Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Windmills of the Gods...

... grind slowly but surely.

Latest update on the technical front: I finally got the Elthos RPG Web Application switched over to the new hosting service. Hopefully this will vastly improve the site's performance. It will probably be a couple of days before I have all of the configuration work finished and the site back up and running, but for now, I'm OK with the switch. It was a bit more complicated to do than I expected, and the regestrar for the domain is still not switched over. For that I will have to wait two more months and try again. Not the most efficient infrastructure I've ever seen, but that's the Internet for ya.

On other news, I went to the Small Business Administration and found out some interesting stuff. My question was: What do I need a Patent for? This conversation went on for an hour. The upshot is that there are no clear answers. Making such decisions are the equivalent of being a commander in the middle of an ongoing war. You have to quickly size up the terrain, make a decision, run with it, adjust as you go, hope you didn't make a business-killing mistake. It's fun.

The questions around patenting Elthos RPG boil down to two things:

1) is it worth trying to protect the application from copy-cats?
2) is it essential to have a patent in order to partner with other companies later on?

In both cases the answer is (predictable enough): it depends.

For example, it depends on who you are trying to protect from copying your application. Is it a small company that could be deterred with a few legal notifications? Or is it Microsoft or Google, who have infinite resources to crush you in court?

The same "it depends" applies to the second question. Of course.

The problem with the Patent is that it can be enormously expensive ($200,000+) to go through the process of applying for it, it can take years, and it can in the end be denied by the Patent Office anyway - in which case you spent a fortune for nothing. On the other hand it could possibly cost as little as $3000. How do you know what the cost will be? You don't. Why? Because - it depends. How many times does your lawyer have to go back and forth with the Patent Office? It depends. How many billable hours will it take to create the documentation for the Patent? It depends. Etc.

Then there is the question of "What does a Patent do for me exactly?" ... Again... it depends. In some cases it might help to deter a small company from trying to copy your product, or it might encourage a mid-sized company to negotiate a deal with you. On the other hand, if the company copying your product is large and doesn't give a damn, then the Patent is only as good as the amount of money you have to spend in court trying to sue the offending behemoth. Others have tried to do the same, and died in the process. So, it depends.

Another irksome issue is the question of International Patents... you can get a Patent in America, but in the case of an Internet application... if the copy-cat is in China, then forget being protected by your American Patent. They won't care. And then again, if you do have a (much more expensive and time consuming to obtain) International Patent, which is really getting an individual patent in every country on earth that allows it (not all do), they still may not care. And when you go to sue the copy-cat in Bangladesh, their Authorities may just laugh you off the phone. So what protection does a Patent afford you? It depends.

Overall, the setup is fraught with perils. It's a war out there, and if you're going to head in that direction, you better be prepared to take your chances.

Which gives some idea why Entrepreneurship in the Capitalist world is so exciting, and so risky. You *can* make it big - but you are definitely spending your resources on a risky venture in which there are never clear answers. You just have to try it, and be prepared to be destroyed by the competition, and lose everything you put into it, and then be galled to watch others make their fortunes having stolen your idea. If you feel that you could not possibly stomach that outcome, then according to the powers that be - just stick with your day job, and forget about inventing anything and bringing it to market.

For me, I'm in the process of evaluating the options, and trying, like any good wargammer, to maximize my chances of success. Unfortunately, time is also a factor. The longer it takes for me to sort through all of this and learn the ropes, the more chance there is that someone else with better connections and understand will produce something close enough to what I'm doing to make all of my efforts in vain.

There is risk in every direction. Of course.
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