January 2006 Edition
In This Issue:
Well, gang, ‘tis January, that month of resolutions, seed catalogs, serious Vitamin D deprivation and the all-important “new calendar” ritual. As a member of the Science and Technology Law Center staff, we are loathe to confess this, but we still use the old fashioned calendar options: a pin-up calendar (not *that* kind of pin-up, the kind you “pin up” on your office and kitchen wall with a tack) and an appointment calendar. We know that many (most?) of you use a Blackberry or other high tech device to keep track of your day, but we are of the quaint pen and paper tradition. So, each December, we search for calendars that meet our aesthetic and design requirements. The appointment planner has certain “must haves”: the whole week laid out on one page, ample space between the lines for our left-handed chicken scratch writing to fit and, mostly, plenty of room for “notes” (read: reminders for this middle addled, err, aged brain), but the wall calendar competition is wide open and has included, in the recent past, flowers, scenes of the French countryside, and beaches, lots and lots of beaches.
Yes, we are of the “breathtaking scenes printed on thick, glossy paper” calendar cadre, and we have been known to order splashy calendars from art museums when our local bookstore could not supply one with the proper aesthetic “wow factor.” So, how, then, did we end up with a 2006 game animal calendar courtesy of Dick’s Auto Specialties ("Best Damn Garage in Town" sez the calendar, and they're right) in Pulaski, NY? Why, because of our dear daughter, of course.
Now this is not exactly a calendar we would have, ahem, *paid for*, though caribou frolicking on the tundra, grizzlies salivating over salmon and nervous looking white tails (hey, you’d be nervous if you were a ten point buck during October) do possess a certain woodsy kind of beauty. However, since our 7 year old daughter presented us with the calendar from Dick’s as an elaborately wrapped Christmas present, we figure we’d better really use it or risk ensuring further “couch time” (read: psychiatric help) in her adult years. So, gamely (ha ha), we put up our calendar, and, just so you know, January’s pic features large caribou vying for the alpha title.
But this calendar has proven to be more informative than my usual fare, for it offers, in addition to the requisite holidays, the birthdays of famous Americans. January is the birth month of quite a diverse group of Americans including Martin Luther King, Jr., Benjamin Franklin, Elvis, Oprah and Robert E. Lee. (Interesting that in our society “Elvis” and “Oprah” only need one name but Benjamin Franklin, a pivotal figure in the birth of our country, needs the standard two).
Because Benjamin Franklin was born exactly 300 years ago, January 17, 1706, his colorful life and times will be featured in our “Don’t Know Much About” feature. Now as someone who well remembers 1976 and America’s bi-centennial celebrations and decorations (we won’t mention that we can remember wearing – proudly - red and white striped jeans with blue glitter stars and a 100% polyester navy blue halter top), we are surprised at the dearth of Franklin mentions in the national media. No, our mainstream media would rather focus on the celebrity-du-jour’s eating disorders than write about a pivotal and inspirational figure from actual American history. However, don’t despair, your friends at the Innovation e-Review have stepped in to fill the void and provide you with a nice synopsis of Dr. Franklin’s life and times.
This January also finds Jeong Oh writing “Business Plans: What Every Entrepreneur Should Know” and Marian Berda weighing in with an article on Intellectual Property Portfolio Management. And, since we know all of you faithful readers just can’t get enough of us, we’re introducing a new feature this month, entitled “Website Spotlite”, in which we will tell you about a feature of our website each month. And since most of you probably didn’t even realize that we have a Web site, well, it’s going to be quite the learning experience, for we have a lot of relevant info posted.
Even though it’s now late January, there is not a flake of snow on the ground here in the Salt City (a/k/a Syracuse). We have been, well, spotty about keeping our New Year’s Resolution to walk three days a week at lunchtime, and, heck, if one can’t muster the oomph to walk when there is no snow on the ground, one must not be very committed to one's resolutions, no? We were extolling our significant imperfections to our spouse the other night, when our dear daughter (the one who was not supposed to be within hearing distance) suddenly burst on the scene to say, “Wow, Mama, you always tell me to not get upset if I don’t do something perfect (sic) the first time. Why do you have to?” Nothing like a child’s unflinchingly honest comment to set you back on your heels while using your own advice. Time to get the old PF Flyers out from under the desk and commence a brisk walk across our beautiful campus.
Have fun, be inspiring, give those resolutions another try and indulge in something wonderful!
by Jeong Oh
In the last month’s Innovation e-Review, I wrote an article about financing sources for new ventures. Now that you have read that article, you must be infused with enthusiasm and ready to make your pitch to that investor, you know, the one with very deep pockets and lots of faith in you. However, before you step into the plush offices of E-Z VC, you need a business plan. Because even investors with deep pockets and small brains want to know that you have a plan for their money. So, January’s topic is what you need to know about business plans.
Whether you are seeking equity or debt financing, you must prepare some sort of document that lays out your business venture. This is your business plan. A typical professional investor will receive approximately 2,000 business plans a year, which is about 5.48 business plans a day, 365 days a year. So, after checking the market, boning up on the latest and greatest events in the biz, tech and financial worlds, writing a few checks, having your standard power lunch and doing the other important high finance stuff that a VC gal or guy does, how much attention do you suppose *your* proposal will really get? Giving the benefit of doubt and assuming that the investor will read every business plan they receive, this allows maybe 15-30 minutes for each one. That’s not exactly a lot of time in which you can convince the investor that your business plan deserves the needed investments. Could you decide to give someone several hundred thousand dollars based on a 15-minute perusal of a business plan? We didn’t think so, and for that very reason you have to make your business plan so comprehensible, so readable, and so completely distinguishable from the other 5.48 that have come in that day.
