On a calm Saturday morning in September, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and many of India’s political elite landed at San Francisco International Airport. The Bay Area’s tech titans anticipated his arrival for weeks. Over the course of the next two days, he received a VIP treatment unlike any, from the likes of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook. For Modi, this trip was an opportunity to expand his country’s business potential and encourage bright Indians to stay back home. For the tech titans, it was an opportunity to break into the fastest growing market on the planet.

Modi is a controversial figure in his homeland. In his previous tenure as Chief Minister of the state of Gujurat, he was condemned by many for not intervening in the state’s 2002 riots, in which over a thousand people died. This led to many decrying him as unsuitable for the country’s highest political office. Even after being elected, Modi continues to face opposition from a variety of parties and political groups for his supposed Hindu nationalism in a country where, according to Qatar-based publisher Al Jazeera, over 200 million Muslims reside.

In spite of this, his desire for a strong pro-business environment to expand India’s economy has garnered him a wide range of support. His push for expedited technological progress and fight against anti-corruption in a country where such behavior is commonplace catapulted him to the top of the general election race in 2014. His visit to Silicon Valley in September sent a clear message to his detractors that he was resolute on creating an Internet-connected and tech-savvy India.

For the Silicon Valley CEOs, Modi’s visit was important for business opportunities. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, over the past seven years India’s real GDP growth has averaged nearly 6.9 percent per year, which suggests India has potential to be a strong market in the future. But the real reason for India’s increased attractiveness to Silicon Valley titans can be seen by the perceived limitations of China.

China’s recent economic stagnation (India has had three consecutive quarters of higher growth), and its political barriers have restricted the success of many technology firms. Facebook has been banned from the country since 2009; its 2014 WhatsApp acquisition was largely the culmination of five years of efforts to regain access to China’s 600 million Internet users. In spite of Mark Zuckerberg’s efforts, according to Statista, WhatsApp maintains a measly 23 million users in the mainland, or only about four percent of mobile Internet users. Similar numbers appear for other technology companies: Google maintains only about an 11 percent market share in the search market and Twitter is banned inside the country, reducing its effective user base almost immediately. Chinese competitors, such as Baidu and WeChat, have also grown from Western clones to highly sophisticated services specialized to meet the needs of the Chinese market.

Contrast the above scenario with India. According to The New York Times, India will reach nearly 168 million smartphone users this year, with 300 million Internet users overall. Facebook already has 138 million users in India, trailing only the United States. A similar situation arises for Google India, which is behind only the United States by the number of searches. But it is the prospect of the unconnected billion plus users in the country, many of which have never been on the Internet, that is a tantalizing prospect for Silicon Valley. Modi’s commitment to improving India’s technological infrastructure and his allowance for companies such as Twitter and Google to send out real-time cricket scores via text and lay down fiber-optic networks, respectively, represents a departure from previous administrations.

Even though sizable technological upgrades are needed in the country, Silicon Valley’s most prominent CEOs believe the penetration opportunity is worthwhile and have already begun to invest in development initiatives. Google’s CEO, Indian-born Sundar Pichai, has announced that his company will provide Wi-Fi service to 400 train stations across the country, serving over 10 million passengers daily. To combat slow service speeds, which can run at a hundredth of the speeds Americans have, Google is compressing web pages on its servers, to use 80 percent less data and load four times as fast; YouTube videos can now be downloaded on a Wi-Fi network for offline viewing. To connect with lower-income Indians, Facebook has spread the reach of its Internet.org project, which provides free access to a package of mobile apps on mobile apps. Google, Facebook, and Twitter have all added support for various Indian languages (India has over 20 official languages).

But while Modi’s visits have created a wave of excitement in the United States, the response back home has been mixed. The start-up and entrepreneurial community in India has been muted. The country has long battled a “brain drain,” a so-called emigration of its brightest minds to other countries in search of better opportunities, as evidenced by the half-million foreign Indian workers, according to The New York Times, in Silicon Valley. There are also fears that preferential treatment of U.S. tech companies could make it more difficult for home-grown entrepreneurs to draw traffic to their own websites.

