Wikipedia: Built free, open and with law

Free and open are concepts which have become normal in entrepreneurial or internet businesses. Consider "free" software, "open" source software and "open" innovation. How each works commercially is worth investigating for  internet entrepreneurs and businesses seeking fresh approaches. They are alternatives to "paid and closed" business practices.

Wikipedia is our case study for this investigation. How did Wikipedia arrive at its combination of free (content) and open (Wiki)? Which lightbulb moments turned it from an investment drain to a viable, funded operation?

Jimmy Wales co-founded Wikipedia. Born in 1966, he grew up in Huntsville, Alabama in a family that appreciated the World Book Encyclopaedia and learning. Under the direction of his mother and grandmother, Wales enrolled at Auburn University at the age of 16 and studied finance. He obtained a masters and entered the Ph.D finance program while also teaching university students. In 1994 he applied this academic background in finance by taking up a position as an employee in a Chicago futures and options firm.

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Is more law a good thing?

I believe the common opinion is: "Yes".

That opinion was accepted as a given in this week's Q&A program. Federal Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese, in defending the Gillard Government said:

"And in spite of some of the criticism and people saying things aren't working, it's 153 pieces of legislation we've carried in the new parliament. No legislation defeated, not a single amendment carried without government support. John Howard only carried 114 pieces of legislation in his first year. So the parliament is functioning. The government is functioning."

So Minister Albanese wants us to accept that 153 pieces of legislation is better than 114.

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Patent law works for inventions and investment

A compelling argument for the existence of intellectual property laws can be found in the example of the discovery and commercialisation of the steam engine in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution.

In his 2010 book The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry and Invention*, U.S. author William Rosen illustrates how economic imperative in the age of steam drove the rise in patents issued in Britain.

The approach in Britain of using patents to encourage invention is in contrast to the contemporaneous approach in France, where inventors were awarded cash for their inventions: Between 1740 and 1780, the French inclination to reward inventors not by enforcing a natural right but by the grant of pensions and prizes resulted in the award of nearly 7 million livres – approximately $US600 million today – to inventors of largely forgotten devices…”. (p. 268)

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Lightbulb Moment - music IP & innovation

What can innovators learn from Time Out?

This jazz album was recorded in 1959. It's the first instrumental jazz album to sell over a million copies. For decades it has been in the list of the top 10 biggest selling jazz albums of all time. Here's the short version of the story.

When the band leader, David Brubeck, decided to record this album his record label people at Columbia Records said no. The music as composed by Brubeck was very unusual for the time in its time signatures and style.

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Professional practice valuation & checklist

Valuation of businesses is an art, not a science. This belief is contrary to the trust held by many in numbers alone, eg a valuation multiple or an EBIT figure.

It is commonplace for people to believe things are worth a specific sum, call it $X. One number. $X is what is charged for each grocery item, new car and even residential premises.

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Contract law on consideration

Some years ago I had a case in which the parties each acted without legal representation and never agreed on a specific fee for services provided. The services changed day by day. The hourly rates for fees payable varied.

After disagreement arose between the parties, the service provider became my client. My client had performed the services and its first series of invoices had been paid.

Subsequently the services required of my client had varied greatly. Documentation in the form of a contract with a price schedule had been prepared and discussed but the document remained unsettled, unsigned and under negotiation. The parties fell into dispute.

My client's predicament was that services had been performed, but its second series of invoices were unpaid.

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Internet lawyer success story

This was the lead story in our May 2011 Cue newsletter. Send an email to subcribe.

Recently Dilanchian assisted a booming online software company in a potential sale of business for an eight figure sum. The project confirmed why we are lawyers and consultants; and underlined the wisdom of calling at your project's concept stage.

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8 errors with NDA templates

Do you ask your lawyer to check over template agreements that you have prepared yourself or obtained online for free or a fee? Unless you're experienced, you should. They may not provide the legal protection you think they do.

Such agreements are often riddled with errors or require customisation, even though you were not told upfront. The gaps and holes leave room for others to enter and take the treasures in your intellectual property castle.

A non-disclosure agreement ("NDA") is often the culprit in these do-it-yourself contract cases.

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Letter of demand professionalism

Writing a good letter of demand involves professionalism in dealing with people and information. There's a method that  can be illustrated with a fee for service contract that has gone wrong.

Assume things have not gone to plan under that contract. The service was delivered but the fee was not paid. The unpaid service provider has made repeated requests. Harsh words have been spoken and tension has arisen.

The two parties should avoid the slippery slope. They should try to work together to overcome issues. They've tried negotiation with no resolution. There's been haggling and even verbal abuse. A lawyer might have been called in earlier, but as usually, hasn't been.

The unpaid party now meets with a lawyer.

Having gone to a lawyer, the unpaid party must communicate a story, collect and supply the evidence, and then help the lawyer examine the facts and evidence. If all this is not done the lawyer should not be forming an opinion and giving advice on what to do next.

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What's your intellectual property strategy?

QUESTION: What are the most effective strategies for commercialisation of a company's ideas, products, R&D and intellectual property? 

ANSWER: "It is the approach that best suits - and is most closely aligned with - the company's overall corporate strategy and the competitive environment in which the company operates."

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IP lawyer puts business process before legal process

To their detriment, too often clients as well as lawyers skim or skip the first and second stage of proposed transactions. When they do this they enter a forest with no clear path to follow.

When they follow the three stage transaction or contracting process they move from casual dating, to going steady, to getting married. It's that simple.

There are three stages for most intellectual property and business law transactions. The first stage is needs assessment. The second, deal points definition. Only after the first and second stage are at least properly considered should anyone go to the third stage - formal contract drafting.

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Copyright duration - life + 70 years

The losing side in yesterday's Men at Work music copyright court case, was found to have copied Kookaburra. This is a song the sheet music of which was published in 1934, that's 77 years ago.

Under section 34 of the Copyright Act 1968 the duration of copyright in literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work lasts for the life of the author and for 70 years after the author's death.

How did Australian copyright law reach this outcome, ie this long duration for copyright works?

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Ribena's Purple Prose Penalty

As the dust settles over the recent “Ribena-gate” controversy and a growing number of unsold Ribena bottles, it is time to evaluate just how to avoid similar fates to the once trusted juice beverage brand.

Ribena-gate began with a blackcurrent juice drink named Ribena, some amazing claims by GlaxoSmithKline about the drink's Vitamin C content, and a couple of enquiring school girls who discovered through a school science lab project that Ribena products had little or no Vitamin C. They informed the manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline. It took little notice.

It ended with GlaxoSmithKline copping a fine of A$201,000. For GlaxoSmithKline, that court-imposed penalty for its Vitamin C purple prose is most likely to be only the start of its woes with the brand damage yet to be fully realised.

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IP lawyers for creative destruction

As lawyers specialising in intellectual property and business law we're seeing in 2011 a spike of creative destruction at work in the economy, law and in legal practice.

What is the flow of this high level of change, what's fueling it, how can your business respond? This post is a brief enquiry into these questions.

We are asking these questions because economics, technology and business changes take place generally well before law changes in response. Understand the former and you'll be better at anticipating the latter.

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8 ways to increase business valuation

If you are planning to sell a business or major asset what can you do to increase its valuation or perceived value?

Here is a list of eight ideas in no particular order of importance.

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