In my final class related post for ENT601 – Entrepreneurial Innovation, I want to briefly reflect on the value gained from re-reading “The Pursuit of Wow! Every Person’s Guide to Topsy-Turvy Times.” Frankly, over the last eight weeks the book has given me a new perspective on the application of innovation in entrepreneurship. Mr. Peters’ ramblings aside, the book led me to new ideas and thoughts about innovation that I had not considered before. My recent post, Multiculturalism’s Influence on Entrepreneurial Growth, for example, is a somewhat indirect result. “The Pursuit of Wow!” opened the door for broader thinking about the implications cultural and societal change have on the state of entrepreneurship in the United States. Cultural impacts on entrepreneurship is now a topic that I am very interested in researching further, yet I would not have stumbled upon without the help of Mr. Peters and me.
The book’s uneven and sometimes inconsistent approach makes following Tom Peter’s thought process a bit of a challenge, but then, maybe that is the point. The world is often uneven and inconsistent, and entrepreneurs must always navigate topsy-turvy times to ensure success. It will remain on my shelf for future reading. And I will not wait twenty years before I read it again.
Thanks to all who have followed along these past two months. I have enjoyed your comments and our exchanges.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Revenue (HBR) has me thinking about the push and pull theories of entrepreneurship a little differently. The HBR article explores how entrepreneurs and innovators in Africa are breaking through long-standing barriers of corruption, flawed infrastructure, skills shortage, and a mistaken belief that the country’s middle class provides the most promising market segment to achieve successes where global corporations could not (Christensen, Ojomo, & Van Bever, 2017). The authors suggest that entrepreneur’s desires “push” a product or service, while “pull” responds to the specific needs of the market (Christensen, Ojomo, & Van Bever). The authors argue the push approach is what has prevented the global corporations from being successful in Africa, yet the pull approach is resulting in a good many smaller wins because of a more thorough understanding of the customer needs.
In a previous post, we discussed the decline in entrepreneurship in the United States over the last twenty-five years or so. Over that time, there have also been gradual changes in culture and society that affect how we engage and interact. Since 2001, we have seen a significant rise in multiculturalism and a decline, for the first time in history demographers report, of the dominant racial group and it appears that minorities are likely to be driving America’s economic and population growth into the next century (Morello & Mellnik, 2013). Yet, minorities face greater barriers to entrepreneurship, including lack of access to education, business networks, and capital (Bradley, 2016). One has to wonder if the decline in entrepreneurship in the United States has to do with these facts: changing demographics, shifting culture, and lack of access for minority entrepreneurs.
It seems clear that if a business is creating products or services that without a solid understanding of the marketplace and customer needs, and then attempting to force those goods and services into a market, it will not be as successful as it might be if it were to align with those needs. The pull approach takes it further, suggesting that products and services created to meet the current needs and struggles of particular segments—even micro-segments—of consumers can have a high degree of success, but not much breadth of the market (Christensen, Ojomo, & Van Bever, 2017). This approach would be true in any market, not just in Africa. In fact, I would argue this happens regularly throughout the world. Still, I wonder if something bigger is not at play as it relates to entrepreneurial activity in the United States. Does growing multiculturalism influence entrepreneurial growth?
With demographic and cultural changes happening so quickly, it may be that the established entrepreneurial networks are out-of-touch with market needs. Rather than focus on micro-segments, as is now being done in Africa, it could be that many new entrepreneurs in the United States target larger market opportunities. This might create a “push strategy” of a product or service that misaligns with current needs and struggles of minority market segments. That failure to find an audience often means the entrepreneurial venture dies. Increased business failures due in part to product/market misalignment and inadequate access to capital and business support networks by prospective minority entrepreneurs would seemingly dampen entrepreneurial growth.
Tom Peters argues companies that keep focused on the customer need, that is those that insist the customer remain at the center of the business, are those that enjoy the greatest success (Peters, 1994). The United States Census Bureau expects the minority population to grow to fifty-six percent (56%) of the total population by 2060 (Bradley, 2016). More than ever before it is critical for entrepreneurs to be emersed in their market and not just have a broad understanding of it given the extent and speed at which culture and society are changing. Prospective entrepreneurs—minority or not— as well as government and business networks, must begin to shift their focus and investment toward these rapidly growing, yet still underserved market opportunities. This shift is critical if we are to stem the declines in entrepreneurship in the United States.
