IP strategy or innovation marketing, please consider contacting me. I'm currently doing a doctorate on the intersection between business and technology.
Continue Reading...

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Under 40? Apply for Youth IP Funding under MyIPO

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The Intellectual Property Office of Malaysia, AKA MyIPO, has funding allocation for youths, students and communities. Unfortunately, the information from MyIPO website has, at the moment, no English translation. So here is some information.

Hey young fella. MyIPO knows you need financial support to register IP.
Don't worry, read this article about IP Funding for youth (and others).

Important Update

The deadline for applications is 30th June 2016.

How are they classified? 

  • Youths refer to Malaysian individuals between the ages of 18 to 40;
  • Students refer to Malaysians studying in primary schools / secondary schools / colleges / skills institutes recognised by the Malaysian government; and
  • Communities refer to organizations consisting of people in a certain region or area (for applications of geographical indicators only)

Scope of Funding

The funding is only available for the following:

  • Patent;
  • Utility Innovation;
  • Trade Mark;
  • Geographical indicator;
  • Industrial Design; or
  • Voluntary Notification of Copyright
The scope of funding is as follows:

Patent / Utility Innovation


  1. Application for Registration: Fees - Form No. 1/14
  2. Application for Substantive Examination - Form No. 5
  3. Application for Appointment of Patent Agent - Form No. 17
  4. Statement of Justification of Applicant's Rights to the Patent - Form No. 22

Trade Mark

  1. Application for Registration - Form TM5
  2. Application for Advertisement of Trade Mark - Form TM31

Industrial Design

  1. Application for Registration of Industrial Design - Form ID1 
  2. Application for Views (Maximum 4 views) 

Copyrights 

  1. Fee for Notification of Work - Form CR-1; or
  2. Fee for Notification of Published Work - Form CR-2
  3. Fee for Deposit of Work (Maximum funding RM50)
  4. Fee for Application for Certificate of Notice of Copyright - Form CR-5

Geographical Indicators

  1. Fee for application of geographical indicator - Form GI 1
  2. Fee for advertisement for registration - Form GI 3

Other Terms

  • Each recipient may only apply for only one component of IP
  • Funding is only for new IP applications, which have not been filed at MyIPO
  • There will not be any other funding other than the ones stated above
  • Funding given in form of vouchers

Guidelines for Applying

  1. Applicant must apply using the required form for the relevant IP component
  2. The form for funding must be sent within the time limit
  3. The fund's secretariat will assess and filter applications. Payouts depend on funding availability
  4. The successful applicant(s) will be contacted to sign a "Letter of Undertaking" before filing the IP.
  5. Successful applicant(s) will receive assistance in preparing documentation for the IP. They will be given vouchers for filing of IP at MyIPO HQ or branches.
  6. For IP produced by students, the application must be made by the school or college / skills institute of the said student. Letter of confirmation or support from school / college / skills institute must be produced. The school / college / skills institute must inform the Ministry of Education or Ministry of Higher Education about the application.

Follow Up

So you're all pumped up and ready to apply. Where do you go from here?
  1. Email dana@myipo.gov.my, or
  2. Contact Puan Noranisah Abas (03-22998770) or Puan Shahida Nafishah Jamaludin (03-22998775).
Continue Reading...

Monday, 18 April 2016

How I Came To IP, Part 1

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Dear Reader

After thinking for a long time about what I want to post, I think I would like to tell you my story. Sure, I had thoughts about posts about the drafting process and the expedited application process. But those can wait for another day. I realise that until today, I have not shared much about myself on this blog. Perhaps it is timely then, that I write this piece.

The Early Days

It was the 1980s. The economy was in a slump and many people were out of work. The radios were playing songs like Bobby McFerrin's Don't Worry Be Happy, Phil Collins' A Groovy Kind of Love, and Milli Vanilli's Girl You Know It's True. I was a kid in primary school not knowing anything better, and we all thought that Milli Vanilli was the coolest singing duo that a little kid could imagine.




