FinTech: Not a buzzword, a trillion dollar industry

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Financial Technology, or FinTech, has become a common term in industry circles as well as in an increasingly tech savvy world. While the term itself may be trending, be sure that it is more than merely a buzzword in a tech sector that is constantly filled with buzzwords.

The FinTech market has been growing in leaps and bounds since 2012. Global investment in financial technology nearly doubled from 2012 to 2013 from 2.6 billion to 4 billion dollars in one year. That, however, was just the beginning. Global investment in FinTech lept from 4 billion to 12.2 billion in 2014. According to Forbes, it was a 38-billion-dollar market in 2016, and an Accenture projection for 2017 estimates the FinTech market to grow by another 8 billion in Q1 of 2017. Forbes also reports that in 2016 the number of established Financial Technology companies surpassed 1,000 with those companies receiving a gross valuation of $867 billion. That same research projects another 2,000 FinTech startups will emerge in the next year.

This is a staggering growth rate even for a technology sector were growth can sometimes come quickly, but also peek and decline just as quickly. The major reason for this rapid growth is a banking industry that has traditionally been resistant to disruption. With a solid economic model and the general movement towards deregulation in the banking industry over the past two decades, big banks and established financial firms haven’t seen the need for market disruption or major technological innovation. But as we turn to a global market more so now than ever before in our past, an industry that was once happy to stand pat, is now ready to branch out.

So then, with it’s exponential growth and near Trillion-dollar market since 2012, the question that begs to be asked is: What exactly is Financial Technology? The traditional definition reads, “Fintech is a portmanteau of financial technology that describes an emerging financial services sector in the 21st century. Originally, the term applied to technology applied to the back-end of established consumer and trade financial institutions.

Too often FinTech is thought to be solely utilized and driven by the banking industry. And while this is certainly a major factor in the pace of growth the FinTech industry has seen, it is far from the only factor. Nor is it a sector that only pertains to the back-end operations of financial institutions.

A more modern and applicable definition of FinTech is usually applied to the segment of the technology startup scene that is disrupting sectors such as mobile payments, money transfers, loans, fundraising, asset management, and even financial security.

The term disrupt is an indicator to the modernity of the booming FinTech market, and to further drive that point home, a study on the FinTech market conducted by McKinsey hypothesizes that going forward, the “attackers” in the FinTech market will be the those most prone to success. McKinsey recognizes these attackers by six markers: 1) Advantaged modes of customer acquisition. 2) Reduction in the cost to serve. 3) Innovative uses of data. 4) Segment-specific propositions. 5) Leveraging existing infrastructure. 6) Managing risk and regulatory stakeholders. (www.mckinsey.com)

As these six markers indicate, the FinTech industry is moving towards and more typical, and consumer-based approach to market. Trying to hit those markers ourselves, we here at NOCHALLENGE Technology have also become active in the FinTech industry. Our self-prepared tax software is a disrupter in the Bangladeshi tax market, acquiring over 4,500 users in the 30 days leading up to the local tax season.

We will also be deploying a complex custom software piece to help a major cyber security firm manage and mitigate cyber risk to their banking customers.

To find out more about how NOCHALLENGE will be deploying our services and expertise in the financial sector, or for more information on how our technology solutions can be of service to your financial institution, contact us today.

Contributing Author: Ryan Lynn

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Cloud Security: What you need to know

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I was recently having happy hour drinks with a friend who works in finance, and as our conversation turned to our work, I mentioned to him that NOCHALLENGE had begun hosting many of our custom software products in the Cloud. His concern immediately became security, and as I explained that Cloud hosting is actually more secure than most internal servers he joked, “cloud security is an oxymoron.”

I bring this up not to poke fun at the misconception, but to make the point that this type of thinking is still prevalent, even in industries that are familiar with, and use IT solutions in their day-to-day operations.   As one Cloud expert recently put it in an interview with Business magazine, “Cloud security is not the issue, the perception of Cloud security is.”

The threats to cyber security are far more well known than are the solutions, and perhaps even more problematic, those threats are also more well known than are the practices and procedures that can be immediately implemented to mitigate the vast majority of threats to cyber security. Moreover, migrating to the Cloud is an inevitable conclusion. The United States Government adopted a “Cloud first” policy in 2011, and spending on Cloud technology is expected to reach $131 billion in 2017.