Do you agree that a lack of understanding of minority marketplaces by the established entrepreneurial networks contributes, in part, to the slowdown in entrepreneurial activity in the United States?
Bradley, M. (2016, February 10). Investing in Minority Entrepreneurs: An Economic Imperative for the U.S. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from kauffman.org: http://www.kauffman.org/blogs/growthology/2016/02/investing-in-minority-entrepreneurs-an-economic-imperative-for-the-us
Christensen, C., Ojomo, E., & Van Bever, D. (2017, January - February). Africa's New Generation of Innovators. Harvard Business Review, 95(1), 128-136.
Morello, C., & Mellnik, T. (2013, June 13). White deaths outnumber births for the first time. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from washingtonpost.com: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/white-deaths-outnumber-births-for-first-time/2013/06/13/3bb1017c-d388-11e2-a73e-826d299ff459_story.html?utm_term=.c59c5ad4a656
Peters, T. (1994). The Pursuit of Wow! Every Person's Guide to Topsy-Turvy Times (1st ed.). New York: Vintage Books.
Image Source: Getty Images, Saul Landell / Mex
The following is an interview with Burgin Hardin, J.D., Senior Counsel, Boy Scouts of America National Council for my Entrepreneurial Innovation graduate course. Burgin and I once worked together and I value his guidance and opinions on licensing law, intellectual property, and frankly, about everything else.
Q. Tell me a little bit about your background (education and experience). Where are you working now and what are your primary responsibilities? How did you get started in the particular area of Intellectual Property (IP) law?
A. I graduated from Davidson College and earned my law degree from Wake Forest University. Currently, I am an in-house attorney for the Boy Scouts of America, with a focus on IP protection and enforcement and commercial contracts. I got my professional start in IP at the BSA, where I began my career as a compliance specialist for BSA’s trademark licensing business. In that role, I helped manage and enforce the BSA’s trademark license agreements.
I must say this at the outset: These remarks are for general information purposes only and are not intended as legal advice. Anyone seeking legal advice should consult with his/her attorney (and that is not me!). Also, these comments reflect my personal views and not those of my employer.
Q. Might you share with me the different types of intellectual property and how they are used? In other words, what's the difference between a copyright, a trademark, and a patent?
A. Copyright protects the particular expression of an idea and covers tangible media in which that expression is fixed—e.g., a book, a musical work, a film, software code, etc. Patents come in three “varieties”: utility patents, design patents and plant patents. Utility patents, the most common type, cover new and useful processes and machines. Trademarks identify the source of a good or service and distinguish one person’s goods and services from those of another.
The purpose of copyrights and patents, which are directly authorized by the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8), is to advance innovation. Copyrights and patents provide authors and inventors an incentive to innovate—that incentive being, exclusive control over the use of their works and inventions.
On the other hand, trademarks are rooted in consumer protection (and date back to the Romans). A trademark signals to consumers that the good or service sold under that mark embodies certain qualities, a fact that the consumer relies on when making a purchase. The U.S. federal statute governing trademarks is known as the Lanham Act, and most states have their own trademark protection schemes within their own borders.
Q. In your opinion, what are some of the biggest misconceptions individuals have about the different types of intellectual property?
A. People often mistakenly conflate copyrights and trademarks, but they represent separate and distinct IP rights. Copyrights and trademarks serve different purposes, protect different interests, and are enforced differently.
Another misconception: In the U.S., a person must register his trademark with the government to have a protectable mark. To the contrary, in the U.S., trademark rights are based on use, not registration. Thus, a person can have a protectable trademark in the U.S. based on his prior use, even if he has not registered the trademark. Registration has benefits in terms of enforcement, but it is not necessary to obtain trademark rights.