Against that background, my father had just started his firm, Koo Chin Nam & Co. He was a poor young man who had come from a small town to the bustling capital of our country, Kuala Lumpur. He chambered at Messrs. P.G. Lim & Co., one of the most prestigious law firms in town at the time. And he had gone around seeking for a place to take him in, but as an "experienced hire", many senior lawyers were wary about the scruffy, somewhat hungry-looking lawyer who came knocking on their doors for a place, or a partnership. They were worried, he would tell me later, that he would take their clients away.

In the 1980's, this was hot fashion.
These guys look rather tame in comparison with today's heavily tattooed hip-hop artistes.


Tuan Haji Razak Ibrahim

Yet one kindly old man gave him a chance. Tuan Haji Razak Ibrahim was operating a boutique law firm in downtown Kuala Lumpur, when my father went to his office to ask about working together. The older man took pity on my father and took my father under his wing. The arrangement was this: Tuan Haji rented a room in his office to my father, and my father ran Koo Chin Nam & Co. out of the office of Tuan Haji Razak Ibrahim's rather large office. Office overheads had to be split. Staff salaries were borne by whichever lawyer hired the staff.

A Daring Proposition

My father did not know it then, but Tuan Haji had been considering retirement when my father came knocking. As my father was the founder of a new law firm, he took the opportunity to offer his services to Tuan Haji. He was, after all, in need of work. "Let me look at your stuck files, and see if I can solve them. Let me try and if I succeed, I will split the profits with you." Tuan Haji looked at him thoughtfully, and could see my father's eagerness to succeed. He took a chance and gave my father a few files to try out.

With nothing to lose, and everything to gain, my father gave it his all. He won those cases that came his way, no matter how tough or bleak the situation was. In time, more and more senior lawyers gave him work. They split the profits with him, and their clients were always under the impression that they had conduct of the matter at court, although the actual person doing the work was my father.

My father's source of strength in those years were prayer, and the faces of his family. He knew that failure was not an option. He just had to plough on.

Moving Out

In time, my father became his own man. His name was known in Kuala Lumpur as a litigator of some substance. He briefly considered Tuan Haji's offer to enter Tuan Haji's firm as a partner, but Tuan Haji had a brother-in-law who wanted to enter into the partnership as well. In the end, the three men parted ways as friends. My father brought his firm to a new office, while Tuan Haji and his brother-in-law stayed on.

In those days, my father's legal practice was mostly litigation, with a good dose of conveyancing. Those in legal practice will know that this is simply "general practice" or "general litigation". In the 1980s and 1990s, not many Chinese lawyers took up litigation. Those who did could make a living. The majority of Chinese lawyers wanted corporate work or conveyancing work, which was relatively peaceful and predictable. Those daring Chinese lawyers could partner up with other lawyers to handle the big and complicated court cases, to make a name for themselves.

And that was what my father did. He took up cases, of every description you could imagine. Drug cases. Murder cases. Copyright infringements. Every case was a winner, and he was often in the newspapers. (A big thing in those days when there were no Internet news portals.) Then the day came when he was invited by the mob to take up all their cases for a monthly retainer with no limits. He very politely declined the invitation, and started focusing on other areas of work. Less criminal work, and more civil litigation work, including land disputes, debt collections, shareholders disputes. It was by then the 1990s and there was a booming economy, emerging from the ashes of the 1980's recession.

Uncle Cheong

Uncle Cheong was an old man with a Form 5 education, stout and a little short. But he was gifted with a keen sense of street smarts. (He told me that he had been a footballer for the state.) One day he was introduced to my father, for a job. His boss had migrated overseas, closing the practice, and leaving Uncle Cheong without any employment. "What can you do?" my father asked him. He could bring some old clients over, Uncle Cheong said. After all, they would need a lawyer now that their regular guy was gone. 

And that was where it really started. Uncle Cheong came in with a batch of clients who were trademark owners. He convinced them to pass some work to us. No experience, no problem. He knew how to do things. That was how my firm came to start our trademark practice and got our first IP clients. (This statement does not include the earlier court cases where my father had defended copyright infringement cases. Those cases had a quasi-criminal element to them.)

That's the end of Part 1.

I'm getting nostalgic. I remember those days in the 1990s, when I got to know Uncle Cheong at my father's office. I remember the times I followed him around town, to the land office, and the trademark office, and the courts. (He couldn't do paperwork, but he could make sure that your documents were processed in time.) I was then a shy teenager who felt out of place, trying to get through those turbulent years in school.