These fears are not completely unjustified. According to the Financial Times, Uber is decried in India as an example of a foreign company overstepping its bounds. A national outcry occurred in December, when an Uber driver in Delhi was convicted of raping a woman. Afterwards, it was discovered that Uber did not conduct background checks on its Indian drivers and did not have panic buttons in their cars. Uber has been restricted since, and local taxi unions have lobbied with increasing force against the ride-sharing company’s expansion.

Nevertheless, all current signs point to a bright future for the Indian technology sector. According to a Nasscom-McKinsey report, the overall market is expected to grow from $132 billion currently to $225 billion by 2020 and nearly $350 billion by 2025. Domestic consumption of technology-related goods and services over the same period is expected to double from $34 billion to over $70 billion. It should be noted these figures did not take into account the aggressive expansion that Modi’s alliance with Silicon Valley could bring to the Indian subcontinent. Their ambitious plans could accelerate growth at a far faster pace.

In previous years, this growth was limited through complex bureaucratic regulations and a dearth of foreign capital. An important tenet of Modi’s election campaign was his promise to cut said regulations in the hopes that foreign firms will prioritize India. His warm reception in Silicon Valley and the persistence of companies like Uber to gain a footing in the subcontinent indicate that the interest is there.

Although it remains to be seen when the world’s largest technology companies can make a sizable impact in India, the payoffs for both India and Silicon Valley could be enormous.

 

At first glance there seems to be very little in common between snowy Hanover and the unassailably-temperate Silicon Valley. However, setting aside glaring climatic and geographical differences, the iconic entrepreneurial spirits and boundless ambitions that have come to define the unwavering capital of innovation are also prevalent here at our Dartmouth College.

Meet Shinri Kamei ’16 and Krystyna Miles ’16, prospective BE candidates in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering respectively at Dartmouth’s Thayer School fo Engineering.

“We had a ton of ideas early on, and we didn’t know that THIS was the idea we wanted to pursue until we went to restaurants and realized that it was a real problem,” said Miles, referring to her and Kamei’s start-up venture, Tray Bien, conceived in their Introduction to Engineering (ENGS 21) class during the fall of 2013.

Posed in class with the challenge of identifying a problem and a solution under the theme of mobility and portability, Kamei and Miles’ group “…went to dinner at Molly’s as a team and asked our waitress if she ever experienced wrist pains, to which she replied, ‘Oh my God, all the time. We all have tendinitis, and most of us are just waiting for carpal tunnel”” recalled Miles.

Over the ensuring weeks, the extensive and iterative interviews with waiters and waitresses in Hanover restaurants became the basis of the inspiration to create a new ergonomic serving tray that would prevent wrist such as tendinitis and carpal tunnel related to the holding and handling of serving trays.

The trays are trademarked under the name Tray Bien which is a play on the French words “very good,”. Tray Bien won the Phillip R. Jackson Engineering Sciences Prize among a group of 14 ENGS 21 projects.

“At first we considered other project ideas too. For example, we thought about a device that would transport accumulated hair in shower drains to a trash can without physically touching the hair clump,” said Kamei.

Ultimately, after presenting all their ideas to a panel of Thayer professors as a part of ENGS 21, the group concluded that Tray Bien proved most promising.

After the class ended, the group consulted a patent lawyer over winter break and pursued a provisional patent with the encouragement of the Thayer panelists who witnessed the project grow, mature and take off. On their first day back for the winter term, Miles and Kamei met with Professor Gregg Fairbrothers of Tuck School of Business and director of the newly revamped Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network. He directed them to a contact at Adams-Burch, a large wholesale supplier of food service equipment. In mid-March, the duo hosted a booth at Adams-Burch’s annual Great Ideas Trade Show in Landover, Maryland and showcased their idea to over 200 industry professionals.

