Friday, October 26, 2012

IP Law and Business Plan Competition

In the second half of October, our TI:GER class has started to focus more on intellectual property and patent law. Our weekly classes have been held at Emory with great guest lecturers that are able to tailor these legal concepts to an audience with a wide range of backgrounds. While I don't think law school is for me, it has been very interesting to get an insight into the patent process and how it relates to innovation. For instance, there are strict rules surrounding the timing of public disclosure or display of an invention and filing for a patent. This will be very important for out team as we seek outside help on our project because it limits what we can share about our product in the absense of a non-disclosure agreement. I'll also need to watch what I say in this blog- luckily most of the disclosure related to our project is of a highly technical nature and I wouldn't understand it enough to describe it accurately.

We are also conducting a prior art search for our product. This involves finding references (usually previous patents or academic papers, but other sources are included) to materials or processes related to our product. A solid understand of what is and is not novel about our idea will determine what the claims of our eventual patent can be. We would obviously like for our patent to be as general as possible because that would force more companies operating in a similar space to pay licensing fees for use of our patent. We are also generating a list of patents that we will need to license use of to produce our product as well. The interdependency of patents in manufacturing has been a very interesting concept to learn academically and I'm excited about applying it to our project in particular.

Our TI:GER team has also been debating participation in the Georgia Tech BPC. This annual competition compares start-up business models that groups of GT students have created. These models can either be a purely academic exercise, or as a precursor to actually creating a start-up venture. While the competition isn't until next semester, there is an outstanding lecture series on alternating Tuesday nights that help walk teams through the process of upgrading an idea to a business. While we cover a lot of this material in TI:GER, these lectures are presented by Venture Lab and provide a slightly different perspective than the TI:GER lectures (focusing less on the legal and technical challenges). My main take away from the lecture this week was the importance of customer identification and need. Much more research has been done for our TI:GER project on the solution (PhD) than the problem. In response, we're planning on getting out in the field and doing customer and market research in the coming weeks to understand the extent and the responses to mobile power generation. I'm looking forward to understanding more of this complex issue and tailoring our solution to meet a generic need.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Berry College Ropes Course

This Saturday (10/6/2012) the first year TI:GER students headed to north Georgia to participate in a team building ropes course at Berry College. This was an excellent opportunity for us to get away from campus/the classroom and get to know our team mates in a unique environment. The staff at Berry College is very versed in running team building and development programs using a blend of both "on the ground" activities as well as at heights up to 70 feet in the air. When we first arrived at Berry, we started with lunch. This allowed us to socialize with the class and with the facilitators that would be helping us out throughout the day. We were assigned bucket "lockers" that also doubled as our seats for the day.

 After lunch we moved into large group activities. We played a few games to get our energy level up (squirrels vs dogs and a few other variations of extreme tag) and help get us loosened up for the more serious team building activities coming up. Following these events, and some basic introductions, we moved into our groups. As we were focused on team building throughout the day, these groups were based on our TI:GER teams. Below is a great shot of my team getting ready to crush some communication exercises!

These communication exercises involved one group (PhD, JD, or MBA) of team members to view a model of a statue (hula hoops and nerf balls) and communicate the design to another group. The second group would only hear the design and then communicate it to the third group who would have to recreate the statue. It was like a giant game of "technical" telephone and really showed some places where our communication as a team was strong and some areas where it needed improvement. After allowing one groupDue to a personal fear of heights, this was my favorite activity of the day! 

After we finished the communication activities, we moved over to the low ropes course. Low ropes allow practice in team work and provide safety training. One member of the team would climb on an element (usually a tight rope or a series of tire swings) while the others served as spotters to make sure the up-member would be safe. This provided good practice for serving on the belay line later that afternoon.
Finally our day culminated with a climbing tower. This large structure had 3 different ways to ascend and we were (again) divided into teams to attempt to scale the tower. Two team members would go up on the tower at a time while the other three would control the belay cables that prevented falls or serious injury. This type of exercise truly builds trust and strengthens teams. You learn to appreciate the people that were making sure you didn't fall 70 feet!
In the end, it was a great day of team building and a lot of fun as well. In the week after Berry College, I can feel the difference in closeness among the teams. I can't wait to get started on the legal-focused classes the next few weeks at Emory and work on developing our product elevator pitch!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Myers-Briggs II and Legal Mentors

Last Friday, our team met for a brainstorming session in an attempt to select a product for our TI:GER project. Our PhD works with a technology that has a tremendous amount of applications and narrowing our focus down to one (or a few) has proven to be a complex task. For now we have short listed 4 ideas and are working this week to research and trim the list down. These debates are dominating most of our team discussion for the time being. As we learned last week, conflict in the early stages of a project can help the team achieve higher levels of success. By struggling to reach a team consensus, we are putting more effort in selecting the best project to pursue and this should pay dividends later in the project.

In class today (10/1/2012) we received not only our Myers-Briggs results, but also a graphical representation of our team mates and class mates. Our results were discussed as a class (we differ from the national average in a few categories) and also within our teams. Once the results were handed out, we took 20 minutes to discuss the implication of our personality types within our team. In my team, for example, we are all N (intuitive) type. This means that we are all more likely to trust information that is abstract or theoretical and look for how new information fits in with other patterns. It is important to view this information as both an opportunity for success and a potential for failure. The opposite of this personality type (S) tends to be more detail oriented and prefers hard data to abstract stories. Venture capitalists and others to whom we pitch our business may be S types that will require tangible numbers to support our ideas.   Knowing this is a potential area of weakness for our team, we will be taking care throughout the TI:GER project to pay attention to the details and look for concrete data to support our decisions.

For the second part of class, we met our legal mentor. Jonas Jarvholm, PhD from Ballard Spahr has offered his time to assist our team with any patent issues that may arise. With 4 years of patent agent experience, Jonas was able in our first meeting to provide some valuable insight on what exactly patent rights are and how these may affect our idea selection.                 We will be getting a better introduction to patent law next Monday during our first class held at Emory. For now, we’re focusing on our Friday team meeting with the faculty to make our initial elevator pitch. Look for an update on that (and our ropes course adventures at Berry College!) next week.


In our first week in teams, our TI:GER focus turned to soft skills. There are numerous difficulties that arise when forming teams and these problems are often compounded with multi-disciplinary teams.  In our class period, we discussed the focus and objective of the three different degree tracks (MBA, JD, PhD) and looked for areas where common ground (or conflict) could be found. Not surprisingly, the MBA group was more results driven as opposed to process driven. The PhD’s have unique challenges of publishing that aren’t present for the other groups and the law students have their ever important class rank to worry about. Understanding the different approaches we are taking towards our grad school experiences, and narrowing these approaches down to the TI:GER program in particular, will hopefully help us avoid many of the unproductive types of conflict that may arise throughout the semester.

In the second half of class, we had a guest speaker come in to discuss Myers-Briggs types. If you’re unfamiliar with these personality tests, here’s the Wikipedia link: After taking the assessment as a class, we reviewed the various personality types and discussed how each type can contribute to a project. After weeks of very hard skills classes, it was nice to have a break and discuss a field without a right or wrong answer. By becoming more aware of your own personality type, you can target where you fit best within an organization and identify weaknesses. I think by understanding more about ourselves, we can have frank team discussions about how we work best, what we’re good at, and what we need help in. This week was the first part of a crucial “team forming period” that I’ll be writing about for the next few weeks.