Many of these threats have become buzzwords. Data breaches, Denial of Service Attacks, Malware injections, Insecure APIs, etc. These are serious threats to be sure, and every precaution should be taken to prevent them. What many decision makers are yet to realize is that, in many cases, the biggest security risks a company will face come from within its own organization.

Many leaders in the workplace, including C-suite executives, are convinced that their own servers and internal hosts are a better and more secure option than is Cloud hosting. However, in nearly every case, reputable Cloud hosting services can offer scalable security that far outreach traditional server hosting security.

Two of the biggest IT risks are an organization’s failure to conduct an annual security assessment, and it’s lack of employee policies enforcing internet and data usage. Even more concerning is the often held belief that, overall, the cloud isn’t secure, but our own systems are fine, despite an ever increasing number of attacks to private servers.

So then, how do reputable Cloud hosting services suggest you mitigate these cyber risks? First let’s breakdown what you can start doing right away today.

  • Create and enforce a security policy as it pertains to internet and date usage in the workplace. Setting guidelines and making sure they are clearly communicated will help ensure internal compliance.
  • Involve IT executives. IT professionals can be helpful in both creating policies that work for your industry and office, as well as assist in enforcing them.
  • Conduct an annual IT security assessment. We suggest a local, trusted firm. Be prepared to talk to your specific weaknesses, concerns, and be willing to take action.

More specifically it’s a good idea to ask yourself, who are the reputable providers, and what security solutions can they provide me on day one? At NOCHALLENGE Technology, we offer Cloud hosting on three platforms. Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Oracle Cloud Hosting. Let’s take a look at some of the general benefits offered by these trusted providers, and how they can help secure your data out of the box.

  • Third party data centers – While this may seem counterintuitive to many, hosting your data in one, secure location exposes you to far less risk than having your data broken up on several less-secure servers.
  • Low Infrastructure Investment – One of the greatest costs of traditional server hosting is the hardware itself. The Cloud mitigates this almost entirely.
  • Strict regulatory standards that are implemented and met on a global level.
  • DDoS Mitigation – A larger company is better equipped to handle larger, and more complex cyber attacks.
  • Efficient Resource Utilization – Use only the space that you need, which allows for simple scaling up when your business needs grow.
  • Policy driven security that fits your specific business needs.
  • The ability to detect threats faster and with more accuracy.
  • Dedicated space on corporate utility grids.
  • Environmental controls to all mission critical systems such as sever and networking hardware, and heating and cooling controls that often lead to traditional server crashes.

Contact NOCHALLENGE today to find out more about our Cloud hosting partners, the services they provide, our personal guarantees, and even more details on how Cloud hosting will provide you the security and peace of mind that your company and its employees deserve.

Author: Ryan Lynn

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Are you considering these factors in your 2017 IT budget?


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As 2016 comes to a close and budget allocations wrap, many eyes have turned to project spending trends in the new year. The technology field is no different. While everyone tries to get a sense for what IT spending will look like in 2017, here are some recent trends and targets to keep in mind while allocating IT funds for your business.

With economic uncertainty surrounding the first quarter of 2017, IT spending budgets are widely expected to be tightened to begin the year. Globally, IT spending is expected to be stagnant, while was a projected 5% domestic growth in IT for 2017 now looks optimistically to be closer to 2-2.5%.

Even as CIO’s and business owners tighten their belts to begin the year, IT spending once again projects to be a major expenditure in 2017. With a projected $3.5 trillion in global tech spending next year, technology spending is still a massive industry. Hardware spending is projected to continue to tapper off in 2017 with a continued trend of fewer consumer dollars spent on devices, however, software spending is projected to see the biggest injection of spending in 2017 with a projected growth of 7% and approximately 16 billion dollars in new money.

According to an October 2016 survey by TechRepublic, 49% of U.S. corporate respondents said that their IT spending would fall into the $100,000-$9.99MM range. With such a broad swath of tech money being allocated, here are some things to keep in mind when creating your 2017 IT budget.