“We were just holding our trays all day from nine to six, and trying to get people’s attention. In the end, we took 2,000 pre-orders in the two days we were there. Before that point, we didn’t know that any of this was possible, because we didn’t know if there really was a market for this type of product. The tradeshow was the proof of concept that encouraged us to keep moving forward,” explained the duo. “When we came back toe school in the spring, we entered the Dartmouth Ventures entrepreneurship competition and for the first time in the competition’s history, won both the first place prize and the people’s choice award.”

Currently, the duo is talking to more than 10 manufacturers who have expressed tremendous interest in making their trays.

“We are looking at samples they sent us, and we’re hoping to pick and finalize a contract soon since we already have a distributor lined up,” said Miles. “They [the distributor] are the same people who made it possible for us to attend the trade show, and after witnessing our success, wanted to work with us.”

When asked about the actual work behind the success of Tray Bien, Miles and Kamei admit to the long hours that their project consumed but also describes their experiences as tremendously rewarding the informative.

“Nothing ever just happens,” explained Kamei. “There was a ton of work and focus that went into it, but if you seek the resources here you can definitely find them. Even before the final product is done, it’s so much more than just project design. You have to be out there talking to people, learning about the market, etc. This entire experience has basically been a crash course in entrepreneurship because before this we didn’t know anything about business and the food services supply market, and the best way of learning is by doing, and that’s just what we are doing.”

“But what really made this whole experience great was being here at Dartmouth. Being students, just in general, really helped our whole story, in terms of people being interested in our product. And being at Dartmouth, we had access to many mentors and professionals in the Dartmouth and Tuck community who sincerely wanted to help.”

“Hopefully, we will have the product rolled out by the summer. And whatever profit we accumulate in year one, we will want to roll back into the company. Right now we are just students doing this for the learning curve, and we have some licensing offers that we are hoping to look more into at the end of the year. Ultimately we want to determine whether or not we are in the best position to be distributing our trays because we know that there is probably someone out there who can do a better job. For now though, we want to keep it for a while because the process has been so great as a learning opportunity.”

“For now though, we want to keep it for a while because the process has been so great as a learning opportunity.”

Across the Western world, the prospect of a job out of college causes many recent graduates to salivate like Pavlov’s dog. But will that job be fulfilling? Will it render the worker satisfied, fill the integral part of a person’s life dedicated to meaningful work?

For an increasing number of Americans, the answer is no. A 2013 worldwide Gallup poll found that “13% of workers feel engaged by their jobs…63% not engaged…[and] 24% actively disengaged,” and a 2012 Gallup poll of the United States and Canada determined that out of American workers, 19% felt satisfied, 16% somewhat satisfied, 21% somewhat unsatisfied, and 44% completely unsatisfied.

Considering that the average American spends over 1,700 hours a year at work, extensive unhappiness at work contributes to overall dissatisfaction with life. Numerous psychological studies have identified workplace satisfaction as one of the three most important factors in determining happiness. Work can provide individuals with a sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment, especially if workers can have significant control of their work. However, without control, employees find displeasure at their workplaces.

Perhaps the main reason for this chronic dissatisfaction with working life is the lack of control that many employees can assert over their lives. According to a study by the consulting firm Blessing White, 72% of workers would leave their current jobs because they want more control over their work, while 44% would even work for themselves to increase that autonomy. The study concludes that workers are “becoming increasingly individualistic and managed outside of the rigid company-driven structures of yesteryear.”

The most prevalent business model is hierarchical and, in many respects, antiquated; a board of directors of between nine and twenty people makes decisions regarding personnel within the company, profits, production, and distribution. Supervision and management then emanate from the top. As Ricardo Semler, CEO of Semco, noted, while productivity, expertise, and knowledge have increased and sped up production, this pyramid structure has changed little from the 17th century. It inherently minimizes employee control and can potentially lead to worker dissatisfaction. Instead, many workplaces could benefit from embracing a democratic paradigm that emphasizes participatory initiatives.

Businesses have already begun implementing this new paradigm. The John Lewis Partnership (JLP), which runs retail department stores, practices a model of democratic organization and profit sharing. Every employee is also a partner who is entitled to elect administrators. The Partnership also offers an incentive for better work by providing a bonus as a share of annual profits in addition to a wage. In the end, between 40 and 60 percent of profits return to the employees.