There is plethora of materials available on how to write business plans and lots of professionals who will assist you in writing one, but before you spend hours searching the Internet, visiting the SBA office or even paying a professional business plan writer, start here to learn how to write a *successful* business plan.
You know that the topic of business plans has been dissected to the point where every DNA strand of business plan writing has been discovered and rediscovered. With all these resources available, writing a business plan has become ostensibly easier, but writing that successful business plan is never easy.
My suggestion is to start by reading the article by William Sahlman called “How to Write a Great Business Plan.” This article provides a concise look at the critical factors that distinguish a great business plan from a mediocre one. Sahlman suggests anyone seeking investment should realize that savvy investors know that detailed financial projections for a new company are nothing but elements of imagination and assumption. Unfortunately, most business plans spend far too much time on the bottom line numbers--and far too little on the information that really matter to investors. According to the article, great, successful business plans focus on a series of questions. These questions relate to the four factors critical to the success of every new venture: the people, the opportunity, the context, and the possibilities for both risk and reward.
The people, your business team, are the single most important piece of information investors want to know before moving forward. The three issues that investors want to know about the team are: What do they know? Whom do they know? How well do they know what they know and how well do they know who they know? The article provides the following “must answer” questions that must be answered in a business plan.
Where are the founders from?
Where have they been educated?
Where have they worked and for whom?
What have they accomplished - professionally and personally- in the past?
What is their reputation within their business community?
What experience do they have that is directly relevant to the opportunity they are pursuing?
What skills, abilities and knowledge do they have?
How realistic are they about the venture’s chances for success and the tribulations it will face?
Who else needs to be on the team?
Are they prepared to recruit high-quality people?
How will they respond to adversity?
Do they have the mettle to make the inevitable hard choices that have to be made?
How committed are they to this venture?
What are their motivations?
Investors are looking for more than an outline of the market, the industry, customers and competitors. They want to see more than an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses in the context of the marketplace. The article suggests focusing on two critical questions: Is the total market for the business large, rapidly growing, or both? Is the industry now (or can it eventually become) structurally attractive? Below are nine other questions about the business every business plan should answer.
Who are the new venture’s customers?
How does the customer make decisions about buying this product or service?
To what degree is the product or service a compelling purchase for the customer?
How will the product or service be priced?
How will the venture reach all the identified customer segments?
How much does it cost (in time and resources) to acquire a customer?
How much does it cost to produce and deliver the product or service?
How much does it cost to support a customer?
How easy is it to retain a customer?
A new venture must critically evaluate the context under which the business is competing. Context can provide both opportunities and disappointments for a new venture. External forces such as economic conditions of the country, inflation, exchange rate, government rules and regulations all affect the opportunities and the way in which resources are utilized. Not only is it important to include the current context in the business plan, but it is also critical that the investors know you are aware of the changing conditions of the context, how those changes might affect your business, and what management can do in the event that the business becomes unfavorable.
Risk and Reward
A business plan is like a roadmap for your business. In order to write a successful business plan you must look ahead and become a futurist. Investors would rather you pose the potential downside upfront than to learn about it down the road when it is too late. This will require you to acknowledge the inherent risk and talk frankly and openly about the eventual end of the process. Questions such as “how will the investors eventually get money out of the business?” must be answered so that the investors know what they are getting into. “The business plan should be the place where the map is drawn, for, as every traveler knows, a journey is a lot less risky when you have directions.”
As you can see, writing a business plan requires many elements, but the key element is you, the entrepreneur. Even though your business might be your “baby”, a successful business plan will require you to view your baby with the same objective and dispassionate eye that the potential investor will train upon it. Don’t make the common mistake of believing that your project will stand out on its merits alone, for none ever do. No, you must put yourself in the position of investor, and ask yourself what you would need to see to even discuss the possibility of giving a stranger several hundred thousand dollars of your hard earned do-re-mi.
by Marian Berda
As the number of patents for inventions issued in the United States increases each year, universities and the private sector can derive great benefits from an efficient and effective management of their intellectual property assets. At the STLC’s last conference, held in October 2005 and titled The Business Side of Patents, there was a segment on Monitoring and Auditing License Agreements presented by Dave Kettner, Associate Counsel at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). Monitoring and Auditing License Agreements focused on the process of managing an intellectual property portfolio. Dave gave an excellent presentation and spent a great deal of time discussing why universities and businesses need to carefully monitor their IP warehouse, and what electronic management options are available to users. WARF developed its own custom software to assist in managing their existing and future intellectual property assets. In this month’s edition of Tech Talk, we will discuss the Intellectual property management technologies currently available on the market and offer you quite a few links to further information on the topic.
In today’s global economy, intellectual property ownership and management has become a key factor and it is important to the economic health of individual entities. The successful management of intellectual property assets has proven to be as valuable as the intellectual property itself, and, conversely, poor management of IP has lead to headaches and costs for many organizations. The scope, cost and type of benefits will vary greatly depending not only on the size, type and value of the IP portfolio but also on the strategic direction of the organization.
The use of an IP management application can assist your organization in streamlining your intellectual property management, reduce costs, formalize intellectual property administrative practices and maintain your competitive advantage. There are many factors to consider when contemplating building a custom, in-house IP management solution or purchasing a commercial, off-the-shelf product, and we will discuss some of the similarities and differences.