  • Cyber security remains a major point of emphasis for businesses in 2017. 69% of business leaders cited security as a top IT priority in the new year, with commonly as much as 1/3 of their annual IT budget dedicated to security.
  • Other than security, improving business processes and efficiency is a top IT concern in 2017. Out of the box solutions are fine for some business users, but to obtain software that provides a solution unique to your business process, you need a technology partner that fully understands how you do business, and where your pain-points are specifically. See how NOCHALLENGE helped one large company do exactly that.
  • Controlling costs and seeing a quicker ROI are the top reasons several smaller companies turn to technology solutions to run a tighter ship. Automating back office tasks and calculating risk are two major components to several of the custom solutions NOCHALLENGE has provided for clients in the past.
  • Despite a potential slow start to 2017, IT spending is still expected to grow. Much of this is in response to many companies moving to the Cloud. See how our partnership with Oracle can assist you in moving your business to the Cloud.

Despite some uncertainties to begin 2017 it remains clear that technology spending will remain a substantial portion of budget allocation, as well as a pivotal element in the growth and success of businesses of all sizes and industries. At NOCHALLENGE we look at custom software solutions as a chance better learn your industry and the challenges within it. Contact us today to let us help you with your IT needs in 2017.

Sources: TechRepublic, ComputerEconomics, WhiteHouse, Gartner

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NOCHALLENGE Technology is now Oracle Partner

NOCHALLENGE Technology is pleased to announce our acceptance into the Oracle OPN network as a Silver Partner. As we strive to meet all of our client’s needs we’re excited to be able to offer many of Oracle’s products and services.

As we continue to work with companies of all sizes, helping them locate their inefficiencies and streamline their practices through custom software solutions, we’re excited to now offer the integration of many of the software products and hosting solutions that Oracle offers.

nochallenge-oracleWe are particularly happy to now offer Oracle Cloud Hosting Services. As accessibility, reliance, and most importantly, security become increasingly paramount to the success of businesses, Oracle Cloud offers another quality alternative to the Cloud hosting options that NOCHALLENGE offers. Included in the Oracle Cloud offerings are:

  • Applications Managed Cloud Services – Offering flexibility so that you can choose the best deployment model for your business, Applications managed cloud services allows our clients to scale up or down to changing needs, as well as allow Oracle to manage the applications onsite or through NOCHALLENGE Technology.
  • Technology Managed Cloud services – Offers end-to-end cloud management services through your relationship with NOCHALLENGE Technology. This service enables you to accelerate time to deployment, increase availability and system performance, and reduce business risk.
  • Extended Managed Cloud Service – Extended Managed Cloud Service goes beyond core infrastructure and application management services to provide you with services that span the entire software lifecycle. From migration, testing, and deployment to compliance and disaster recovery.

As NOCHALLENGE grows our network of technology partners we look forward to finding new and innovative ways to integrate the array of trusted Oracle products into our custom software. Contact us today to see how we can help automate your business through powerful software solutions.

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How we are disrupting an international tax preparation market

Any business leader who has ever attempted to introduce a new method, technology, or sales tactic to disrupt the status quo in an existing industry understands the pushback and complexities one is bound to encounter.

Now, try to imagine facing those same challenges in a completely foreign market where industry standards, public expectations, and a vastly different consumer market all serve as significant challenges. This is exactly what NOCHALLENGE Technology has been working towards with their proprietary software product bdtax.com.bd, the first ever self-guided tax filing service in the Bangladesh market. Following in the footsteps of Turbo Tax and H&R Block in Western markets, bdtax.com.bd aims to streamline the tax filing process and disrupt the antiquated filing system that currently exists in developing nations.

In fairness, to say that the Bangladeshi market is completely foreign to NOCHALLENGE would be somewhat false. Our CEO, Zulfikar Ali, is originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, a city of 17 million in a country of nearly 157 million. Relocating to the United States for college in 1997, and becoming a US citizen in 2015, Ali remains an active observer and participant in Bangladeshi business, culture, and politics.

It’s not just our personal ties to Bangladesh that started us down this path. With a GDP that grew over 7% last year, and a government that welcomes foreign investment to their budding economy, Bangladesh is hungry for growth opportunities. One factor that hinders a more rapid growth to the country’s economy and infrastructure, is a burdensome tax system.

