Patent Lessons

I just had a question about the whether pieces of a software product can be patented. Here is my reply….

You can patent just about anything if you pay the money and wait the time. We actually got our first patent almost through (where I can talk about it). We had applied for one with StrandWare, but brady let it fall through because it took so long.

What I have learned about patents….

1) expect to pay over $30k to get it through the process – start to finish. I talked to one president who is over $100k already on his, and it is not even submitted yet.

2) It will take 3 to 5 years to get it through the process. So expect no return until after that.

3) Once you get the patent, it really means nothing unless you pay more money to defend it. (again, the laywers get rich).

4) You can use the patent to get “reasonable” royalties from competitors if you take the right steps.

5) There is always a way around the patent which makes all your legal work to defend or get royalties worthless.

So, if you have a quarter million to throw away towards the goal, the technology wont change too much in 5 years, and the potential return is worth at least that much, go for it. Otherwise, you may want to think a second and third time about it.


A low cost printing option

We just had a need to print some office material, and I decided to try It was an excellent experience and very good pricing. We had pre-done artwork (which many of the online printing companies do not easily handle). They also help you with designs if you do not already have something ready. All in all, a good experience.


The future of digital signage screens

Although it has been around for almost 10 years, Digital Signage is still in the early stages of it’s evolution. It has only started getting involved in integration and standardization, which is typically the beginning of explosive growth. That combined with the poor economy, the changes in how “customers” receive their information and the poor performance of traditional marketing mediums will help fuel the growth – especially during the economic recovery in late 2010 or early 2011.

One are of evolution is the screens that are used to display the digital signage content. Since digital signage is a computer based technology, there needs to be some sort of computer processor in all digital signage systems. How it is packaged is another question though.

Traditionally, the screens have been flat LCD screens using existing cable tv wiring for hotels and theme parks or a direct connection to the VGA or DVI port of a computer. The prices of screens with embedded pc’s is coming down, so they will remove the need for a separate pc to drive the content, but tend to have lower processing power. There are also small pc’s that can fit to the back of the screen. They too are short on power. As processing power continues to improve, prices drop, and more Linux based signage systems go online, these shortcomings will soon be gone too.

The future holds amazing things for digital signage. With 3D movies and commercials being produced, it is only a matter of time before 3D becomes a standard feature of digital signage software. Although tricky to get through local government reles and regulations, digital billboards will become more commonplace. And of course everyone’s cell phone will become a mobile billboard with great money saving coupons sent to you right as you shop. It will probably even be tied to the Internet shopping portals immediately as you browse the product offerings.

After being in this industry for over 6 years, and in the software industry for more than 20, I eagerly await the exciting changes that we will see in the next few years. I am sure they will be revolutionary (again).

Lessons Marketing

Investments in Marketing

We recently advertised with USA Today after being covered in one of their editorials. Typically, we do not advertise in print medium, but this seemed like a worthwhile experiment since it was reinforcing the article.

Over the years, I have seen “what works” for marketing change dramatically. Twenty years ago, print media and trade shows were the best way to spend marketing dollars. The best (and perhaps only) electronic marketing was the fax and self-managed bulletin board system. We also saw great benefits in public relations efforts – which indirectly reaches most marketing mediums if done well.

As you know, electronic mediums (particularly through the Internet) are the way to go now. Most everyone is involved with computers and the Internet to some degree. Face to face communication has been supplanted by this medium often times too. Brick and mortar businesses have lost much of their foothold over virtual ones. The mail has been replaced first emails and next by tweets. Print marketing (including magazines and newspapers) have lost much of their impact that they once held. Even television has been impacted with DVR’s that let people watch what they want when they want – and skip the commercials. With the cost of travel (dollars, time and frustration), trade shows are attended by fewer busy buyers.

Obviously, the web site is an important part of marketing in today’s world. Unfortunately, you need to create your own traffic, which relies on new and old marketing mediums. Digital signage is probably one of the biggest potentials to leverage your existing marketing collateral to motivate your staff and communicate to your customers (in house and on your web site). I still believe in the public relations route since it can be seen as someone else talking about the product – which helps to build trust in the product, brand and company. When focused, trade shows are good to expand into a new market. It helps to get the “buzz” out about a new product. When combined with an article, I will let you know if an ad works. Taking time to be involved in your market (in non-promotional ways) is probably the best way to build traffic. Create (and update) a blog. Answer questions on industry forums. Offer your knowledge as white papers. Tweet about relevant topics. And of course, don’t plan on immediate results – unless you pay millions for it.