Here is another song, an ode to those days, from the masters of lip-syncing, Milli Vanilli:

Continue Reading...

Saturday, 2 April 2016

The Amazing PageRank Patent

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It is amazing, because it has made Google a billion dollar company. US Patent 6285999 is owned by Stanford College. The inventor is Larry Page, one of the two founders of Google. For that reason, this patent is extremely interesting to those in SEO, a.k.a. Search Engine Optimization, or what may be described as the art of getting your page on Google.

The patent, which you can find here, is a rather important one. Although, it should be expiring by January 2017 (its priority date is 10th January 1997).

In the abstract, it is described as:
"A method assigns importance ranks to nodes in a linked database, such as any database of documents containing citations, the world wide web or any other hypermedia database. The rank assigned to a document is calculated from the ranks of documents citing it. In addition, the rank of a document is calculated from a constant representing the probability that a browser through the database will randomly jump to the document. The method is particularly useful in enhancing the performance of search engine results for hypermedia databases, such as the world wide web, whose documents have a large variation in quality."
In simple language, it's a means of assigning value to hypertext documents, based on the ranks of documents citing it. A second factor is the constant probability that a user will get to that document after following links through random documents.

Unfortunately, for the citations to be ranked themselves, the rank of documents citing those citing documents must also be ascertained. This is why Mr. Page wrote that, the method requires:
"obtaining a plurality of documents, at least some of the documents being linked documents, at least some of the documents being linking documents, and at least some of the documents being both linked documents and linking documents, each of the linked documents being pointed to by a link in one or more of the linking documents; assigning a score to each of the linked documents based on scores of the one or more linking documents; and processing the linked documents according to their scores."

Steps to PageRank.

  1. Get a bunch of documents, preferably all of them linked to each other, whether one way or two;
  2. Assign scores to some linked documents based on scores of other documents linking to it;
  3. Process linked documents according to their scores.
Naturally this raises the question that, when Google first started, none of the documents were ranked. So how do you assign ranking to documents based on documents which have not themselves been ranked? It makes for a very interesting question. It's almost like circular reasoning. "Rank this, based on other documents citing it." Oh good. But we don't know their ranking. "Rank them, based on documents citing them." Yes, about that... We don't know the ranking of those documents, either.....

Of course, the question in the preceding paragraph is no longer relevant. It shouldn't be, because Google's been around for years and its stock is trading merrily on the US Stock Exchange. That means that there are sufficiently ranked documents online for new documents to be ranked every day. Ranked, and re-ranked. Because documents live forever on the Internet. (No, not really. It's just my April Fools' Joke.)

Applying the same logic to the patent, it seems it's a rather important patent. If U.S. patent #6285999 could be assigned a PageRank, it must be quite high, because there are many, many patents citing this one. I copied the whole bunch into LibreOffice (I'm an open source fan) and ran a bunch of data sorts, to find that:
  • As of 1st April 2016, the PageRank patent was cited by 1,245 other patents;
  • The first patent to cite it was US Patent 6,631,496 which was filed on 22nd March 1999, by NEC Corporation. ("System for personalizing, organizing and managing web information"
  • The second patent to cite it was US Patent 7,302,429 which was filed on 11th April 1999, by William Paul Wanker ("Customizable electronic commerce comparison system and method") (Real name, not April Fool Joke.)
  • The last patent to cite it was US Patent 9,280,212 which was filed on 11th February 2015 by Google Inc. ("Velocity based content delivery.")
  • The second last patent to cite it was US Patent 9,152,678 which was filed on 8th of December 2014 by Google Inc ("Time based ranking")
  • About 461 patents by Google Inc. cite this patent.
I'm obviously not an SEO expert, but I've read other blogs that PageRank is only one of the factors today. There are "positive signals" and "negative signals" now. Obviously, by learning those signals, I might be able to get this blog to rank higher on Google's search results.

I am qualified as a patent agent. If you need someone to draft up a patent for you, please feel free to drop me a line. (My contact details are on this blog.)

Thanks for reading.
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