The Spain-based Mondragon is another successful example. Founded in 1956 in the Basque region of Spain, Mondragon consists of a series of workers’ cooperatives operating in finance, industry, retail, and knowledge. It employs about 85,000 people and constitutes the 7th largest company in Spain. The workers in the cooperative determine production, distribution, the fate of profits, and their directors. The workers can voice their opinions with their managers as equals. Though Spain itself has seen some economic turbulence, Mondragon has proved remarkably stable.

Ricardo Semler, the charismatic CEO of the Brazilian company Semco, has been the driving force towards a form of industrial democracy and autonomy for his workers. When Semler first took over the company from his father, it was in disarray. He then fired the management and ended all position titles. He resolved to treat his employees like adults, allowing them to set their hours, elect their supervisors, receive compensation for productivity, and deliberate financial statements. His goal was to make working at Semco a “seven-day weekend,” his philosophy a radical restructuring of work. He mused, “The purpose of work is not to make money. The purpose of work is to make the workers, whether working stiffs or top executives, feel good about life.”

Semco experienced an annual average rate of growth of about 40%, including a 900% growth clip in one ten-year period. The number of employees expanded from about 100 to 3,000. Turnover is now a mere 1%. When Semler first ascended to CEO, Semco was primarily a shipbuilding company but now produces 2,000 other products, some of which are high technology, and manages banking and services for top multinationals like Wal-Mart. It has increased its industry ranking in machinery from 56th to 4th. Through the initiative of one man, Semco has repositioned itself at the forefront of both its industry and worker participation.

Despite fundamental differences in geographical location, each of these companies shares common values in delivering increased worker participation. As the high rate of employee dissatisfaction attests, both workers and businesses can gain from alternative, democratic workplace organization, examples of which have stood as viable options for employees and the bottom line.

Perhaps most importantly, democratic workplaces can increase employee happiness. From a purely utilitarian standpoint, the notion of improving the daily lives of millions of workers is in and of itself worthy of consideration. The key component of workplace engagement is providing for worker control, which serves to motivate and increase the happiness of workers. Dan Pink, a management expert, analyzed various studies and concluded that allowing employees to have autonomy, mastery, and purpose motivates workers best.

Workplace democracy can offer a number of benefits to both the employees and the business as a whole. Through profit sharing and offering rewards to workers based on contribution in extra effort and ideas, businesses can provide incentives. Collective and individual performance-based compensation spurs greater productivity.

Another advantage for businesses that implement democratic models is their ability to attract the best talent. For many bright people, the prospect of participating in key decision-making and controlling their work could provide a large incentive to apply for and potentially work at a specific company. Juxtaposed with a hierarchical model in which executives delegate tasks in a top-down manner, democratic workplaces are much more attractive.

Once the best and the brightest come to a specific company, democratic practices can keep turnover low and employee loyalty high. With increasing levels of worker happiness, companies need not fear workers walking. If employees feel that they control their work and receive just compensation for it, they have no incentive to leave.

While the employees can derive more satisfaction from their work, businesses themselves can stand to benefit from allowing for worker input. Happy workers are productive workers. Workers disengagement, according to Gallup, costs about $300 billion a year, a significant portion of American GDP.

Democratic firms, by harnessing the ideas and input of their employees, can gain increased innovation. Workers can often offer valuable insight into methods for improvement. As they spend hours a day with their jobs, many employees know much about their work. In industries that require high levels of skill, many employees are experts. Tapping into this expertise can lead to innovation. A study of workplace organization from the Canadian Journal of Economics found that “both decentralized decision-making and information-sharing are correlated with innovation.” The company as a whole stands to profit from its workers’ ideas.

Democratic workplaces are now more feasible than ever before thanks to better technology. Advances in technology have enhanced capabilities for information sharing, facilitating the ability of businesses to obtain employee input and provide for worker participation in decision making.