So-called “homegrown” or custom software, written expressly for your organization, may be attractive because of the boundless ability to closely match the solution to your product line or to a specific front end or back end system. Additionally, the viability, cost, flexibility and overall operating characteristics of custom software is totally dependent on the up-front programming and ongoing software management. The organization itself is responsible for ensuring that updates are completed, and support and training are provided. With a commercial application, customizations, although limited, are possible, and the responsibility for system performance (including updates, training and support) rests upon the software company. Although the option to create a program that is unique to your product is understandably tempting, and in some cases preferable, remember that purchasing off-the-shelf software means that you have the power, deep pockets and personnel of the software company behind you, and that often there are user groups, annual conferences, professionally presented trainings and resources that may not be available to your organization if you write an in-house, custom solution. The current commercial intellectual property software systems are feature-rich and robust enough to handle the many facets of intellectual property management needs in most organizations.
Below we have featured (but not endorsed) several commercial intellectual asset management systems currently on the market that will allow some customization to meet specific needs of individual organizations. Keep in mind that although these technologies are prominent in the industry but that this is by no means a comprehensive list.
ANAQUA is a web-based Enterprise Intellectual Asset Management system that includes modules on licensing, litigation & conflict resolution. It enables IP practitioners to control the complete lifecycle of their IP (in addition to docketing). ANAQUA increases revenue, decreases costs & risks and eliminates duplication of effort & re-keying of data. It facilitates collaboration between all involved in the IP process, including brand managers, business units, law firms and (for patents) inventors. ANAQUA has been used by Ford & British American Tobacco since Sept 2002 and has more than 5000 users including over 200 external law firms.
Cognocys, Inc. (http://www.cognocys.com/)
Cognocys software will manage the activities around the development, acquisition, protection, and use of IP. A web-based, standards-based, highly scalable, integrated software system is generally geared towards large organizations.
CPA Software Solutations (http://www.cpasoftwaresolutions.com/home.asp)
CPA Software Solutions is a leading provider of Intellectual Property (IP) software solutions for companies and IP law firms. It offers customized IP software to manage IP portfolios, including patents, trademarks and domain names.
Intellectual Property Online, Ltd (http://www.ippo.com/)
IPPO Trademark Administrator is Trademark Practice Automation Software which provides full text record keeping and trademark document assembly.
InfoPower-IP is a web-based intellectual property software solution that allows you to pro-actively control licensee compliance issues (rather than relying on self-reporting from the licensee). The software product is designed for organizations involved in trademarks, copyrights or technology licensing and provides financial accountability and management of the royalty system process.
IPSoft, Inc. (http://www.ipdox.com/)
IPDOX is a powerful web-based intellectual property portfolio management platform, providing multi-user remote collaboration. Its cornerstone is a highly functional, scalable IP warehouse, continually populated and updated through the normal business process of IP docketing and IP asset management. IPDOX manages the prosecution workflow for 14 IP types across 170 countries. This product is highly scalable and can fit the needs of small and large corporations and law firms.
Intellectual Property Management Software I.P.M.S.® is helpware designed for the management of intellectual and industrial rights, assisting the right owners and/or their representatives. It can organize all files, correspondence, documents, and expenses in one single system operating in a multi-lingual environment. Additionally, the software permits the correspondence to be able to access the I.P.M.S.® database via the Internet for consultation purposes or sending instructions for filing.
The IPSS.NET solution database and software is installed on one of your servers, and as long as the server is on your internal network, Internet Explorer is used to access the system from any networked PC in your organization. The system's functionality enables comprehensive management of Patents, Trade Marks, Designs, Domain Names, Expenditure, Licensed Agreements and Royalties plus 'special' features and includes unlimited user access.
ipWorkflow™ by is a web-based knowledge management system for the IP workplace, including law firms and corporate legal departments.
An integrated software solution for intellectual property professionals in practices of all sizes.
Knowledge Sharing Systems (http://www.knowledgesharing.com/)
Knowledge Sharing Systems (KSS) designs, develops, maintains, and operates Internet-based knowledge sharing systems that manage intellectual assets and share knowledge.
Master Data Center, Inc. (http://www.masdata.com/)
Master Data Center is a provider of Patent Management Software and Trademark Management Software.
MindMatters Technologies, Inc. (http://www.us-mindmatters.com/)
MindMatters Technologies, Inc. accelerates the time-to-commercialization of new innovations and ideas by capitalizing on the latent intellectual capital that exists within corporations.
Patent-Management.net system is a comprehensive online patent management system designed to address the professional and clerical needs of IP professionals. It is a browser-based system using a MS SQL Server database manipulated by web pages. The information is stored in a MS SQL Server Database capable of handling large amounts of data consistent with multiple high-volume cases.
PATTSY® by is an Intellectual Property Management System that has features and an intuitive, easy-to-use interface.
TM Web Sercices, Ltd. (http://www.tmwebservices.com/)
TM Web Services Ltd provides a hosted asp version of WebTMS, the most comprehensive trademark record keeping, docketing and management software system. Small portfolios (up to 2000 records), can access the system online without any investment in hardware or software. Organizations with larger portfolios can install the system on its own servers. WebTMS is modular, with full text records and integrated images. It consists of a MS SQL Server back-end database manipulated entirely by web pages.
UT EKip (http://www.utekip.com/)
UTEKRIP2B Intellectual Property Management Software (IP2B) is a web-enabled enterprise software solution designed especially for companies. This modular package begins with the invention, handles your workflow and docketing all the way to the finished product. Patents, trademarks and more, contacts, agreements, expenses, and documents are all within the scope of this system, and reports are easily generated.
