Friday, 17 October 2014

Smartphone app developers:maybe it is not only the birds who should be angry

I recently considered elsewhere the challenges of succeeding as an app developer for the smartphone space. The immediate occasion was the announcement of staff redundancies at Rovio, the Finnish developer of the popular Angry Birds game. In that connection, I raised three points with potentially wider application:
1. How far can viral success of one’s mobile app take a developer commercially?
2. Will positive network effects regarding one’s app improve the likelihood of success?
3. Is it possible to build a mobile game “franchise” that can transcend a one-off success?
Thinking about these questions further, I realized that I had perhaps not fully appreciated the scope of the challenge posed for developers of entertainment and games apps on the smartphone platform. The more that I pondered the matter, the more it seems possible that the smartphone environment simply offer limited opportunities for the creators of original entertainment and game content to enjoy sustained and durable success. This is not to say that users do not make use of their smartphone in a variety of ways by which the user is engaged in content that is accessed on the device. But this content is for the most part matters of news, search, transactions, social media interactions, and other forms of content that cannot be described as original entertainment or games. In reading and listening to commercial discussions of the smartphone ecosystem, nearly all the talk is about who will dominate the market for the device itself, with some consideration about which platforms and content delivery services will successfully layer themselves onto the device. The creators of original entertainment and game content are seldom, if ever mentioned.

For instance, I recall the discussions a while ago about whether Facebook could successfully manage the move from the computer to the smartphone. The answer seems to be “yes”, and the extent that this migration of Facebook to the smartphone enables the user to access original content, the smartphone does provide a platform for entertainment and games. But such possibilities are the exception rather than the rule. Moreover, the big commercial winner in this situation is the intermediator—Facebook---rather than the content creator, who is in some sense at the mercy of Facebook. Indeed, studies seem to indicate that the typical user may have tens of applications stored in his smartphone, but that he or she uses only single-digit number of these apps on a regular basis. This as well puts a premium on the ability of a platform with the potential to distribute original content to users, rather than the accessing of off-off game (even a game that has successfully created multiple entertainment apps under a single brand).

Moreover, there is the question of just how attractive the smartphone screen can ever be for displaying entertainment contents for consumption by users. My anecdotal impression is, at the moment, that tablets are much more popular than smartphones for this purpose (although that impression is tempered by my observations of the manner of smartphone use by teens and young adults on the subways of such cities as Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing). With smartphone screens getting larger, tablet screens getting smaller, and hybrid categories such as the phablet appearing, the stark distinction between smartphones and tablets may become less relevant. Still, as a general matter, the smaller the screen, the less likely, it would seem, that the user will view entertain content on it. If this be true, then the lot of the apps developer of entertainment or game content for the smartphone may well be facing limited opportunities, at least if the goal is to develop a franchise brand on the smartphone platform. This may not be just Rovio’s problem, but that of the entire industry.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

"Patents and Telecoms": a forthcoming symposium

"Patents in Telecoms" is a fascinating area for contentious and non-contentious IP experts and practitioners alike. As  the title of a conference, however, it doesn't give away very much information.  A symposium with that very title is however soon to be held in the lovely facilities of the George Washington University's Jack Morton Auditorium, under the joint auspices of leading academic institutions IBIL (the Institute of Brand and Innovation Law, University College London) and George Washington University -- with active support from the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and  the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA).

So what is this event all about? On 6 and 7 November, an embarrassingly impressive roster of participants is coming together to review key issues in this tantalisingly difficult sector. There will be a Judge’s Panel with Chief Judge Sharon Prost, Justice Bennett from Australia (who spent nearly a year trying the Australian bit of Apple v Samsung before the parties settled), Judge Deichfuss (German Supreme Court), Judge Kalden (Dutch Court of Appeal) and Lord Justice Floyd (Court of Appeal, England and Wales).  There's also a Regulators' Panel which features major personalities from the Federal Trade Commission, the US Department of Justice, and the European Commission.

In addition to the judges and regulators, there are contributions from some of the most important companies in rhe sector, with speakers from standard setting bodies, operators, manufacturers, licensors, licensees, patent assertion entities, lawyers and industry experts.

Regular readers of this weblog will need little reminding of the importance of FRAND licence schemes [a selection of our FRAND-related posts can be read here]. The symposium offers a panel session on FRAND defences to patent infringement and how to calculate FRAND royalties, moderated by Roger G. Brook (Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP) and with Professor Sir Robin Jacob, Brian Napper (FTI), Professor David Teece (UC Berkeley) and Gregory Sidak (Criterion Economics).