Opposition to workplace democracy often comes from management that does not wish to yield control to employees. However, as both theory and practice attest, relinquishing control and decentralizing decision-making can increase company profits. A transition requires a commitment from management; Semler at Semco, for instance, pushed very heavily for meaningful reform.

While workplace democracy is by no means perfect—it often requires time to exchange ideas and appears to be better-suited for smaller companies—it can have a meaningful impact on even the largest companies. Mondragon, for instance, a company of 85,000, has only deepened its commitment to workplace democracy as it has expanded. In even large businesses, allowing worker participation and providing for a non-hierarchical chain of management can be feasible provided that workers and the company establish procedure. Workplace democracy is by no means chaos—it is highly organized by employees who stipulate certain practices.

Business leaders, workers, and policymakers alike should herald workplace democracy as a worthwhile paradigm. For the former two groups, worker happiness, productivity, and creativity should be paramount goals—they strengthen companies and improve well-being. For the latter group, the ideal of this new birth of democracy corresponds with the chief objective of public policy: increasing opportunity for human potential, fulfillment, and self-determination. In the end, the chance to pursue democracy inevitably fosters the right to pursue happiness. If, following other initiatives, more companies move towards a participatory paradigm, we can also move towards a more democratic and, more importantly, a happier society.

 

Microsoft has been a leader in the software industry for over thirty years, but its reign as a powerhouse built on the sale of computer code may be coming to an end. The company is far from dead, however, as it builds a new future in the increasingly competitive realm of hardware as evidenced by the Xbox, Surface, and now the acquisition of Nokia’s devices and services. The end of Microsoft as a software giant marks its beginning as a hardware player.

The rise of mobile computing has not been kind to Microsoft. The firm built its empire on a combination of sales of the Windows operating system and its Office productivity suite. While the enterprise market remains attached to Microsoft, the personal computer market in developing countries is saturated and consumers have flocked to phones and tablets as the digital wave of the future. Though initially a competitor with its Windows Mobile offerings in the early 2000s, iPhone and Android have decimated Microsoft’s mobile operating system market share, now down to 3.7% this year.

Microsoft has tried valiantly with its new Windows Phone offerings to stay relevant in the smartphone age, but a modern aesthetic and good feature set are clearly not enough to do to the smartphone industry what Microsoft did to the desktop. The executives in Redmond, Washington at Microsoft’s headquarters may be removed from Silicon Valley, but they are not oblivious.

In September, Microsoft showed it understood its failure and Apple’s success. By announcing the acquisition of Nokia, Microsoft will be able to sell a fully vertically integrated product. Google has recently followed a similar approach with its purchase of Motorola as the vehicle for its Android operating system. By making the software and hardware together, Microsoft can make refinements it could only dream of in the past. To paraphrase Steve Jobs’ philosophy behind Apple’s success, they can make it “just work.”

A Microsoft phone running Microsoft software brings an even greater advantage beyond its fit and finish. People don’t buy software anymore. One can’t purchase the operating system of their choice for their phone as they could with their PC. Even on the PCs that remain, Apple’s transition to free distribution of its operating system and productivity suite makes Microsoft’s sales model seem more archaic by the day. One buys the hardware. That’s where the profit is. In the first quarter of 2012, smartphone industry profits were $14.4 billion, much of it going to Apple. In that same quarter, Microsoft made only a profit of $5.7 billion from the entire company. With growing sales every year and large margins on hardware, smartphones are clearly the place to be.

Hardware sales aren’t new to Microsoft. Since launching the Xbox gaming console in 2001, its Entertainment and Devices Division generates billions in revenue annually. Even when people don’t think of Microsoft as a hardware company, its vertical product approach in video gaming has been successful for over a decade.

The acquisition of Nokia and a future of Microsoft-branded phones was hardly unexpected. Lagging excitement at Microsoft from underperforming Windows Phone sales through third party hardware manufacturers and the bungled launch of Windows 8 combined to push CEO Steve Ballmer into retirement and generate speculation for something new.

