We all start somewhere.
Even when we start again.
A First Beginning
A few years ago, when I started Dauratus Research, I didn’t have a grand vision of what I wanted to accomplish. I had been working as a patent research specialist for Kodak, having started with a company called Creo a number of years before. Kodak bought Creo, and Creo became Kodak, and, after a few years of watching my idea of Creo slowly dissolve, I was finally laid off along with a wave of others in late 2009. It wasn’t unexpected, and it wasn’t unwelcome. At the time, I was torn between going back to school — I had some interests in technology and society that I wanted to pursue — and working for myself.
I didn’t end up in graduate school. Work found me. I knew a few things: one, that I had some skills; two, that there was some demand for my skills; and three, that I wanted something more — that I wanted to do something more — and thought perhaps that working on my own might lead me to that.
But it didn’t turn out that way. And somewhere along the way, I got lost in my own forest, fell into despair, and had to find my way back out again.
What Do You Mean, Dauratus?
Dauratus is short for Dendrobates auratus, the Latin name for a brightly colored, tree frog, also known as a poison arrow frog. I came across the frog while musing about possible business names. I spotted it while off on a tangent, searching for images containing my favorite color combinations.
I have a weakness for intense, vibrant greens and deep blacks, and I am very fond of frogs. This particular frog — which is more often green and black than actually golden — is a tiny, beautiful predator that hunts for its prey in the litter of moist, lush tropical jungles. Like other such frogs, it protects itself with deadly skin secretions derived from the prey it consumes. I liked the metaphor of a tiny hunter, because that’s how I saw myself: as a tiny, deadly hunter at home in a dark and sometimes overwhelming forest. Even patent searching can have its poetry, and I have a vivid imagination.
I was (and am) a finder and communicator of information, a maker of connections. I saw myself as a tiny forest guide. The full Latin name means “Golden Tree Walker”, and it struck me as a particularly evocative way describing the way we can hunt for meaning, information, and connections in the complex ecosystem of human knowledge.
And so my little company became Dauratus.
Lover of Technology, Slayer of Dreams
I’ve been in love with technology and ideas most of my life. I’m captivated by human problem-solving and ingenuity, applied to all manner of objects and processes and domains. I love to know how things are done. I love to think about what’s possible.
Who knows where that love came from? I admire resourcefulness. I am a child of immigrant parents, and I was also surrounded by relatives and neighbours who made things, built things, and figured things out. It may have started with my father’s subscription to Mechanix Illustrated, or it might been all the big and tiny problems I watched him solve: creating a basement under a home without one, learning to pour concrete, grafting fruit trees, repairing appliances. My father doesn’t speak much English — more out of shyness than inherent inability — but he thinks in the language of problem-solving, and it’s a language whose grammar is written in my nervous system, my worldview, my memories and dreams.
So perhaps it was no accident that I ultimately became a technology and patent researcher. I’m not an engineer by nature, but I am a seeker and explorer of solutions to problems. I love to explore, and I love to share — and exploring technology and patent literature is an expression of that.
But here’s the thing.
When you do a lot of patent searching, a lot of it is about killing possibilities. And keeping others from doing something that might be worthwhile.
Depending upon what you need to do, killing possibilities can be good thing. If I find a document that can prove that a certain troublesome patent shouldn’t have been granted, it helps others work in a space that would otherwise been closed. Other times, however, it’s a sad thing, because it sends hopeful inventors back to the drawing board, stymied by the fact that the good idea they had was so good that someone else had already disclosed it the world.
Moreover, the business of patents is often very much about NOT sharing — even when sharing would be best for everyone, including those who own the technology. The “not sharing” is built into the patent system for a reason: the whole point of granting patent rights for a time is to give inventors a reason to share, to reassure them that they will have the opportunity to benefit exclusively for a time despite ultimately contributing their ideas to the public good. But, like any system that apportions access to resources, an ecosystem develops in which some players become extraordinarily good at exploiting resources, and at denying access to others. Sometimes I imagined dragons, tails wrapped around hoards of intellectual property, rumbling with brimstone and threats of litigation.
So there I was, a lover of technology and possibility and dreams, digging around in dragon lairs, combing through treasure hoards. I often wondered what good such treasures do, hidden in darkness and obfuscation, zealously guarded.
Sometimes, in happy moments, I would find a bright and shining blade: one we could use to slay those that threatened us, or at least break the patents they used to keep us prisoner. Other times, however, I would discover evidence that killed dreams and stifled ambitions: dull heavy stones of prior art; daunting, spirit-killing walls of patents, built to keep intruders from climbing into the keeper’s garden.
Lost in the Forest
All of that is a long, ornate way of saying that I was profoundly ambivalent about the work I was doing. Not because I think that technologists should stay away from patents entirely — in fact, I think everyone who cares about technology should have a decent understanding of intellectual property — but because I could see that I wasn’t really helping. Sure, the searches I did helped some people get patents, or make decisions about strategy. Sometimes it kept people from pouring too much energy into a crowded field.
But I wasn’t helping good technology to survive.
Dauratus lost direction. I avoided promoting the business. I avoided promoting my expertise. I never did start that blog. I found patent research increasingly difficult to enjoy, even though I had always enjoyed the thrill of the hunt.
And I felt increasingly disconnected from what I thought my business was supposed to be about: helping innovators and inventors discover the information and intelligence they needed to make great decisions. (That’s what my old business card said, anyway. More or less.) Because even if they were getting good intelligence, it wasn’t what they needed to help them survive.
And yes, I got rather sad about that.
A Nudge, A Notion, The Glimmering Edge
Sadness has its consequences, but some of those consequences can be valuable. Introspection, for instance. Rumination. You doesn’t want to do it forever, of course — that’s when you end up starving in the forest — but if you stop and examine why things aren’t working you may eventually start to understand what you need to do next.
Sometimes, however, it takes a little nudge. In my case, it was something that Michael Port, the author of Book Yourself Solid and the co-creator of a program called Heroic Public Speaking, said about his first book. Book Yourself Solid, said Michael, is actually a love story disguised as a business book. The key to getting booked solid, he argues, is to find (and make yourself findable by) the clients that will absolutely love what you do, and for whom you will do your best work. The key to a happy career as a service professional, according to Michael Port, is love.
And I, being the touchy feely tender-hearted softie that I am, realized that that was what was missing from what I was doing with Dauratus. Love.
I realized that I didn’t so much care about “information and intelligence and making the right decisions”; rather, I cared about helping great technologies and great ideas find true love — the kind of love that garners the support those ideas need to make them thrive.
The best, most thorough research in the world will not help a technology that nobody cares to support.
Patents and freedom to operate and a well-stocked arsenal of prior art mean nothing if no-one wants to buy your product.
This is what I believe: that it is not innovation or even need that determines whether a technology survives; it is the will and desire of human beings to encourage and perpetuate its existence. And in the best of all possible worlds, it is goodness that we support, and love that helps us choose.
And so here we begin. Again.
Smart technologies. Smart humans. Love stories. That’s where I was going with this.
And here I am, perched at the edge of the forest, ready to connect.