A nice cup of tea, some IP and a good cause

As Red Nose Day 2017 is fast approaching, various promotional merchandise is starting to appear in the shops - including boxes of PG Tips tea-bags with a free Monkey soft toy. Now Monkey is the very popular and highly recognisable face of PG Tips, having starred in their TV adverts with his sidekick "Al" (Johnny Vegas) since 2006. But the story of how Monkey became associated with PG Tips and Comic Relief is a fascinating example of the value of Intellectual Property, and how it can be traded in business.
Monkey wasn't always associated with PG Tips - he was created back in 2001 by the advertising agency Mother, for ITV Digital, and starred in the ad campaign for their digital terrestrial pay-tv service. He was instantly popular, and a Monkey toy was offered to new subscribers - as they weren't available anywhere else, a lucrative re-sale market sprung up on internet auction sites. Unfortunately, ITV Digital went into administration in 2002 and one of its few remaining assets was the IP in the Monkey character.
Ownership wasn't clear cut however - as a general rule, IP created by an employee belongs to the company but IP created by a consultant remains the property of the consultant unless specifically assigned. A legal dispute ensued between the ITV Digital administrators and the advertising agency Mother and this dispute was only resolved when both parties agreed to donate the IP to Comic Relief. An example of one of the Trademarks can be viewed here.
Monkey is undoubtedly a valuable income earner for Comic Relief, through merchandising of a range of products across a number of NICE classes and licensing to PG Tips, and a great example of how something as simple as a sock puppet backed up with proper IP protection can have a significant financial value. 
So, enjoy your cuppa and dig deep for a good cause!

Plant, microbial & environment YES

I had the privilege of spending yesterday afternoon as a mentor for part of the annual Plant, microbial & environment YES competition. The Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) is designed to develop business awareness and an understanding of entrepreneurship in UK environmental postgraduate students and postdoctoral scientists, and this is achieved through a competition where teams prepare an oral business plan for a company based on a hypothetical but plausible idea, based on real markets. The teams then pitch their plan to a a panel comprised of business, financial and academic representatives taking the role of equity investors.
I worked with 5 fantastic teams from Manchester, Reading, Warwick and Heriot-Watt on ideas as diverse as a diagnostic for bovine TB, bacterial seed coatings, novel uses for coffee production waste, animal therapeutics derived from waste blood and thermal insulated paper products and I was really impressed with both their enthusiasm and how well they'd applied the training they'd been given during the workshop in areas including:
  • the requirements of a business plan;
  • intellectual property and patenting strategy;
  • raising and managing finance;
  • commercial and marketing strategies;
  • regulatory affairs; and 
  • company case histories.
Today the teams will be delivering their pitches, so good luck to all my teams, and I hope their hard work is rewarded and they progress to the finals. More importantly, I hope all the participants enjoyed the experience, and learned that commercialisation is interesting, challenging but above all fun and rewarding.

Time for Evolution

Strategic Scientific have hit a new milestone.
Not a strange one, not a major event, but a little stepping stone along the way of company evolvement.
We have had one of our significant, early on board, associates leave.
People lives change, different influences pull them in different directions. The same happens to companies, and so you find at some point nothing lines up the way it did before and the bond has to be broken so all parties can best pursue their needs.
From the company perspective this takes some anticipation of the event - being aware of the signs that the working relationship is under strain, that it's no longer meeting the company expectations. Indicators can be a reduction in the ease or frequency of communication with particular individuals. It could be a lack of flexibility in their approach to projects or willingness to accept new processes, changes, adaptations to what is required or hoped for. The signs are there and senior management need to be constantly vigilent.
Trying to address these issues doesn't always reach a solution - sometimes it can be hard for an individual to articulate the reason why things don't feel right and there can be unclear messages between what is said and what is done. But once the decision that a parting of the ways needs to happen has been reached, even if it is only on the management side, then the actuality needs to be planned for.
Knowledge is key. What does that individual know and what skills do they bring to the organisation. What imapct  will their departure have on the day-2-day functioning of the business and also on the medium term plans.
How can you ensure that you capture all the knowledge that you need to keep the company moving forwards and who within your current team matches up on the skills side, or what skills do you need to recruit in as replacement.
It doesn't have to be a 1 for 1 swap. In SSC that hasn't happened. We have looked at the departing skill set and divided that up into 3 areas, one which is covered by a new recruit, one which will be brought in as an occasional resource and the final area will be covered by current team expanding their role and interests. It has taken a few months of preparation but it has gone smoothly.
And that preparation has made the actual departure easier for all sides.
No shock, no great upheaval, just a simple parting of the ways and best wishes for all involved for the future.
As it should be.