Q. How does the application of laws surround intellectual property differ from country-to-country?
A. This could be—and is—the subject of entire books. One example of how IP laws different from country-to-country is the first-to-file versus first-to-use trademark schemes. As I mentioned, the U.S. operates on a first-to-use basis—meaning, the first person to *use* a mark is the presumptive owner of the mark. In first-to-file countries, which are the majority, the first person to *file* a trademark registration with the government is the presumptive owner of the mark.
What are the implications for IP holding U.S. entrepreneur who might decide to produce products off-shore? For example, what might be the primary challenges for an artist who owns a copyright on a print pattern for fabric, or the holder of an apparel-based brand trademark, or the owner of a patent for a medical device who manufacture product abroad?
Entrepreneurs should be mindful that the protections afforded their IP in the U.S. will not necessarily extend to other countries. For example, a person with a U.S. trademark should not rely on her rights in U.S. to protect the mark in other countries where the mark is used. Entrepreneurs should consider all the ways in which their IP will be “in play” in other countries—e.g., as part of a manufacturing process, on display in advertisements, broadcast or distributed to the foreign audience—and develop a tailored IP protection strategy for each country.
Another practical consideration is, who has access to the IP? In my opinion, one of the most effective ways to protect one’s IP, especially in a foreign jurisdiction where navigating the legal system might be a challenge, is to entrust one’s IP only to vendors, suppliers, and partners who are reputable and reliable. In other words, do your homework on your potential partners and become familiar with where, how and by whom your IP will “in play.”
Q. New entrepreneurs often launch a business based on an invention. Have there been any changes or pending changes in U.S. patent laws in recent years? If so, what are these changes and in your opinion how might these changes impact the inventor and his or her ability to build a viable venture around an invention?
A. The America Invents Act of 2011 (AIA) essentially overhauled the U.S. patent system by moving to a first-to-file system, establishing procedures to help accessed patent infringers contest weak patents, and changing some of the standards for obtaining a patent. Commentators have described the AIA as the most comprehensive patent reform bill since the 1950s.
Q. How do you think entrepreneurial innovation, in general, might be affected by changes in patent laws?
A. I am far from an expert on the AIA. But based on the commentary I’ve heard from those who are experts, the AIA is intended to reduce the threat of patent infringement litigation by non-practicing entities (NPEs or, derisively, “patent trolls”). For NPEs, patent enforcement is a business in and of itself, not a means of driving scientific progress. For some inventors, the cost of facing an NPE in litigation outweighs the benefits of innovating. The AIA aims to address that imbalance. If NPE’s patent enforcement activity has had a chilling effect on innovation, as many experts believe, the AIA’s reforms should help reheat inventors’ engines.
Q. What's the most novel (humorous, interesting, etc.) thing you have read about that someone has tried to protect under IP laws?
A. There are a lot of stories to choose from. One interesting and relatively recent IP spat involved CBS, Comedy Central, Stephen Colbert and … Stephen Colbert (the character). It wasn’t surprising for a production company, such as Comedy Central, to assert ownership of the characters and “bits” featured in its shows. But the way (the real) Stephen Colbert exposed the issue and tried to workaround it was entertaining. Here’s a recap of the whole brouhaha: https://consumerist.com/2016/07/28/stephen-colbert-says-comedy-central-unhappy-with-cbss-use-of-stephen-colbert-so-he-introduces-new-stephen-colbert/
Q. What are a few of your favorite resources for IP information?
- Eric Goldman’s Technology and Marketing Law Blog (http://blog.ericgoldman.org/) is a great resource. Eric Goldman is a professor at Professor of Law at Santa Clara University School of Law.
- Law360.com is another great resource. Law360 is a LexisNexis company.
- The international law firm Foley Hoag publishes a well-written and informative blog on trademarks and copyrights: http://www.trademarkandcopyrightlawblog.com/
Q. What advice might you offer to an entrepreneur who believes he or she has IP that should be protected?
A. Seek legal counsel from an attorney specializing in the type of IP that you need to protect, and consider the legal fees a capital investment in your business. When creating your IP protection strategy, consider all the jurisdictions in your supply chain, not just the end market where you intend to distribute or publish your product. And look at your IP protection strategy over the long term, bringing to bear all three IP disciplines—copyright, trademark and patent law—to protect your business over time.