The Problem

Currently fewer than 4% of Bangladeshi citizens file taxes annually. This is obviously a problem for a country trying to become more structurally sound to welcome investments, both foreign and domestic. This problem is compounded by the way in which Bangladeshi’s are asked to file their taxes.

Tax forms must first be retrieved from a government office. Those forms are then typically taken to a tax preparer. One must sit with a tax preparer, answering pertinent questions until complete. Of course this is not free; upon completion there is a fee of approximately $100 U.S. dollars. In a country where the average personal income hovers around $1,500 U.S. dollars, this is a substantial cost. Upon payment, those forms must then be hand delivered to a government office by a deadline.

The Solution

This year the Bangladeshi Government made changes to their tax code and also concerted their effort to make sure that all corporations in the country are paying their taxes properly. All the more reason for NOCHALLENGE’s entrepreneurial spirit to take hold and offer both private citizens and corporations alike a solution to streamline the tax filing process.

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bdtax.com.bd – Dashboard

Our software bdtax.com.bd, now in Beta and currently available at no cost to the user, will look very familiar to many westerners. Laid out in an easy to follow fashion, the user simply follows along, clicking easy to understand icons and answering direct questions, in either English or Bangla, about their living and employment situation. The progress towards completion is tracked at the top of the screen, and once complete the user has a form that they can then submit to the government without the time or financial commitment to a tax preparer. A process that once could take weeks to complete can now be done in less than an hour.

There are still hurdles to clear, and NOCHALLENGE Technology is working tirelessly to make our software available to the entire country. A social media campaign has resulted in over 3,000 new users within just a few weeks, and we continue to work with the Bangladeshi government to secure a partnership to electronically submit tax data in 2017.

We firmly believe that, “because we’ve always done it this way,” is almost never a good enough reason to keep doing something. Our technology solutions thrive when we are given an opportunity to examine a process, learn it in depth, and then create a custom solution than can revolutionize your practice.

We would love to start a conversation about how we can do just that for your business.

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How We Helped a Publicly Traded Manufacturing Company Solve Their Unique Problem

Deciding which software company is the best fit for your business needs can be an overwhelming process. It’s common place for a software company to pitch to you all of the things they feel that they do well: the platforms they have expertise in, their past successful projects, etc., but many times the missing piece is, what can the software do specifically for your company?

We pride ourselves at NOCHALLENGE Technology on centering our approach around that very question. When you set aside your valuable time to talk with someone from our business development team, we’re interested in learning about your specific process and pain-points, and then engaging in a dialog on how we can build a custom solution specifically for you.

The Problem

One such example of our emphasis on a client specific solution is our work for one of our flagship clients, a billion-dollar manufacturing company located in Minnesota. They are leading manufactures of actuators; small electric motors routinely used in larger machinery. With fourteen baseline products, and dozens of sub-products that work only in a specific configuration according to the baseline product, there were literally hundreds of combinations possible when putting together an order.

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These products and sub-products, as well as all the possible combinations, were all being managed via several Excel spreadsheets. With over 500 vendors world-wide ordering from our client, putting together just one order could sometimes take days. In addition to the excruciating timeline of creating an order, there were also many other pain-points in managing that much data within a spreadsheet.

It may seem obvious, but at the very least you need a sales team which can operate Excel at an expert level, as well as train new employees on the existing process. Not something that most sales teams would consider a strength. Our client also had pricing mismatches frequently happening. The price of a part may have been changed but it often failed to get changed on the spreadsheet. Other times it was listed correctly in one place but not another, resulting in inconsistencies and potential revenue loss.

Another gap exisited in data storage. With each order being filled manually via data being pulled from Excel files, once an order was created (and remember, this could take days) and was completed, it was then essentially gone. If a different client wished to make the exact same order, the sales team and their admins would have to recreate the process from scratch.

The Solution

That’s where NOCHALLENGE Technology went to work. After listening to their process, observing the data documents, and gaining a full understanding of their vision for a solution, we implemented a shopping cart style, exception based custom web-based price configurator that automated this process and turned a week’s worth of work into a job that now takes only minutes.

