A Patent Rant.

Andrew R H Girdwood is a very smart fellow. He's already posited that my new IPGeoTarget system is likely based on proxying, and of course he's correct - it really can't be done any other way.

Well, there is one other way - one could alter the geographic tag for an IP, either directly at the IP Mapping provider or after the fact, like a private database. Both of these have issues - mainly the problem of shared IP addresses. The real answer to the whole geolocation mess is to identify *domains* (or better yet, pages and directories) as geographically located using something additional to a ccTLD. I'm leaning towards either a metatag or an entry in a robots.txt file, myself.

Registering with Google would only help for Google, and not everyone wants to register everything they do with Google, particularly since they have been acting less and less like idealists, and more like a shareholder-owned corporation (unsurprisingly).

In particular, companies located outside of the US are hesitant to give additional information to companies (like Google) that are easily targeted by US laws that may not have their best privacy interests at heart. The feeling sometimes outside the US is that anything the Chinese government can order Google to do, so can the US government, and better, since that's where the head office is. It's not that they actively distrust them, it's just that international companies tend to not get to where they are by being blindly trusting with their data.

So until the search engines get together on this issue, it's going to continue to be an issue. Even afterward, it would still be nice to speed up connection times to visitors without having to physically move a site - there are reasons other than geolocation to use this type of technology.

Anyway, Andrew also posts a worry that I may be trying to patent a technique that's already been done, or that tries to lock down common internet technology. I'll directly address that, since it's a legitimate concern and he's right to bring it up.

1) To the best of my knowledge, it's not covered/prevented by prior art (though of course almost everything on the internet has some sort of prior art connection simply by being on the internet), and

2) I'm not trying to patent the concept of a proxy, IP address, "Click to buy" button or anything that basic or obvious. Though you'd be surprised what can be patented nowadays.

At least, I hope so on the second item - every patent applicant has either nagging doubts or is delusionally self-important. I think my teen-aged delusions of infallibility have been quashed out of me after years of being in flame wars on forums, working with non-profit organizations, and having a family. I guess it's up to the patent office to ultimately decide, and for now I'm leaving it to them. The point is that I'm acting in good faith and trying to make things better, not prevent competition or cash in on anyone else's hard work.

Beginning of Patent Rant

I'm changing topics now - this has nothing to do with Andrews post. I'm just on a role and am too lazy to start a new post. Besides, if you read this blog you are probably used to really long, wandering posts by now. It's because I type exactly like I talk.

I've been asked several times what I would do if the patent office said no to my poor pending patent proposal for pinpointing positioning (how's that for an alliteration?), and I'm drawing upon my previous experience as the patent manager for a company with 72 patents worldwide for the answer.

The answer is that it doesn't matter. Surprised? Then you don't know as much about patents as you think you do. Experienced patent lawyers would not be surprised by my attitude (though they may be dismayed at the thought of losing all that money made during the process), and I'll tell you why.

At the end of the day, a patent is simply protection for a business idea, so if you can't make a business work from it, you've wasted your time on what is basically an ego trip. So patents don't matter, business concepts do. There, I said it.

It's more important to have a legitimate and profitable business than a patent, and some people (notably inventors, dreamers and narcissists) never seem to really get that, which is too bad, because then they get screwed by businesses that may not be as creative, but have a stronger drive to succeed and profit.

It happened to the original inventor in my previous company - he's broke now and doesn't even own any shares in his own company anymore, which is still going strong. The last I heard he was in hiding. That's what happens when you trust venture capitalists to run your company for you while you hope to rake in the royalties.

I was part of the "cleanup crew" hired after his original company imploded when the VC's exercised their "exit strategy", and I learned a lot from the experience.

In particular, I learned 2 very important lessons from the whole mess:

1) You don't have control over the patent process - other people do. Lawyers, competing companies with their own patents, owners of prior art patents who think they also own everything even slightly related to their own patents,, law firms that buy vague patents and then make money suing people at the drop of a hat, "free spirits" who don't think anything should be patented/copyrighted/trademarked, naysayers who think everyone else's ideas are always wrong, friends who are worried you might be hurt, and, of course, the patent office. And not just the patent office, the particular patent examiner you get. Then the whole thing starts over in every single country in the world that you try to patent in. I'm surprised anyone bothers to even try anymore!

2) You DO have control over your business - unless you give it up. Too many people think that if they get a patent then they can sit back and let the royalties roll in while others do all the work. Well, it's not that easy in the real world, which is why usually the only patent holders you meet that are rich are those that are astute business people, and it was their business dealings that made them rich, not the patent. IBM makes tons of money on royalties from it's patents, but it's not because they sit around waiting for people to send them money - they work the angles and earn the royalties actively. The patent process itself can make you broke very quickly. Therefore, forget the patent, and focus on the idea. Is it a good idea? Great! Go make it work. Who cares if you don't have the patent yet? The fact that you are at "Patent Pending" generally scares off those that care about such things, and for those that don't, they don't care about whether the patent is granted or not.

I am personally aware of a well-known person in the SEO world with a patent that Google and Yahoo are both flagrantly in violation of. It didn't seem to stop them at all. This person knows if they sue it will likely be more trouble than it's worth. So really, what is the patent worth? Once again, it's not the patent, it's the business. Learn that lesson well before you decide to patent anything.

(I don't think this person is trying to keep this a secret, since otherwise they would not have done something as public as a patent, but I'll let them identify themselves or not as a courtesy, just in case.)

In the meantime, I'm going to proceed on the basis that even if the patent office disagrees with me, the usefulness of a company being able to open an account at IPGeoTarget.com, type in their URL or domain, choose a target country, and then be geolocated to that country with little other fuss or muss, will be a viable business model.

As a matter of fact, I'm about to spend a whole bunch of money on exactly that. The patent is icing on the cake and a nice angle in a sales pitch or press release. But a patent is not a business. Work on what you can actually control, and for the rest, do your best to set things up so they end up in your favor, then forget about it and deal with things as they come.

Bottom line: Thinking of applying for a patent? Make a detailed business plan first, because that's what it's really all about.


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