Too many words, not enough time.

Patents, that wonderful legal process which protects inventors from having their ideas stolen, is pretty important today, and especially so in the field of technology. As something of a technology refusenik, mostly rejecting such things as Facebook (though clearly not blogs) these patents are of little interest; it is a young mans game I think.

You might imagine my surprise then to discover that not only is the head of the patent office in the USA is an 84 year old man, one James Bilington but that he recently changed the existing policy to make “unlocking” a cell phone illegal and subject to a $500,000 fine and five years in prison.  Just in case you didn’t get that, I’ll say it again, a $500,000 fine and five years in prison.

Let’s just get this straight. You buy a phone on a 2year contract and at the end of that period you have one of three choices. Either to have a new contract with the same supplier, you throw the phone away, or you risk the fine/prison option, unlock the phone and go to a different carrier.

It is reckoned that there are some 30 million unlocked phones in the USA so clearly this would be good news not only for the two controllers of the cell phone business in the USA, AT&T and Verizon, but a big boost to the privatised prison system. A win win as some might say. But now OBAMA has stepped in to spoil the party siding with the 114,000 petitioners who thought this idea was bad for rest of the USA population. It looks like the policy will be overthrown.The above is 286 words. The original article of 1100 words which inspired me can be found here, if you have the time.


Difficult days in the Ukraine.

As Winston Churchill said, jaw jaw (talking) in better than war war, so that fact that President Obama spent 90 minutes talking to President Putin about the Crimea issue is to be welcomed. Perhaps not so is the reported outcome, “Obama warns Putin” for warn is a poor choice of words. It suggests that Obama is speaking down to Putin, like a father might speak to a son and that is not, in my opinion, the way to go.

That Russia has significant interests in the Crimea is clear and these have to be protected, as does the welfare of the many Russian citizens and speakers living in the Ukraine. But these genuine concerns must not be permitted to undermine the ability of the Ukrainian people to  govern themselves, without outside interference from any quarter.

What is strange is that any in the Ukraine would demonstrate in support of the ousted President, representing as he does a kelptocracy rapped up in the national flag. I suppose they would say, “he may be a thief, but he is our thief”.

Rulers who uses their power to steal their country’s resources.

Pollution in China

This is again big news so I thought I would mention my own experience. Three or four years ago I visited a brand new factory in China which was producing very high quality textiles with a weldable coating. It is the sort of thing used in inflatable  mattresses. The process is quite elaborate and highly technical comprising of a row of cabinets side by side and extending over about 30 mtrs. Each cabinet had flashing control panels reminiscent of early computer systems. It really was a quite  impressive example of state of the art fabric lamination.

I notices the heating pipes running through the plant and asked if they were steam or hot oil. “Hot oil” the boss replied. “Interesting” I said, “how do you heat the oil”. “Let me show you” he replied, and took to the back of the facility where there was a man shovelling coal into a furnace. “This is the cheapest way to heat”, he said.

Of course the amount of pollution added by this factory is just a drop in the ocean. Unfortunately, there are so many drops that we are sure to drown! Or perhaps not. As a child I did survive the great London Smog of 1953 where the air was so bad that I couldn’t see my extended hand in front of my face and found my way home from school by following the edge of the pavement.

Trans Atlantic tit for tat

It often amazes me that the captains of big, really big companies get things so spectacularly wrong. Of course taking risks is part of an entrepreneur’s task, and some failures are to be expected but three cases in the recent past stand out since they perfectly illustrate Americans getting it wrong about Europe and Brits screwing it up in the USA.

The first case to consider is that of the Ford motor company of the USA which, in 1989 purchased the iconic Jaguar and Land Rover cars for $2.3 billion. $10 billion of investment later and in 2008 they sold them both to the Indian car company Tata Motors for, yes you’ve guessed it, $2.3 billion.

What took them so long, you might ask since by 2004 commentators were asking, “How could Ford have got it so wrong? Is this the end for Jaguar or does it still have a future? What might become of it and what will it take to revive its fortunes and once again be the car that one day every small boy would aspire to own?”

How they got is so wrong is, in my opinion the a perfect example of an concept I have developed over the years, “Accountants know how to save money, but they don’t know how to create wealth”. Creating wealth takes vision and imagination. If your aim is to save money, and maximise revenue from what you currently have, you are not in the game.

Though not of the same scale, the decision by Tesco, the third largest food retailer in the world to enter the USA market with the concept store “Fresh and Easy” was a disaster waiting to happen. Knowing nothing of food retailing myself I had visited the USA enough times to realise that this is a highly competitive and professional market with very few “gaps” to exploit. £150 million later and Tesco are out.

But perhaps Tesco should feel itself lucky to get out so cheaply. The worlds leading food retailer Wal-Mart is thought to have lost $1billion in the German market between 1997 and 2006 before it too gave up.

And how has Jaguar/Land Rover faired with Tata? “Losses in 2009 were reversed as turnover trebled by 2013, and Jaguar Land Rover has recorded billion pound-plus annual profits for the last three years, adding around nine thousand employees to date with plans to recruit 1,700 more.

Trouble ahead for Turkey

Ukraine in flames, Egypt in the hands of the military. Why? Both former governments seem to have adopted the commonly held misconception among those new to democracy that when a government is elected it represents the people who elected it. In fact a Government has to represent the overall interests of the entire population. Ignoring these interests is the path to civil disorder.

In Egypt the Morsi government  choose to pursue a strongly partisan agenda by the imposition of an Islamist code yet only 52% of the electorate voted and of these only 51.7% voted for him. So with only 26.88% true supporters of his policies is it any wonder that it “ended”, as we say to children, “in tears”.

The situation with Yanukovych in the Ukraine is a little different in that it may have been in the best financial interests of the Ukraine to be close to Russian, but clearly a substantial part of the population disagreed, and given the history of the past 100 years, probably correctly so. Financially they may come to regret it but sometimes money alone is not enough.

Next to watch could well be Turkey where the conservative government of Abdullah Gül and Recep Erdoğan seems set on eroding the secular principles of the state as established by the founder of modern Turkey Kamal Ataturk. A lot of young Turks (there is a pun here but a bit obscure) and indeed some older ones, seem to disagree with him. We have already seen one protests, more could well follow, inspired by the recent events in the Ukraine and Egypt.

English in Vienna