Using simple drop down options and a shopping cart style CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote), it now takes “as little as a few seconds” to fill an order according to one administration manager with the company. More so, the client now also has a secure database of past orders, streamlining the process even further for the sales team. Their speed of business is no longer contingent on the user’s ability to operate Excel spreadsheets, and pricing updates are now easy to implement and consistent across the board. Our decision to develop a custom CPQ also saved our client several thousands of dollar in monthly per user licensing fees from off-the-shelve high priced CPQ’s. They have a customized software solution, which solves their specific problem with relatively low investment and no per user recurring licensing cost.

This is the outcome we seek with each and every client, and each and every custom software product we build at NOCHALLENGE.

We would love to have a conversation with you today about how we can help you simplify your process. Please fill out the form below and Ryan Lynn our business development manager will schedule a call to start a conversation.

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Your Software Idea: How to Make it a Reality

Zulfikar Ali, Founder and CEO Nochallenge Technology

Zulfikar Ali, Founder and CEO
Nochallenge Technology

So, you have a great software product idea which you think will be the next billion-dollar venture like a Facebook or Twitter. Ideation is a very good way to start out. All successful ventures start with an idea. Now, let’s work through a few steps regarding how to make your idea a real money maker.

Ask yourself, what problem are you trying to solve?

In my role as CEO and Chief Architect at NOCHALLENGE Technology, I have had the honor to talk to many entrepreneurs on a daily basis about their software ideas. Frequently they do not have an answer to “What problem are you trying to solve?” Ideas are only ideas if there is not an answer to a specific problem for your end-users. Having a clear definition of the problem which you are trying to solve will help you make the next-step decisions. Don’t worry about funding or becoming a billionaire at this point. Just focus on becoming the SME (subject matter expert) of your solution.

Who else might have a similar idea?

When you have a clear understanding of the problem you are trying to solve through a software product, you are ready to look around and see who else might have a similar idea. Ultimately there are two outcomes; either someone else is already solving this problem with a software solution, or you’re on the cutting edge.

If there is already someone else in the market-space you are trying to occupy you should ask yourself, “is my solution better and simpler than my future competitor(s)?” If not, continue to refine your resolution until it is better than your future competitors. If your answer does not provide a significantly better experience to the end-user, move on to solving another issue you may have encountered along the way. From my own experiences, your answer to the problem has a much better chance of succeeding if you have personally experienced the obstacle in your day-to-day life. A great example is Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, who was inspired to start Netflix because he paid absurd late fees after renting Apollo 13. End users currently working with an existing solution will only switch over to your software if it is significantly better than the current software product they are using. Switching over to another software is an expensive proposition.

As an example, we use QuickBooks for all of our accounting needs. There are other accounting software products out there which may do a slightly better job than QuickBooks, but we have been using the software for over six years now. Switching over to a brand new accounting software would be a large undertaking for us. We would have to transfer all of our existing data and notify our customers about the new invoicing system. Along with that, we would need to re-integrate all of our bank accounts to the new software which would take valuable time away from our current projects and clients.

If your research tells you that no one is solving the specific issue at hand, then you have to ask yourself, “why not”? Large tech firms have nearly indispensable amounts of R&D money and are usually willing to to take on the problem. So the question is, why has no one come up with a solution yet? Many times companies are too busy to serve their current clients and do not have time to focus on solving a new problem. If you have discovered that no one is working on solving the problem you have identified, you may have potential opportunity for your venture.

How large is the market?

Now that you have a clear problem statement, have done your research on your competitors and your research data shows that you have a viable software product, the next step is to research your market size. If you develop an app which solves problem “X” and your goal is to make a million dollars, the first thing you have to consider is that the average price of an application in the Apple app store is 19 cents. With that information given, you would need approximately 5.3 million downloads to make a million dollars. Does your app or software solve a problem that may be experienced by 5.3 million people? Your solution may solve for a large enterprise issue, but you need to know your market and potential revenue before engaging in the next step, which is finding a software vendor to develop your application or software.

How can I find the right team to develop my solution?