In 2010, former Microsoft Executive Stephen Elop was appointed CEO of Nokia. As the first non-Finn to head the company and an employee from the ambitious Microsoft culture, some viewed him as a Trojan horse intent on ultimately making Nokia into a subsidiary of Microsoft. His initial decision to have Nokia, a company that failed in its adaptation to the rise of smartphones, discard its homegrown operating system in favor of Microsoft’s new Windows Phone software was a cause of great concern for industry watchers. Windows Phone was untested and Android seemed to be a much better choice. With the argument that he didn’t want Nokia to become another generic Android phone manufacturer, Elop pushed ahead with Windows Phone development, ultimately culminating in the current Lumia line of Nokia smartphones.

Windows Phone was not Nokia’s savior, however, and it has continued to lose hundreds of millions of dollars quarterly. Its stock price has plummeted and Microsoft has appeared as its savior. Stephen Elop recently said, “I feel sadness because we are changing Nokia and what it stands for. And for all of us…there is ambiguity and concern because it is so hard to know what the future holds. But we have to do the right thing.” It’s unclear if Stephen Elop was in fact a Trojan horse, but his agreement to Microsoft’s offer of acquisition and a new position as an Executive Vice President at his old company does not suggest someone who always had Nokia’s best interests at heart.

With its expansion into direct hardware design, Microsoft is aiming to be the next Apple before smartphone buyer loyalties become too cemented. It’s unclear if it will be successful, as few complained of Windows Phone as an operating system or the third-party hardware it was sold on before. At the same time, Microsoft was a surprise success in the video game industry despite launching its first console decades after competitors. Microsoft is still a giant, and it has the reserves to invest and persevere for some time. Whether it can ever make a successful transition to hardware giant, though, is something only time will tell.

 

Imagine developing and patenting the technology that allows a user to return a “sleeping” iPhone back to functionality. Apple did just this with its “slide-to-unlock” feature, a defining characteristic of the iPhone that users have come to love. Specifically, Apple was granted a patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the diagrams that it had submitted, showing a white rectangle with curved edges that, when dragged to the right by the touch of a finger, unlocks the device and directs the user to the home screen. Over the years, more and more smart phones have appeared with very similar features. After all, all devices need some way to unlock, and there are only so many ways to achieve this. The unlock feature, however, is an example of what has caused a great deal of controversy and led to the emergence of a recent phenomenon regarded by many as the “Patent Wars.”

Certain Samsung phones allow a user to touch the center of a circle on the screen, and then unlock the device by dragging a finger to any point outside of the circle according to the user’s particular access code. In February, Apple filed suit against Samsung with claims that Samsung violated a series of its patents, including the slide-to-unlock feature. Apple and Samsung are currently engaged in a 20-lawsuit, 10-nation battle over this disagreement. Additionally, Apple has asserted claims against Motorola for alleged patent violations of similar nature. However, something unexpected happened earlier this year – a Swedish company called Neonode Inc. declared that it had already been granted a patent for a version of the slide-to-unlock feature. Apple had unknowingly been beaten to its own idea, and arguably should neverhave been granted its patent to begin with. Stories such as this have become a familiar trend as innovators continue to develop new technology each and every day. Can a fine line between patents, particularly in the smartphone industry, ever be effectively established?

The answer to this question is extremely unclear, and whatever solution that may exist will likely be difficult to find. Thousands and thousands of characteristics of smartphones such as the unlock feature of the iPhone exist as patents. In fact, Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, has expressed that up to 250,000 different patents may apply to a single modern smart phone. After all, companies have claimed the rights to the most minuscule of features, and often the distinction between these features is highly ambiguous.

Professor Scott Stern, who teaches at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a patent expert who is well aware of the uncertainty involving patents of today’s technology industry.

“The trouble is that in this industry so often a patent is not a clearly defined property right, but a lottery ticket of uncertain value,” said Stern, who is convinced that this patent ambiguity unintentionally creates risk and cost. If patents no longer provide a guaranteed incentive to innovators, the enormous benefits of technology patents appear to be diminishing.

