Friday, 23 January 2015

R&D tax credits for SMEs - help the government get it right (or at least better)

Heads up - HMRC is consulting improvements to the radically underclaimed R&D tax credits for SMEs.
They're looking at how to promote awareness of the credits, the design and understanding of the rules, and - most importantly in my view, the new advance assurance process. One of the main stumbling blocks to claiming the R&D credit has been uncertainty about what does and doesn't qualify: most people seem to assume you need to be doing something that involved a long and complicated chemical name, but it's much wider than that. The advance assurance process is intended to enable SMEs to get confirmation that their R&D qualifies ahead of time, rather than putting a claim in and hoping for the best.
Have a look at the consultation and think about commenting - the more people contribute, the better the chances of getting something workable for SMEs. Comments need to be with HMRC by midday on 27 February 2015

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

New York's Silicon Alley: the once and future (?) IPO wasteland

With all of the talk about Silicon Alley, the name given for high tech
activity in New York, the fact remains that successful technology IPOs emanating from New York have been few and far between. How few and far between was brought home last week in a report that Etsy (located in what is called the Dumbo neighbourhood of Brooklyn) is preparing for an IPO some time as early as Q1 2015. The company is reportedly seeking to raise up to $300 million. The last time that a tech company from the New York area raised such an amount was during the dot-com bubble of nearly 15 years ago.

Etsy offers a website that enables people to sell both handmade crafts and vintage goods (think of a 1957 turquoise Royal Quiet De Luxe typewriter). As such, the company can be said to engage in the craft niche of the e-commerce space, where 800-pound gorillas in the form of Amazon.com and Alibaba enjoy a pre-eminent position. Approximately 26 million items are listed for sale on the Etsy site. Its revenues derive from a 20-cent charge for sellers to list products and it takes a 3.5% cut from each item sold. It also earns sums from advertising and payment processing. The report states in 2013 the company posted $1.35 billion in gross merchandise sales, and it is presumed that this figure was greater for 2014.

There is something quite extraordinary in the fact that New York seems to be a wasteland for generating tech companies with significant IPO potential. One only has to compare this (lack of a) track record with the oversize IPO success of Israel, which continues to create hi tech companies that attract public funding. The question is—why? A piece by Jeremy Quittner, “A Tale of Two Cities: Why Silicon Alley Isn’t the Next Silicon Valley (Yet)”, which appeared last year on Inc.com, offered some thoughts.
1. “NYC is a strong market for advertising technology, financial technology, some commerce, and a few other smaller segments, but it's not aligned with where most venture dollars are going these days," quoting Dave Zilberman, a partner at Comcast Ventures who moved about from New York to Silicon Valley.

2. Zilberman pointed to software as a service, cloud computing, network and computer security and enterprise computing a start-up areas attracting big money. It seems that New York is not strong in any of them. Recall that Etsy Crafts itself is a niche e-commerce site.

3. Culture was also mentioned. Again, quoting Zilberman, “Silicon Valley has a stronger culture of risk-taking than New York City. It's simply a function of people with the right skill set and risk tolerance to work for a startup."

4. Drilling down further, it appears that the bulk of job growth in New York has been in designing, managing, and operating computer systems. Notable in this regard is digital media and software publishing. What is missing, however, is what is described as areas “heavy on engineering and new product development--jobs more likely to lead to innovation and starting ups.”

5. As observed by says Ross Fubini, partner at Canaan Partners in Menlo Park, California, "Innovation and creating great companies is all about the people--and Silicon Valley is special in that regard, because of the number of entrepreneurs, investors, engineers, and the culture that come together in a uniquely effective and creative way."
In light of Quittner’s piece, the obligatory question is—can New York ever change the situation? Most certainly the issue continues to be raised and many in New York wrestle with the problem. All those engineering graduates from Berkeley and Stanford certainly give Silicon Valley a leg-up, but New York is still a magnet for creative and ambitious types. Nevertheless, whether that is enough to ever create an environment ripe for successful establishing tech companies with notable IPO potential remains an open question.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Affirms Two Large Patent Damages Awards: $70 million and $371 million

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed two large patent damages awards recently.  The first case is Stryker Corp. v. Zimmer (December 19, 2014), a decision authored by Chief Judge Prost, which affirmed a jury verdict of $70 million in lost profits.  The decision did reverse an award of treble damages for willful infringement.  The second case is another Chief Judge Prost opinion, Bard Peripheral Vascular v. W.L. Gore and Associates (January 13, 2015), which affirms a finding of doubled damages for willful infringement from $185,589,871.02 (jury verdict) to $371,179,742.04.  That is quite a win for former federal appellate court judge and Stanford Law School professor Michael W. McConnell, also of counsel for Kirkland and Ellis

The Cost to Develop a New Name for a Product: $3,000 to $75,000?

In a recent entertaining and informative article, The Weird Science of Naming Products, by Neal Gabler, published in the New York Times Magazine (January 15, 2015), Mr. Gabler discusses the process of choosing a name for a new product or service for a technology company in Northern California.  Notably, the article discusses the process of choosing a name by brand guru Anthony Shore.  Mr. Shore has created names such as Soyjoy and Yum!.  The article also describes the results of a study on the relationship between sounds of different words and emotions, and the use of that research to develop brands.  The article spends about a paragraph noting the importance of trademark law and the impact of preexisting marks.  Interestingly, the article does not discuss consumer studies of the potential names for products.  It notes that it costs about $3,000 to $75,000 US to develop a name, but tens of millions to establish the name in the marketplace.  Does that cost sound about right?  It seems low to me.  Any other estimates for the cost to develop a name? 

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Maximising IP Value: a webinar

How "ox" connects with "first", alpha being
the first letter of the alphabet ...
IP Finance's friends at Oxfirst have another webinar coming up. It takes place next Wednesday at 16.00 GMT on the increasingly popular and always important subject of ‘Maximizing IP Value’. According to the organisers:

Intellectual Property is a critical strategic asset for corporations. But there are enormous differences in the value of IP stemming from the ecosystem that supports commercialization of the IP. What are the elements of the IP ecosystem? Can they be modelled and measured? The answer is yes [though "Can they be accurately and meaningfully modelled and measured?" might not attract a consensus of affirmative responses, this blogger thinks]. This talk will introduce basic concepts about how to model, measure and maximize the potential of IP through a sound broader ecosystem of intellectual capital (IC). 

There are two speakers: Dr Ken Jarboe (founder, Athena Alliance) and Mary Adams (founder, Smarter-Companies). 

If you plan to register for this webinar, which appears to be free, just click here. The webinar ID is 106-652-203.