We hope this article has given you plenty of food for IP portfolio management thought, and we want to emphasize that we believe most organizations can benefit from a comprehensive IP management technology based solution. Whether that solution is custom or off-the-shelf will depend on many factors: size and complexity of your portfolio, size of your organization, costs, expertise of your in-house IT staff, etc., etc. Remember that maximizing the value of your intellectual property portfolio requires careful planning and tools to assist with each step of this complex process and that implementation of a technology solution to assist with the many facets of asset management will eliminate at least some labor intense practices and human errors that are inevitable in this complex process. If you are seriously interested in implementing an IP portfolio management solution, we have the following recommendations:
Take your time! Don’t rush into a decision and consider all aspects of your portfolio, not just your biggest money makers (or biggest headache products) of today.
Look at your strategic plan and make sure that the software you choose (or have written) will cover any plans for new products or product line extensions.
Insist on seeing the software in use and talk to users. Yes, call the folks listed on references the company or programmer hands you, but be sure to do some “blind” reference checking (calling companies that are not on their reference list but that are users of the product).
If you decide to purchase a system or have one done for you, remember to include ample training time for your staff. There is nothing worse than having a big, difficult-to-use product for which you staff is not well trained. Training is expensive, but not training is more expensive.
Remember that making the decision to implement a new software solution is the easy part. The hard part is making the transition from one system to another. Regardless of whether your current system is paper or electronically based, data must be inputted into the new system and you will be running two systems concurrently for some period of time. Be sure your personnel needs are well thought out, for learning a new system takes time and learning to trust a new system takes even longer.
Your portfolio will have to be managed while you are in transition between the two systems, so you will have to make provisions for that.
Make sure that your existing business systems such as financial systems and MRP (material requisition planning) systems will integrate with your new solution, or, if that’s not possible, plan on how to share information between the systems.
Ensure that business partners (suppliers, law firms, corporate headquarters, distributors, customers) needs are taken into account when choosing a system.
If you’re considering an off-the-shelf solution, be sure that the software company is a viable entity (asking for financials is not out of the question here) that is in this business for the long haul and that you have a comfort level with the organization’s leadership (and not just the salesperson).
If you’re considering a custom solution, be sure that your organization’s leadership honestly and objectively assesses your current IP staff. Some important questions to ask are as follows: is the staff of adequate size to undertake a programming project of this size and scope? Does the current staff have the technical and people skills needed to undertake this project? Does your geographic area of the world have a ready supply of IP people with the skills needed to undertake the programming of such a project? Is your organization prepared to spend the money necessary to hire folks with the skills that are needed? Does your IT staff train your employees well? Does your IT staff have the customer service ethic that is necessary to provide in house technical support to their own co-workers? Is your IT department ready to staff a help desk function 24/7 (if necessary for your business)? Does your IT department have the leadership that will be required for them to be the centerpiece of a huge corporate undertaking?
As you can see, there are a tremendous number of issues involved in choosing an IP portfolio management system, and we hope we have opened your eyes to a few of them (OK, more than a few). Good luck!
Another cancer myth busted!
Well, it seems that all the cancer-preventing, menopausal symptom-curing,
cholesterol-lowering and heart disease-preventing properties of tofu, tempeh and other soy based products were a bunch of hype. Frankly, we’re never surprised when something that is touted as too-good-to-be-true just isn’t quite as too-good-to-be-true as originally thought (or hyped!). Click on the link for more info, and be glad that no one has debunked the glass-o-vino-a-day claim just yet (not that we would report that one, heh heh).
Will all those BlackBerries turn into chokecherries? Only Judge James knows for sure…
And read all about the anxiety attacks that BlackBerry junkies are having just anticipating the loss of their fix…
Sidewalk Vendors and Flea Market Sellers Everywhere Beware…
It appears that China is going to begin cracking down on fake luxury goods!
A recent effort by the Chinese Authorities to crack down on production
and sale of knock-offs has led to judgments in favor of many companies, including
Starbucks, Gucci and Chanel. China’s recent aggressive stance on trademark
infringement leads many to believe that the world’s fastest growing economy
finally wants to play a part in the global economy.
Hoping for a cursory review of your patent application?
It’s probably not in the cards, for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has proposed changes to the application requirements that could lead to more responsibility on the part of the applicant. The new application requirements were proposed as an attempt to increase the productivity of the USPTO examiners by limiting the number of claims they review and shortening the amount of time an examiner has to spend on each claim.
Big Firms Team Up With Big Universities
Silicon Valley's largest technology firms, such as Hewlett Packard, are teaming up with large universities to develop guidelines that will help to streamline new technology research collaborations and avoid future legal disputes. The guidelines are intended to prevent disagreements regarding who owns what technology. These arguments have, in the past, taken so long to sort out that the technology which everyone is fighting over is no longer cutting edge by the time the brawl is over.
Developing Countries Finally get Easier Access to Medicine
The U.S. government put its stamp of approval on new, compulsory
licensing rules by the World Trade Organization. These rules dramatically decrease
intellectual property barriers faced by developing countries that need drugs to fight life
threatening diseases. The agreement, reached on December 6, 2005, will
enhance access to medicines by allowing countries to override patent rights when exporting life-saving drugs to developing countries that cannot produce drugs for themselves.
Eastern District Of Texas: Is it really Patent Infringement Plaintiff’s best bet?
Mention the Eastern District of Texas, and many patent attorneys are
likely to grimace. The district, the fastest growing patent litigation
docket in the country, has a reputation not only for its speed, but
also for its judges tendency to rule in favor of plaintiffs. Some attorneys attribute the
appeal to the interests of the District Judges and their ability to wrap up a case quickly. Whatever the cause, small town Marshall, Texas has become the IP Rocket Docket.
"Dykes On Bikes" Trademark Granted a/k/a "Not that there's anything wrong with that!"
