Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

A Paranoid Entry: Albert Einstein the Clerk.

Posted on: May 24, 2008

Well, for those of you who aren’t aware, as part of the work in the Indian Institute of Technology, we file a lot of patents every year. It used to be the case that faculty members who are working on something would file for a patent without even cross-referencing what is already out there and patented, and would just wait it out till they get a patent rejected, or in some cases of amusement, an acceptance of a patent for a very well known technology – the flaws of the indian patent system is a healthy debate for another day.

Coming back to the present day and age, most of the patents that we file which are commercially focused, we do a little bit of groundwork as to who is working on what and what is already patented, and there is a fair bit of strategic positioning that goes into how you want to leverage your IP to hedge towards future opportunities. It’s a fun excercise.

Here’s where the paranoid bit comes in. Most of the time, we use strings of keywords to search through patent search engines, and at times even Google’s patent search engine to find out what already exists out there. If you are smart, you’d have figured out where I am going with this.

Let me form my base of reasoning here. Most businesses have three kinds of activities that go on with every interaction that happens with a customer. The First is the straightforward transaction. The second is in understanding the needs of the customer and evolving their next product line. And the third, which a lot of folks also miss, is the data that you have of all the interactions that have gone on with you and your customer. Understanding your customer, which also means understanding a very niche market segment and with behavorial patterns and data is a very lucrative asset – one that is rarely put to use by most companies. If you are planning a marketing campaign, be it digital or offline, the data you collect, observe and dissect later on, might even hold mysteries to turning your company around later on at some point in time.

So coming back to the paranoid self, I am applying these three cases to the sites which offer me these services to search. For one, I search and get the search results which translates to pageviews and advertisements which is good for these companies. The more I search, the feedbacks that I provide helps them improve their service. And there is also this thing where I am a little worried as to what happens to all these search queries that I have put into this engine, which if analysed properly, can give out what I have in hand as my core IP to start off with.

I used to use vague terms such as “Mobile+Speech” but, then there are results that throw out in the thousands that it takes ages to go through all of them. When I was living in a different continent under a different system, our IP law team made sure to keep an eye on what patents were already out there, what we had created, and also they had a list of all the pending patents, which helps to ensure that we are in the current, and are positioned well. I am not sure we have a way of tracking “pending patents” here in India yet.

There are some controversies that Albert Einstein was a clerk in a Patent office and it is quite possible that most of his theories were influenced by the applications that came in. Imagine that, sitting in a patent office and you get to sift through countless research, delivered in a form which is easily digestible, coming right at ya. Sometimes the controversy does seem to be leaning towards a case against Einstein. If he did get “influenced” by those ideas, then perhaps he did exploit an opportunity quite well, lived and died, so he doesn’t care anymore either. I am, at times worried if these search engines are doing the same task.

I am not saying that these engines are using these keywords to start looking up, or feeding that data to people who could leverage them and translate them into IP. But what I am saying is that, a startup, or an academician needs to be aware that the possibility exists. Do use your discretion on the matter.


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