However, news of massive patent buyouts executed by some of the world’s largest technology companies has covered recent headlines. In 2011, Apple, Microsoft, and four other companies completed a $4.5 billion joint buyout of Nortel Networks, a bankrupt Canadian telecommunications maker. Google purchased Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion last August, and Microsoft bought $1 billion worth of AOL patents in April of this year. The aforementioned buyouts value individual patents of each deal at $750,000, $400,000, and $1.3 million, respectively. These numbers are staggering. What use value do large numbers of patents bring to the arsenals of the world’s top technology companies, especially if patents are becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from one another? What is causing this recent trend of massive patent acquisitions?

Historically, the main idea behind patents is to provide ongoing incentives for individual innovation. However, the original inventors of these ideas are largely forgotten in today’s world. Recently, the main premise behind the massive acquisitions of patents, particularly in the rapidly expanding field of smart phones and tabloids, has become increasingly geared towards security. Ownership of patents grants companies both a stronger legal and negotiating position when faced with the growing ambiguity of the world of technology patents. Loaded with large stockpiles of patents as a defense mechanism, companies have the increased capability to secure their products and defend against potential litigation. The potential for future innovation is also strengthened. The extremely high cost of eliminating these risks is thought to greatly outweigh potential future risks themselves.

It is difficult to say what the future may hold for technology patents. Interesting responses are already beginning to emerge. Just this April, Twitter announced that it will allow its engineering inventors to veto lawsuits against alleged infringers of patents that they develop. Under the agreement, Twitter cannot sue another company or person without the consent of the engineer to whom the patent was rewarded. This action may provide an effective model for companies to avoid expensive legal messes, such as those currently fought by companies such as Apple.

One thing is certain – too many technology patents remain vague and excessively broad. Michael Carrier, a professor at Rutgers School of Law, is correct when he states, “When you have companies spending hundreds of millions in litigation, something is seriously wrong with our patent system.” Patenting of technology products will continue to face struggles unless lawmakers scrutinize the recent troubling trends and develop an appropriate response.

Green cars that are widely available, reasonably priced and profitable to build? A Tokyo dealership is where to find them. To meet the demand for clean‐air vehicles, Japanese car companies across the board are accelerating production of their fully electric concepts. The goal: electric vehicles available to the public by 2010, just over a year away.

Over the past few years, the increase of consumption in the emerging economies of China and India, combined with higher extraction costs, have contributed to skyrocketing prices of fossil fuels in the US and abroad. There are a few diverging opinions about the concept of “peak oil,” but everyone agrees that oil production will decrease steadily over time. Even taking into account the recent drop in crude oil prices, the cost of fuel has grown more than 560% over the past ten years, which has left consumers itching to find a better, budget‐friendly alternative to current transportation. Clearly, every car company wants to be the first to provide a solution. The race to an ideal state of energy efficiency has begun, and at the moment, the contenders at the forefront are all based in Japan.

The idea of the fully electric vehicle, or EV, is not a new one in Japan. In fact, Keio University has been experimenting with electric technology for several years. The university’s work culminated in the development of Eliica, a fully electric concept car powered by a long‐lasting battery, which can reach speeds up to 240 mph. The Eliica was introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2005 as the first “high performance” fully electric vehicle. At the time, the Eliica team saw their work as a step towards the creation of a commercial line of similar vehicles.

Mitsubishi is clearly one of the major players in the push for electric vehicles. The company is working on completing their “iMiEV,” a fully electric model reminiscent of a Smart Car, on track for the projected launch date of 2010. Initially, the release will be limited to the Japanese market, but Mitsubishi has plans to sell the car in the US and Europe as well. The price for this vehicle, which runs 93 miles per charge and reaches a top speed of 90 mph, will be equivalent to roughly 19,000 USD. The technology and lithium ion batteries used to power the car will be supplied by Lithium Energy Japan, a joint venture set up by Mitsubishi itself.