In a victory for a San Francisco motorcycle group, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted the group a trademark for “Dykes On Bikes”, overturning an earlier decision that called the moniker “too offensive”. After receiving a multitude of testimonials from lesbians in the community, the trademark was approved on December 5, 2005 when examiners found that the term “dyke” was not necessarily considered offensive to the lesbian community.
Don't Know Much About....
Now we must disclose that we aren’t writing this article on Benjamin Franklin just for you, dear readers, or because of a burning interest in American history (oh, the things we have to confess in the name of journalistic integrity). No, we’re writing it on old Ben because it is the tercentenary of his birth *and* because a certain 7 year old is quite enamored of the PBS television show Liberty’s Kids, which is, improbably, an action cartoon set during the Revolutionary War and good Ben Franklin is featured prominently in that show.
Yes, it is true; we are regularly bested by our child and are fervently hoping that by writing about Ben we can impress her with a casually tossed out Franklinesque bon mot or two. Liberty’s Kids, by the by, is an excellent show, and has provided Rosie, at age seven, with a fundamental understanding of the Revolutionary War, slavery, customs and dress of the 1700’s and geographic references to places of interest in the birth of our country. Benjamin Franklin, perfectly voiced by Walter Cronkite, is featured prominently in the show, as are others who actually figured into the events of 226+- years ago. They hook the child viewers in by revolving the (historically accurate) plot lines around kids who are brave, kind, intelligent, idealistic and daring. Trust us when we say that the 5 – 9 year old crowd will love this show, and there are times that our entire family has watched an episode. A quick trip to the website reveals that he cast includes such famous voices as Annette Benning, Warren Buffet (Warren Buffet?), Billy Crystal, Michael Douglas, Whoppi Goldberg, Dustin Hoffman, Norman Schwarzkopf, Maria Shriver, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Ben Stiller. Heh heh, heh, we’re learning things already.
Anyway, besides trying to impress a 7 year old, we thought Benjamin Franklin would be an appropriate topic for the Science and Technology Law Center, for Franklin was an inventor as well as a scholar, economist, printer and statesman.
Ben was born in Boston on January 17, 1706, the 10th child of his father, Josiah, a native of England. Franklin’s mother, Abiah, was a Nantucket native and the second wife of Josiah. Ben had seven half siblings and nine full-blooded sibs. At a young age (the on-line bio’s differ here, so we won’t offer any specific age for this), he began apprenticing in his brother James printing business in Boston. Young Ben did not take well to direction, and abandoned his apprenticeship, which was considered a crime in the days of yore, and young Ben was an honest to goodness fugitive. He first ran to Philadelphia and then London, working in the printing business in both places. By 1728, Ben was back in Philly, and, at the tender age of 23, became the sole owner and publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette.
He also started to publish Poor Richard’s Almanack, which rightly fanned his reputation as an able philosopher and writer. Poor Richard’s did not merely contain Franklin’s writings, though; the works of many were included. Poor Richard’s Almanack was the place where famous Franklinisms first appeared, including “A penny saved is two pence clear” and “Fish and visitors stink in three days.” While those sayings have obviously been subject to some cultural wordsmithing during the ensuing centuries, they were among the writings and quips that contributed to Franklin being known in his day as a sage observer of life and culture. Though his formal schooling ended at age 12, Franklin prized learning and a philosophy group of which he was a member founded the first public library in the United States, in Philadelphia. Franklin also founded the first volunteer fire company and hospital, both located in Philly and the Academy and College of Philadelphia, which would merge with the University of the State of Pennsylvania to become what is now the University of Pennsylvania.
His personal life was quite lively, especially for the times, because young Ben fathered an illegitimate son, William, in 1730, and the woman with whom he spent his life never became his legal wife, for she was married to another man (who had abandoned both her and their marital debts, and fled to Barbados) and she was not free to marry Ben.
Franklin’s life was not a straight line, for he zigzagged back and forth both geographically and in the ways he occupied his time. He lived in England for many years (pre-Revolutionary War) and France for even more (during and post-Revolutionary War), as well as spending a great deal of time in both Boston and Philadelphia.
He was an inventor of such diverse items as the first urinary catheter (his brother had kidney stones, and Franklin endeavored to help him), Franklin stove, bifocal glasses, swim fins, glass harmonica and many electrical and electricity-related inventions and discoveries, including the lightning rod. His scientific curiosity and able mind were legendary in his time, and an honorary doctorate from Oxford University was proffered upon him for his scientific discoveries. For someone whose formal schooling ended at about age 12, this was a huge honor, and Franklin reputedly took great delight in being called “Dr. Franklin” for the rest of his life.
After the Revolutionary War, Franklin became enmeshed in the politics of the day, playing a pivotal role in the framing of the United States Constitution, which was being drafted to replace the Articles of Confederation. Franklin was the only one of the founding father types who signed all three documents that formed the nucleus of the new country: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris and the United States Constitution. Citizens over the legal age take heart; he was also the oldest signer of two of those documents, signing the Declaration of Independence at age 70 and the United States Constitution at age 81.
Franklin died in 1790 at age 84 (and reputedly close to 300 pounds), quite a feat in those days. He left bequests of £1000 ($4400) to both his native Boston and adopted Philadelphia, with the stipulation that it not be used for 200 years. Evidently Boston has better money managers than the City of Brotherly Love (or maybe it’s that famous Yankee cheapness, err, thrift), but somehow, in 1990 when the trusts came due, Boston ended up with $5 million and Philadelphia $2 million, which they both used for educational endeavors and which Philadelphia used to hold mortgages on city homes.
Franklin was a true American original, and we will leave you with a few of his own quotes, some of which you will doubtless immediately associate with Franklin, and some you may not.
Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
Well done is better than well said.
Beware the young doctor and the old barber.
A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.