Regarding patents as an asset class, and the issues involved in pricing and trading in them [a topic covered by IP Finance's recent dialogue between Joff Wild and Neil Wilkof, here], Sharaz Gill (Skepsis) is moderating a further panel on buying and selling patents, featuring Will Plut (Patent Profit International), Linda Biel (Allied Security Trust), Duane Valz (Google), Aleksander Mehrle (Sisvel) and Chris Israel (American Continental Group).

There's plenty more to stimulate the interest of the patent-and-telecom connoisseur. To see the full programme and access registration details, just click here.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Money for (old rope) new patents

Money bagThe Australian Financial Review has published an article today report on an initiative by IP firm Wrays and R&D tax advisor Swanson Reed which calls on the Australian government to provide assistance to companies of up to 50,000 Australian dollars for the preparation and filing of the patents. The authors of the proposal argue that Australian companies need support and that their proposal would be cheaper than the suggested patent box initiative.

The initiative is dismissed by Rui Rodrques who is an investment manager at a Sydney venture capitalist Tank Stream Ventures who argues that online tech industries do not need patents and that the support would only go to traditional industries.

220px DPAG 2011 Deutsche Erfindungen TechnikThe proposal is reminiscent of Germany's SIGNO SME patent initiative which supports small companies with their first application in both Germany and internationally. This has supported between 400 and 700 companies in the past fifteen years. The last evaluation report in 2009 reported that the learn process by which start-up companies began to understand the patent process was one of the key features of the programme. However, the "innovation market" project to encourage exploitation of IP did not fulfil its potential. The evaluators recommended that the financial support nonetheless be continued. Similar schemes exist in some other countries, such as in China. This author's experience of the scheme does suggest that the financial support helps to kick-start the patenting process as it reduces some of the financial burden on the company. It also helps start the discussion of the value of a company's intellectual assets to its business strategy and the appropriate protection with intellectual property rights (and not just patents).

The objections to the proposals mentioned in the AFR article are that such schemes do not necessarily help online companies and that the patenting process moves too slowly. It's also true that it can be hard for a small company to pursue patent infringements and that the financial penalties in Australia are low. This traditional view of patenting would seem to discourage start-up companies from filing. On the other hand, patents do provide assets which can be used to strengthen licensing programmes and also provide potential purchasers with additional leverage. A recent study carried out for the France Brevets investment fund suggested that - at least in France - patent savvy companies tended to be more successful than other start-up companies in which venture capital firms had invested.

Bavarians in Brussels host imminent event on fiscal incentives for films

"Fiscal incentive schemes and their impact on film and audiovisual production in Europe" is the grand title of a presentation of a new study and round table coming up very soon. It's to be held next Monday, 20 October 2014 from 11.00 am – 1.00 pm (entry 10.30) at the Rue Wiertz 77, Brussels, Belgium, being kindly hosted by the Representation of the Free State of Bavaria to the EU.

This free public conference -- which will take place in English -- is set to examine the impact of tax shelters, tax credits and tax rebates on film and audiovisual production in Europe. The European Audiovisual Observatory has commissioned a brand new study from Olsberg•SPI which examines the effects of fiscal incentive schemes in Europe. The findings of this new report will be presented at this conference by its authors. Then an expert panel will focus on the long-term impact of fiscal incentives as a policy instrument in today’s European audiovisual landscape.

For further details email Alison Hindhaugh at alison.hindhaugh@coe.int before 16 October (this Thursday).

If any reader of this weblog is attending, can he or she send us a report?

Friday, 3 October 2014

Safeguarding Intangible Assets: a webinar, and a book

'Safeguarding Intangible Assets' is the title of a talk by Professor Michael D. Moberly which is being hosted as a webinar by Oxfirst on 8 October 3:00 pm BST. This event is free and you can sign up for it by registering here. By sheer coincidence Safeguarding intangible assets turns out also to be a book [boldly announced by its publishers as the "First edition" -- a claim which even the original publishers of the Bible never made] which

" ...provides strategies for preserving and enhancing a company’s intangible assets to increase its profitability, competitiveness and sustainability. Intangible assets, such as patents, trade marks or copyrights account for 80% of a firm’s value and revenue. There are many forces making it more and more difficult for managers to protect and extract value from these assets".
The talk, according to Oxfirst, presents tools for protecting these assets and offers strategies for various types of business transactions, such as mergers & acquisitions, corporate university R&D alliances, new product launches or university spin outs. It does so, by offering guidelines for establishing and maintaining a high value intangible assets portfolio

As for Mike Moberly, he is the Chair of the Intangible Asset Finance Society’s Programs and is a longtime member of ASIS International’s Information Asset Protection Council for which he was recognized as Council Chairperson of the year for 2013.

If any reader of this blog is going to be following the webinar, can he or she let us know if anything interesting, original or outrageous is said, so we can share it?