Nissan, also at the forefront of the race to spearhead the EV market, plans for fleet sales of its car in the US and Japan to commence in 2010, with worldwide marketing beginning in 2012. “The first production vehicles will be for regional areas like California,” Nissan’s Manager of Advanced Vehicle Engineering Masahiko Tabe explained. “We will later expand the EV all over the world.” This tall, boxy four‐seat vehicle, modeled on the gasoline‐powered Nissan Cube currently for sale in Japan, will have a daily range of 100 miles, a top speed of 75 mph and a recharge time of just 8 hours. Automotive Energy Supply Corp, a joint venture set up by Subaru, Nissan and electronics mogul NEC Corporation, will provide the battery pack to power the car. Nissan officials have high aspirations for the car’s success, hoping that its release will bring them “zero emissions vehicle leadership.”

The automotive designers of Subaru share a similar vision. Subaru has scheduled the release of Stella, a four‐seat lithium‐ion battery‐ powered electric for 2009. This vehicle, traveling only 50 miles on an 8‐hour charge, is much less heavy duty than its rival counterparts and caters most directly to the needs of city commuters. However, Subaru currently has no plans to market the car outside Japan. The batteries for this EV will also be provided by Automotive Energy Supply Corp.

Lastly, Toyota is also preparing for the release of its own version of an electric vehicle. The ultra‐compact E‐Com which has been on the drawing board since 1999, will seat only 2 passengers and feature a small gasoline engine to recharge the battery. According to Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe, the car will be adequate for limited distance travel only.

With so many Japanese companies producing electric vehicles, it is easy to see that anyone who demands an energy‐efficient car worldwide will look to Japan. But why is Japan, of all places, the birthplace of this new market?

First of all, strong economic motives will encourage consumers to consider the purchase of an EV. In a country where gasoline pump prices average 150% higher than in the US, a $19,000 MiEV will be in high demand.

In addition, Japanese companies are known to have a strict reverence for customer satisfaction. In recent years, this convention of serving the customer in the best possible way has become closely associated with “having a developed sense of social responsibility and valuing environmentally friendly practices.”  For instance, the Daily Yomiuri reported in July that Toyota was publically funding reforestation endeavors in the Philippines to augment its image as a “green” business.

Another important factor that has contributed to Japan’s primary role in the budding EV industry is the availability of the complex technology required to efficiently manufacture lithium‐ion batteries for automo;ve use. This technology, which was largely referred to as “untested” and “unproven” as recently as five years ago, was assumed to be expensive and impractical. Today, however, each major Japanese car company has its own in‐house produc;on of EV batteries, with the exception of Subaru and Nissan, which share the same technology.

Lastly, the Japanese people and market have a profound willingness to accept the electric car into their lifestyles. With the knowledge that fully electric cars will be launched in Japan as early as 2009, Japanese supermarket chain Aeon Co. is preparing to install car‐charging ports at prime loca;ons in its shopping malls. The ports Aeon plans to set up will be powerful enough to charge EVs in just an hour, a fraction of the time employed using a household socket.

Together, high fuel prices, Japan’s cultural mores, the availability of advanced technology and the enthusiasm for a more environmentally conscious lifestyle have created the perfect situation for the rise of the EV market. This constitutes a positive step for Japan and the world as a whole, but are EVs really the ideal answer to pollution that environmental advocates play them up to be?

First of all, if a large fraction of the cars that used to run on gasoline start running on electric power, power systems might not be able to cope with the addi;onal demand for energy, especially if the switch happens too quickly, and the capacity margin for electricity genera;on might disappear.

Secondly, electric cars are only as green as the kind of generating capacity used to charge them up. If the power does not come from wind or nuclear sources and instead comes from oil or coal, then EVs might be even bigger pollutants than gasoline cars. So if electric cars do result in increased demand on power grids, governments and power companies will need to focus on creating low carbon generating capacity in order for these cars to be a blessing rather than a curse.

The world will have to wait a few years before the true effects of the EV can be fully observed. What is clear today, however, is that the electric car’s debut into the global market is as much a question as an answer.