And, our personal fav:
If you want not to be forgotten
As soon as you’re dead and rotten
Either write things worth reading
Or do things worth writing.
For more info on the life and times of Dr. Franklin, check out some of the links below.
This is a link to Franklin’s autobiography, some of which is available free online:
The United States Printing Office has this primer on Ben, specifically designed for teachers and parents to use in schooling the young ‘uns in American history:
Lots and lots of fun facts to know and tell about Ben are here:
Now, class, after a two month delay for the holidays, when we ran columns that were not on our regularly scheduled programming, we now return you to our usual fare, and this month we will focus on how to develop interview questions.
Let us refresh your memory a bit (while we refresh our own as well). Our last sequential column was in October of 2005 and the topic was hiring teams: how to choose, use and not abuse one. This month we will work on how to develop effective, probing interview questions designed to help you get at the real person lurking underneath the well-dressed and perky candidate veneer.
Some school of thought out there tells all prospective employers to be tough, firm and take no prisoners during the interview process. Those same experts would encourage you to create a hostile atmosphere and make the candidate feel attacked regardless of whether the interview is for a position in which a hostile atmosphere will be part of the job. Now we’ve never interviewed anyone for an investment banker, maximum security prison guard position or movie star personal assistant position, but perhaps those kind of positions require the time-honored “hot seat”, but we truly doubt it.
Now our experience runs more toward regular office-type positions, as well as anything to do with running a manufacturing plant, from janitors to engineers to secretaries to marketing directors and executives, and we’ve never put anyone on that “hot seat” and we never will. It’s just not our style to be that confrontational (no matter our husband tells you) and we don’t believe that a hostile interview process gives the interviewers any more insight into the person than a “creampuff” interview. If you want to watch someone squirm in the hot seat while you interrogate them, have a child, never discipline it and wait 15 years. Then you will have ample opportunity to watch someone squirm in the hot seat, probably quite often.
Nope, during an interview we attempt to be forthcoming with information about the job and company, probing-but-respectful, direct, funny (yes, it is an obsession) and friendly. But woe be tide to the candidate who reads too much into the funny and friendly, we are employing that tactic for a specific reason, for the entire interview process is designed to “disarm as you charm” (man, I ought to copyright that one). You want the person to feel comfortable, let their guard down and tell you the truth. No one is going to tell the truth when they are on the hot seat (you do remember being 15, don’t you??), but they will when they feel relaxed and accepted. So, summing it all up, we attempt to set an atmosphere that is warm and cozy whilst we remain calm, cool and collected and we observe, as dispassionately as possible, the candidates with all of our available senses.
Now that you have our interview philosophy, we can move on to interview questions. The first thing you should do is drag out the job description, advertisement and any other propaganda you have about the job. If you are using a hiring team, gather them together; they are vital to this process because not only will they have strong opinions on what sort of questions to ask, they will feel much more invested in the entire hiring process if you involve them at every turn. If the position has an incumbent, be sure to involve that person or persons as well, for their insight could prove to be invaluable.
First, we urge you to come up with a universal set of questions that you ask all candidates. Of course, you can embellish, ask follow-up questions and ask other questions, but since you want to have a level playing field, we suggest that you come up with a comprehensive set of questions and ask them of every candidate, internal and external. This is important not only from a legal perspective, but because it is fair to ask the same questions of all candidates.
When coming up with interview questions, think about the job in terms of “buckets” of skill sets. One is technical (do they have the technical skills to do the job), one cultural (will they “fit” at your place of employment) and one is general (your typical interview questions and any others that don’t seem to fit elsewhere). When using a hiring team it can be helpful to assign team members to ask a specific set of questions, especially when you have, for example, an engineer asking an engineering candidate the technical questions. We found that pairing hiring team members in a sort of “left brain/right brain” combo works well, putting that engineer with a human resources person, for example. Not only does it help each interviewee to learn more about the other-brained person, it instills in the candidate a perception that this is a workplace where diversity and contrasts are valued and respected, not squashed or ignored.
Also, remember that questions can be multi-part and that sometimes you will be giving them a scenario and asking them to respond instead of asking them a direct question. You are trying to figure out, at the very least, the person’s work habits, skills, motivations, level of allergy to responsibility, insecurities, cultural fit, laziness factorial, honesty quotient, proclivity to be a team player and genuine interest in working for your organization. To get all of those, and more, you have to design questions that will elicit the answers you need to hear, and create enough of a dialogue and interaction with the candidates that will enable you to take that peek into their heart and soul long enough for you to determine if they are “the one”.
We recently had the opportunity to help a group of our co-workers here at Syracuse University come up with interview questions for a “Grants and Contracts Assistant”, and we have included the questions we came up with for your perusal. We should tell you that any questions you use in an interview must be legal and conform to all the laws on hiring practices that cover your country, state, county and municipality, and that if you are an employee of a large entity, that you should check with your human resources department before you endeavor to hire anyone, for their job is to help you fill your positions and they may have a stance on what kind of questions can and should be used.
Finally, brainstorm about the job, either alone or with the hiring team. Think about the key responsibilities, the tasks, the frustrations, the next and previous steps in the work process of the candidate (for the process engineer that might be the production line, for example), the machines the person needs to operate, the machines the person needs to learn, on the job, and develop some questions that reflect those responsibilities. Be sure that most questions are open-ended, that is they cannot be answered by a “yes” or “no” response. (Sometimes it is impossible to avoid a closed ended question, so if you come up with a few, don’t sweat it, just be ready with a follow-up question on that topic.)