Once you know your problem statement as well as the solution, your competitors, and have an approximation of your market size, the next question is, “is this still a viable venture?” If your answer is yes, the next step is to find out who can build your application. At this stage I would strongly recommend building an MVP (Minimal Viable Product) with the least amount of investment possible. If you don’t know anyone with software development experience, you can start with a simple Google search: “custom software developers in {your city name}” There are a lot of custom software development companies in the world, but my advice would be to start the conversation with someone local. The reason reason being, in the initial stage it’s very important that the development firm understands your vision 100%. Face-to-face conversation is a critical component to the success of your project. www.upwork.com and LinkedIN ProFinder are also very good resources to find local tech talent for your project.

Prepare a very detailed requirements document and if possible a concept wireframe to start the discussion with the development firm. If you do not have a clear requirements document or a wireframe, most development firms will engage in a time and material session where you pay by the hour. The hours can add up quickly and you could end up spending a significant amount of money before you even have your MVP. If you already have a detailed requirements document and a wireframe, the development firm should be able to provide you a fixed-bid project cost.

Once you gather several proposals, check their experience. Select the one which has experience in the industry you are trying to solve the problem within. Check references thoroughly; you will get a wide range of costs for your project. I suggest going with a middle of the road proposal as they probably have the experience you desire, but don’t have the large corporate overhead expenses you wish to avoid. Make sure that their proposal includes the following: the UX/UI design idea, the graphic design, product development, phases of testing and finally a project manager to manage your project on a day to day basis. In the software development industry, each role adds a distinct value to the project. After making sure that the firm has the proper experience and that the total project cost and the estimated project timeline match up with your expectations, you’re ready to select the vendor and move forward.

Where can I get money to fund my software venture?

So far you have defined your problem statement, you have a well defined solution to the problem, you have researched your competitors, and you know your market size. You have also selected a development firm to take on your project. Now you need to solve one of the most important parts of the venture, “where do I get the money?” The answer to this question varies from entrepreneur to entrepreneur.

A typical MVP engagement can cost between twenty and thirty thousand dollars. Most people don’t have that much money sitting around in the bank to fund a new software idea. If you have a full time job you can save, but you’ll need to figure out how long it will take to save specifically for your project. If it takes more than six months someone else may have already started working on a solution. I wouldn’t suggest borrowing from friends or family as it may create bitterness if your venture fails, and unfortunately 90% of startups fail at the end of the day.

Additionally, many banks may not lend you the money because you are in the conceptual stage of the project. If you own a home you could potentially take a loan out against it, but that is very risky. One viable option may be to offer equity to the development firm in exchange for their work. They might decline, as they have an idea if your venture will succeed or not. Also they will miss out on other revenue opportunities while they work on your equity based project. Unless you have a very clear and proven path to revenue, most development firms will not engage in an equity partnership.

So where can you get the money needed to fund the project? This is often times the largest challenge an entrepreneur will face. Solving the money problem and being able to fund your MVP will definitely earn you respect in the start-up community, and you will end up with a compelling story to tell potential investors. Investors always want to see how dedicated you are and how far you are willing to take your venture. Everyone understands that you alone cannot fund a million-dollar venture, but raising the first twenty thousand is a big achievement to start your project.

So can I do it?

Yes, you can. You may fail and you may succeed. If you fail, you’ll likely learn something about yourself and the market you tried to disrupt. If you succeed, you can retire early and travel the world.

With a passion for problem solving, data-backed research, and a smart yet aggressive mindset, you can build a successful software product. Many have already done so. There is no such thing as a good time or a bad time to begin your software start-up. Jump into it and navigate it the best you can. Know when to quit and move onto the next adventure. If you follow these steps, you too will be successful.

Zulfikar Ali, Founder and CEO
Nochallenge Technology LLC

Have a software concept? Let’s talk.





CloudSignalytics.com is on Forbes

We are very thrilled to know that our custom developed big data driven marketing application for auto dealers made Forbes magazine.

“When Lang Smith, CEO of Cloud Signalytics for the auto industry, he was filling a gap the rest of the industry didn’t take seriously. At that time, the industry followed the motto, “If we spend the money on ads, the sales will come in automatically over time.” In Smith’s case, he revolutionized old marketing rules. Instead of having customers receive endless offers from dealerships with nothing to do with their individual situations, he showed the auto industry how to use predictive analytics to offer customers only what they need, and when they need it. The outcome: Smith is helping companies such as car dealerships to reduce their marketing budgets by 50% or more, while increasing their abilities to meet customers’ wants.”

