Business cards -- or books for review?

This Kat has long had a fascination for the way his American colleagues conduct their professional and business relationships.  This is not just because they appear far more skilled in projecting themselves but also because they do so in more innovative and memorable ways.  One example of this is the use of books as business cards.  Many of us announce our presence by offering a business card -- a tiny piece of cardboard bearing our names and often crammed with a mass of contact details of minuscule proportions. The card may be kept or, more often, lost, handed over to a secretary who will dutifully keep it and add its details to one or more mailing list, used for jotting down notes or, in cases of extreme emergency, deployed as a surrogate toothpick.  But an enterprising American will, as likely as not, hand you something too big to lose and too interesting to throw away -- a book with his name on the cover.  Apart from its permanence, the book also announces that its donor is an author, a scholar, an authority and a person with a following.  If the recipient takes the trouble to read it, he will generally find this exercise agreeable, since its text is crafted not as a dry means of imparting information but as a necessary step in the development of a relationship.  The IPKat has several of these books in his collection, enough to convince him that it is a genre. Two books that appear to fit this description are reviewed below.

Harvesting Intangible Assets: Uncover Hidden Revenue in Your Company’s Intellectual Property is the latest in a series of books produced by the prolific and etnthusiastic Andrew J. Sherman for the attention of the business community.  According to the publishers, Amacom, this book offers a framework and the tools to rebuild American business on a foundation of innovation and knowledge:
"Innovation is widely hailed as the key to seizing competitive advantage and sustaining profitability. Yet, most companies allocate little structured attention to cultivating this precious resource. Why, in the age of know-how, show-how, relationships, and best practices, do companies routinely overlook the critical need to manage and extract value from creativity and knowledge? Why, in a business climate demanding transparency and accountability, is there a striking lack of discipline regarding assets we can’t necessarily touch, but that are clearly driving the lion’s share of revenue for Apple, Google, IBM, 3M, Amazon, Netflix, Priceline, and countless other companies? [Good questions, which can sometimes be answered by reference to the dynamic of small businesses. Before they are trading successfully they are scrabbling furiously for a foothold in the market and find it hard to consider their IP a manageable asset. Once they are up and running, the need to manage and extract value doesn't seem quite so critical any more]

In [this book] Andrew J. Sherman challenges business leaders to question the popular motivational approach to fostering innovation and creativity, as well as the standard emphasis on balance sheets over home-grown processes, informal collaborations, and employee expertise. Based on his work with some of the world’s most innovative and successful companies, Sherman presents systematic methods for managing, measuring, maximizing, commercializing, and protecting the greatest sources of value—concrete, bottom-line, as well as shareholder value—in today’s information-centric, innovation-driven world.

Reaching out to leaders at all levels in companies of all kinds, from executives at Fortune 1000 corporations to start-up entrepreneurs, Sherman urges readers to strive to transform business as usual [He really does reach out. This style of writing, which is peculiarly American, is always accessible and almost compulsive at times]. “Innovation includes new approaches, new business models, new channels, new value propositions, new pricing, new packaging, and new marketing and branding strategies,” he makes clear. “Not all innovation is breakthrough and life changing, but it often can provide new product lines, new services, new revenue streams, and new profit centers for companies of all sizes ....”
The IPKat chuckled when he read at page 216 the proposition that "We [i.e. the Americans] often forget (and underappreciate) the size and strength of the U.S. economy ...". This Kat's experience over the past three decades is the exact opposite. US businesses focus so firmly on their domestic market and its attractive prospects that they often forget to sort out any type of policy for protection, marketing and value extraction for their IP in that cosy little place which we affectionately call "the rest of the world".

With big print, short crisp sentences and plenty of bullet-points, tables and white spaces, this book reads a lot more quickly than you imagine when you first pick it up.  If you plan to read it on a long flight, have the next book ready for when you finish this one ...

Bibliographic data. Hard back, xviii + 270 pages. ISBNs13: 9780814416990 and10: 0814416993. Rupture factor: low. Book's website here. Other books by the same author here.

Great Patents: Advanced Strategies for Innovative Growth Companies is edited by David B. Orange (a patent attorneywith Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, Washington, DC, an activist in the start-up space as an investor and advisor -- and an expert in delegation of hard work to others, judging by the way he has farmed out the substantive text of this book to a team of eleven contributors).

Regular readers of this weblog will already know the ground upon which, irrespective of the excellence or otherwise of the text, the IPKat will criticise it. Yes, the cover provides the sad and sorry evidence for all to see: the cliched light bulb as a visual synonym for invention. Worse, so far as feline perception can verify, it's not even one of the new, energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and depressingly dim light bulbs which we Europeans have persuaded ourselves to accept. Instead, it's of those nasty old-fashioned electricity-guzzlers that actually gives out a decent ration of light to those of us who choose not to live in perpetual dusk.

The IPKat is also not entirely comfortable about the bit of the title which appears in large red capitals. He first assumed that the book was going to be a catalogue of patents that changed the world -- including that great European contribution to civilisation, Nikola Tesla's light bulb. Resisting the urge to offer it up for review by an unemployed patent attorney, he turned over a few pages and discovered that it was nothing of the sort. As the publisher, Logos, tells us:
"Patents are more than just legal forms for lawyers to fill out or clubs to use in infringement lawsuits [Well, not even Merpel at her most cantankerous is going to argue with this proposition]. They can also provide value by persuading your would-be competitors to pursue other opportunities, or a vendor to switch suppliers [You have to be careful in the UK if you try to use your patent to persuade a vendor to do this: you're just as likely to risk liability for making groundless threats to sue for infringement ...]. Patents can also bring in money through licensing, patent pools, and attracting investors. 
Yet, for all the books on patent strategy there is a gap between the primers, intended for those with minimal patent knowledge, and the advanced books, serving practicing legal professionals. Great Patents: Advanced Strategies for Innovative Growth Companies fills this critical gap. ...

By combining the voices of a diverse set of industry insiders with extensive experience, Great Patents prepares founders, managers, investors, and other innovative company executives to position themselves and their companies for commercial success".
So this is not a book about great patents, it's a book about how to create great patents. And, in much the same way as those articles in ladies' magazines write about Great Sex and explain that you don't need vast knowledge or great experience to achieve it, this book teaches much the same about Great Patents -- you don't need to be an expert so long as you (to paraphrase the publisher) position yourself and your company for success.

Having said all this, the book is every bit as easy and compulsive a read as is Harvesting Intangible Assets, reviewed above. The authors generate the same comfortable, confidence-generating buzz in much the same manner. This Kat confesses that, if he were to embark on either a reasonably long flight or, more seriously, a career in one of the innovation-driven sectors of industry and commerce, he would feel far happier with a book like this to read, and if necessary re-read, than with the sort of earnest, over-detailed, often defensively-written and even more often uninspiring prose which is put before the aspiring entrepreneur on this side of the Pond.

Bilblographic data: Soft and hard covers. 198 pages. Soft cover ISBN: 978-1-934899-18-2 and price US$74.95. Hard cover ISBN: 978-1-934899-17-5 and price $89.95. Rupture factor: nil. Book's web page here.
Business cards -- or books for review? Business cards -- or books for review? Reviewed by Jeremy on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 Rating: 5

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