Decide where the interviews are to be held, and make sure the environment is quiet, clean and free from distractions for the interviewee and the interviewers. In our opinion, nothing says “rude” more glaringly than an interviewer taking calls, greeting visitors and conducting business during the interview. Offer the candidate a beverage (the non-adult kind, natch) and a comfy seat. We feel obliged to point out that many Generation X, Y and Z members, much to the chagrin of Folger’s et al (and, conversely, much to the benefit of Starbucks et al), don’t drink coffee unless it’s a frothed, sugared, syruped and latte‘d concoction from a $3000 machine. By offering a young candidate a cup of brown mud from the Bunn-O-Matic in the breakroom, you have made yourself out to be a hopeless square, and probably not an employer of choice. The younger generation’s obsession with gourmet coffee not withstanding, we do recommend offering your garden-variety coffee (freshly brewed, please), tea or water to candidates, and don’t be surprised if half the candidates come in toting their own personal bottle of water, it is just what is done these days.
Also make sure you have a copy of their resume and cover letter handy, have your interview questions printed out and ready to use, and have a “show and tell” spiel about what your organization does and how they do it. If you’re not working on top secret, national security stuff, we recommend a quick tour of the facility, including all the highlights like breakroom, restrooms, production lines, the art department etc., etc. Basically, trot the candidates around to any departments that are even slightly interesting and/or unique, because, after all, you are not only interviewing, you are also selling your organization to the prospective candidates, and it’s important not to lose sight of that. It’s also important to remember that the candidates are also interviewing you, and that the best candidates often have multiple choices of employer. You want to impress upon them, in as many ways as possible, that yours is a great place to work, and things that you might think are small (comfy chair, a drink, a demonstration of the products you make or services you perform) are actually quite important to candidates. Make sure that your words, actions and environment in which you interview sends the message that filling this position is a priority. Show the candidates that your organization takes the interview process seriously and that you view the interview as a conversation, not an interrogation.
Grants and Contracts Assistant
Tell us about your computer experience; how much do you have, with what programs and on which platforms?
In which programs would you consider yourself proficient?
Any programs that you don’t currently use and would like to learn?
Give us an example of a frustrating moment you’ve had with a computer. What happened? What role did you play? How was it resolved?
Compare and contrast Excel, Word and Access; give us examples of business functions you would perform with each program. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each program?
Do you have experience in writing queries in Access? If so, walk us through the process and explain the thinking behind how you do this process.
Do you have PowerPoint experience? If so, tell us about the presentations you created.
Have you worked with PeopleSoft or another relational database? If so, tell us how you figured out new features of the software and give us an example of one of those frustrating “computer moments” we’ve all experienced.
Do you have experience with PCs, Mac or both?
Tell us about your general office skills. In which areas do you consider yourself proficient? (I.e. business letter writing, organizational skills, setting up systems, customer service skills, administering paperwork, etc.)
Give us an example of a system you set up and maintained in an office. What did you do? How was it set up? Is it still in use? Did you ever revise it?
Tell us about a typical day at your current position, what are the challenges, victories, “Maalox moments”, etc.
Is your current position one that has many deadlines? Are the deadlines fixed or negotiable?
Tell us about a time when you had to juggle multiple requests for your services from your co-workers. What happened? How were everyone’s requests accommodated?
Tell us about a time when you had a request from a co-worker to re-arrange your workload and schedule to help them complete a project. Did you do it? Why or why not? How was the situation resolved?
A co-worker has just asked you for help with a mailing that you know has to go out today. You are working on an almost completed project that also has a tight deadline. How would you handle that situation?
What questions do you have for us?
What kind of process improvements in systems, procedures or equipment have you made in your current position? Have you made suggestions to your boss? If so, what happened with them? If not, why not?
Tell us about the established systems in your current position. Who set them up? How effective are they? Are there procedures and systems for everything? Have you suggested any improvements?
Give us an example of a time you failed at something. What happened? When and how did you find out you failed? How did you handle it? How did you prevent it from happening again?
Now give us an example of a time you succeeded at something. What happened? When and how did you find out it was successful? How did you handle it? How did you build upon this success? What kind of procedures did you put into place to ensure the success can be repeated?
Within the context of your current job, how flexible are you required to be in a day? Can you give us an example?
Does your current job have frequent interruptions? If so, how do they make you feel?
Can you give us an example of the type, duration and frequency of the interruptions?
Are the interruptions customers, co-worker, your boss or someone else?
In your current organization, are there established systems for deadline management of ongoing projects, one-time projects and routine deadline-oriented tasks? If so, who maintains them and how often are they analyzed and improvements implemented? If not, pick a system/project and tell us how you think it could be improved upon.
Give us an example of a time when you had to meet a deadline. How hard and fast was the deadline? What role did you play? What was the scope of the project? How does deadline pressure make you feel?
How do you deal with externally imposed “short notice” deadlines that conflict with the work plan or activities that you have planned for the next day or next several days? Can you give us an example of a time this happened to you? If so, what happened?
Would you consider yourself a detail oriented and accurate person? Why or why not? Give us some examples.
What are three words you would use to describe yourself? What three words would your current boss use to describe you?
This position requires occasional overtime, primarily in the late afternoon and evenings. Will this be a problem for you?
What do you like to do in your spare time?
How have you/do you serve your community?
What is the most rewarding part of community service to you?
Tell us about the “culture” of your current position, department and company. Do you enjoy it? What would you change if you could change one thing?
The nature of the work we do here is transitional, that is, we have few ongoing projects, and most of our work has a “drop dead” completion date. Have you ever worked in a company or department that performed work of this nature? If so, how did you like it? If not, tell us if you think you would be good at this type of work and why.
What questions do you have for us?
Tell us why you are a good communicator. Do you do better in person, over the phone or in writing? Why? How have your communication skills improved over the years?