Read the full story here.

How to protect your software with intellectual property protection

One question that many entrepreneurs face is whether and how to use intellectual property (IP). IP rights for custom software can be particularly tricky to understand. In this post, we’ll discuss some of the basics and most common questions we get from our new clients. Although this article should teach you some of the basics, each case is unique.

One thing that makes software unique is that it can be protected by any of several types of IP. The most common of these are copyright and patent protection. Others, like trademark or trade secret protection, are not addressed here, but can be important as well. Often, inventors apply for more than one of these.

Copyright

The most recognizable type of IP in the world of software, due to infamous litigation over filesharing and recent legislation like SOPA, is probably copyright. Copyright applies to any “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression,” and lasts for decades, or even over a century, in some cases.

Copyright is unique in that it is automatic: as soon as code is saved to disk, a “common law” copyright exists. A copyright registration can usually be acquired, with a small filing fee (currently $35), which allows the copyright owner to receive larger statutory damages and makes it easier to prove ownership of the code at trial. An attorney can help with the registration process, usually for a few hundred dollars, though many authors feel comfortable doing it themselves. Copyright protects against exact copying, but since it protects the expression of the idea, rather than the function, it cannot protect against a competitor who changes or rewrites code to do the same function.

Patents

Patents are more time-consuming and difficult to acquire, but the scope of protection can be much broader than a copyright. Patents provide a temporary, government-sanctioned monopoly on the claimed technology.

The patent application process often starts with a “provisional” patent application. These last for one year, and are never examined by the Patent Office or published. If, before the year is over, the inventor wants to continue, he or she can file a non-provisional or “utility” patent application claiming the benefit of the provisional application’s filing date. The utility patent application is examined by the Patent Office, which can take a few years. This process, called “patent prosecution,” resembles a series of negotiations between the inventor and a patent examiner. Usually, but not always, some common ground is found where the patent examiner and the inventor agree on a scope of protection. This scope of protection is defined by a set of claims, and then the patent issues with those claims.

Typically, a patent application can be prepared within a few months, and will explain the invention (that is, what is new and useful about the software or other invention) in great detail. The U.S. courts, including the Supreme Court, have issued arcane decisions recently that affect the scope and type of software claims that can be granted. As a result, claims to software in particular are very difficult for an inventor to acquire, without the assistance of patent counsel.

Once granted, a patent typically provides about 15–20 years of enforceability, and can cover much more than a copyright. The scope of protection provided by a patent is why many large companies like Apple, Samsung, Google, and Microsoft file for so many of them. It is also why patent litigation has been called the “Sport of Kings,” as tech giants battle each other in Federal court for billions of dollars worth in royalties, injunctions, and other damages.

There are many other aspects of patent law not discussed here, like acquiring international patents, strategies for expediting or slowing down patent prosecution, and ways to shift or delay the costs of acquiring the patent. And of course, there should always be a good business reason to apply for a patent. This means thinking about whether the patent will be licensed or enforced, and if it will be enforced how to finance litigation, which can easily cost millions of dollars. For these more complex topics, as with software you will get the best results by talking with a professional to design a custom IP strategy.

Contributing Author: Daniel Bruzzone; a patent attorney at Patterson Thuente IP in Minneapolis

 

Our Founder and CEO, Zulfikar Ali featured at Minnesota’s tech magazine

Zulfikar Ali immigrated to the United States in 1997 at the age of 18 and hasn’t skipped a beat in pursuit of his American Dream.

Arriving on a student visa scholarship at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, he obtained an MIS degree in 2001 — just as the dot com bubble blew.  While many of his international peers became jobless and returned to their home country, Ali landed an entry level position in customer support for a mortgage appraisal company.

A few months in, he wrote a software app that streamlined internal process, earning a quick promotion to the IT department and opportunity for US Citizenship.  Fast forward three years to job offer from Wells Fargo that promised broader horizons, prompting a natural move up the ladder.

“…but I always wanted to do my own thing,” Ali says insatiably,  “So I started to.” Read more at: tech.mn