Foursquare raises $20 million led by Andreessen Horowitz

Foursquare finally closes on a funding round after considerable flirting with the likes of Yahoo! and Facebook.   Ben Horowitz explains the reasoning here. Foursquare is adding 15,000 users every day and is growing at a faster clip than Twitter did at this stage.  I’ve written about the commercial potential of foursquare to add value not only to its users but also to merchants, venue owners and others through advertising, rewards and loyalty programs (here, here and here).  Clearly, this ability drove the thinking behind the Andreessen Horowitz investment.  Ben puts it this way

As importantly, we are very excited about Foursquare’s ability to make money in a way where all parties win: users, merchants, venue owners, brand advertisers, and more. In fact, users have been so excited about the product that they’ve actually been signing up local businesses to run promotions for Foursquare’s mayors and active users. This natural enthusiasm is happening even before Foursquare has added specific product features to help businesses run campaigns. As a result, major brands such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Zagat, Bravo TV, Starbucks, C-SPAN, Marc Jacobs and over 10,000 businesses are currently working with Foursquare to build customer loyalty and drive traffic. Not many companies have their users turn into their sales force, and it’s definitely a good sign that this is happening around Foursquare.

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Bilski is a non-loss for ATS

The Bilski ruling (08-964) came out yesterday in what was a busy morning for the Supreme Court.  In addition to Bilksi, they also ruled to strengthen gun rights and that parts of Sarbanes-Oaxely are unconstitutional.

Bilski was meant to address the issue of business method, or software, patents such as those typified by Amazon’s one-click and others.    The patent under issue in Bilski was a method for hedging energy trades, but the industry looked to the Bilski ruling to provide greater clarity around general process and software patents that describe methods to achieve some end rather than a machine or apparatus.

In ruling that the  “machine-or-transformation” test should not be the sole test of eligibility, the Court on Monday left the door open for software and business method patents.  Justice Kennedy writes

“The machine-or-transformation test may well provide a sufficient basis for evaluating processes similar to those in the Industrial Age——for example, inventions grounded in a physical or other tangible form. But there are reasons to doubt whether the test should be the sole criterion for determining the patentability of inventions in the Information Age.”

What does this mean for ATS?  Well, the ruling could have had a chilling effect on the prospects of our patent business since many of our patents are software or algorithms implemented in software.  Had Bilsky been ruled to make such inventions ineligible for patent protection, it would have been a big setback for ATS by inviting challenges to our issued IP as well as providing hurdles for our outstanding applications.  The prospective value of our IP and pending IP would have dropped significantly.  Further it would have been a blow to our major IP partner Intellectual Ventures.

Stronger patent rights favor ATS.  We create IP and, since nearly all our business is consulting, we have almost zero exposure to litigation.  So rulings that increase the strength of patents and broaden the scope of what is patentable are positives for ATS.

But Bilski was not a ringing endorsement for software patents either, leaving considerable ambiguity and the possibility of future challenges.  Net-net, ATS didn’t lose with Bilski.

More lessons from SRI

Another good piece on SRI and their success commercializing DoD/DARPA funded technology (see earlier post).

They are a few lessons ATS can take away from SRI’s approach to commercializing their government-funded technology.  Most notably, is that they actually have a process to identify, vet and launch compelling commercial businesses.  A few other things are worth noting:

1) They proactively test for market acceptance. “Each year, SRI tests the marketability of roughly 2,000 technology ventures, but typically only three or four are ever established as independent businesses.” The numbers aren’t nearly as important as the fact that SRI believes in finding commercial outlets and they have established processes and dedicated resources as testament to that believe.

2) They actively engage entrepreneurs, investors, outside industry leaders and customers. See the Commercialization Board shown on the blackboard in the picture.  While ATS has been successful at establishing productive relationships with academics, and to a certain extent industry leaders in the form of consultants, as an organization, we don’t have meaningful connections to the investment community, we do not engage startups as purposefully as we should, and we make very little effort to really understand commercial customers.

3) They work in areas with tremendous commercial crossover appeal. AI, machine learning, data mining, translation, etc. all have obvious government and military appeal – this is why they’re funded so readily.  However, they also have tremendous commercial appeal across several application domains.  While we certainly do information services and data analysis type work for the government, a large chunk of our focus is on networks and networking.  And right now, the commercialization market favors services over networks.  This might shift in years to come, but there’s more commercial need and dollars available for things like complex event processing than for things like secure mobile ad hoc networks.

InterDigital created more than 2.5 patents for every employee

From the Daily Beasts list of the top 50 most innovative companies by measuring the number of patents issued between 2005 dn 2009.  Pretty remarkable number from InterDigital (see previous post on IDCC).  Their employee number of 299 is a bit low since they sold off one of their units recently.  They had 380 people in ’07 and ’08, so that brings the number down, but it’s still well above 2 patents per employee and well above the rest of the field.

Where would Telcordia rank? ….  Continue reading

Siri, or how to commercialize government work

Fascinating look at the making of Siri, the contextually-aware personalized assistant acquired by Apple a few months ago, with several good takeaways for how ATS can successfully commercialize our government developed technologies. Siri was created at SRI as part of DARPA-funded research into machine learning and AI.   SRI took a deliberate approach to evaluating the commercial potential for the government technology it was creating.  They had institutionalized processes for identifying commercial potential. They conducted external reviews with and collected feedback from the investor community.  And they were adept at partnering with outside experts who could “bring to life” – achieve meaningful commercial traction – the early-stage technology being developed on DARPA’s dime.