What aspects of those skills are you still working on?
Give us an example of a miscommunication in your work environment. What happened? What role did you play? Did anyone learn from the situation or does the same type of situation continue to happen?
Tell us about a time when you had to handle an angry or upset caller or visitor. What happened? Were you able to diffuse the situation or was the phone call or visitor passed on to someone else? What did you learn from that experience?
Let’s say a client asks you a question for which you don’t have the answer. How would you handle that situation?
In this position, you will interact with a very diverse range of “clients”, including students asking for change for the vending machines, administrative staff from the various schools and colleges, faculty members from a wide range of academic disciplines and professional backgrounds and senior university officers. What skills/traits/abilities/ experience do you have or possess that would enable you to respond competently and professionally to the inquiries of this very wide range of people?
What do you consider the important elements of a business letter or email?
In your current position, do you compose business letters or type what others have composed?
In what kind of work environment are you most comfortable?
How do you like to interact with your co-workers?
What are your expectations of a boss?
What are your expectations of your co-workers?
Are you actively seeking employment or did you just apply for this position?
Why are you applying to SU?
Why are you applying for this job?
Why should we hire you for this job?
After hearing about this job, what do you feel you could “bring to the party”?
What questions can we answer for you?
Now that you have read the handiwork of our hiring team, we would like to think that your first thoughts were along the lines of “My land, who thought up those insightful and incisive questions? Why they are simply brilliant and get to the essence of the job and culture of the organization.” However, we are realists, so we expect your first thoughts were more like “Man, I’d never want to be asked about failures, problems and communication issues in an interview.” And that, my HR wanna-be friends, is precisely the point. No one gets past hour two in the workforce without making a mistake of some kind, and we’ve found in our years that people who can identity, admit and learn from mistakes are the kind of employees we want to hire, hence those questions. Also, we hope that after reading the questions, you have a sense that we were looking for a detail-oriented person with excellent communication skills, the ability to thrive in a fast-paced environment, tact, diplomacy, good administrative skills, interest in and affinity for working as part of a team and ability to prioritize work and adhere to strict deadlines. Those are the qualities that we were hoping to identify and hire for in that position, and we think it comes through pretty clearly in the interview. This is not a bad thing; in fact, it’s a good thing, for it makes it crystal clear to the candidate what you value in an employee, skill and “fit” wise.
We leave you with one final interview question, an odd one, to be frank, but a woman with whom we worked ages ago used it without fail, and she had good results.
Now you know that we are not completely off our rocker (partly, yes, to this we freely admit, but not fully), this question is a droll way of getting at a candidates priorities, creativity and ability to think on their feet. And the question is…
If you would be any kind of a shoe, what kind would you be and why?
In our own defense (read the “not crazy” statement above), think about what you would think if a candidate said “I’m a candy-apple red, patent leather, made-in-Italy, 4” stiletto heeled pump”? We think that answer, umm, says certain things about the candidate. On the other hand, if the person said, “I’m a dark brown, Vibram soled, waterproof, steel toed, lace-up hiking boot”, well, that also says certain things about the candidate. We are not saying that a person who describes him or herself as a candy apple red stiletto is a poor choice of employee. Nope, we’re saying that a person who describes himself or herself as a candy apple-red stiletto probably has certain personality characteristics, ones you may or may not want in a worker for the position you are trying to fill.
So, what kind of shoe are you? Something to ponder on your ride home tonight. (And in case you were wondering, we're a candy-apple red stil...nah, we aren't at all, and we won't even try to fool you by saying we are, though our husband, well, never mind. We're actually a dark brown, nubuck, rubber soled clog. Appropriate with jeans, skirts (well, casual ones anyway) and dress pants, wearable 12 months a year, pretty waterproof, non-slip, slightly stylin' (at least to our eye) and comfy to walk in, even for long distances. See, it's fun! Write and tell us what kind of shoe you are, we dare you. We'll print the resonses that our highly biased judges think are the most clever in a future edition of the Innovation e-Review.)
Since it is January, we here are the Innovation e-Review are carpeing the (new) diem and presenting, faithful readers, a new monthly feature entitled WebSite SpotLite (we’re all about alliteration, rhyming and catchy names here, as you may already know). Yes, we will be donning our miner’s helmet and drilling way down into the vast tectonic plates of information, resources and links residing deep in our Web site and presenting you with a synopsis of a different feature each month.
Since we are in our usual “eat dessert first” mode, January’s WebSite SpotLite features our largest and most ambitious posting, the Internet Technology Commercialization Guide. This comprehensive guide features extensive sections on Technology, Intellectual Property, Regulatory and Legal Issues, Technology Commercialization Support, Market Analysis, Subject Index and footnotes (beaucoup footnotes). We wanted to call it “Everything You Wanted to Know About Technology Commercialization* (But Were Afraid to Ask), but, darn, that name was already taken, so we settled on Internet Technology Commercialization Guide.
If you are a student yearning to know how to get the dirt on a company, a researcher trying to find that elusive document, a professor wondering where to find a scintillating bit on a perhaps slightly humdrum subject or just your average, every day thrill seeker, you should take a moment to check out the guide. It is an impressive document, and will provide you with endless hours of entertainment. Also, it’s free and doesn’t require potty training, so it’s definitely cheaper than a puppy or a kid (both of which are entertaining, but hardly free).
For a direct link to the Internet Technology Commercialization Guide, click here:
It is password protected, but we’ll let *you* in, just click on the “Don’t have a password?” line on the cover page and – presto! – through the wonders of technology, we will provide it to you. So, get busy, click on the link and see what an impressive job Ted Hagelin’s students did putting this baby together.