Public Relations and Patent Lawsuits: Bose v. Beats



Over the past year or so, an argument that used to be confined to law offices and R&D labs has spilled over into the mainstream media: namely, whether or not the U.S. patent system encourages or discourages innovation in today’s economy. In the past 60 days, the issue has been covered by The Economist’s Free Exchange blog, Tesla Motors turned it into great PR with their “All Our Patent Are Belong to You” blog post (odd grammar explained here) and the Supreme Court made its first software patentability decision since 2010. For companies, especially those in patent-rich fields like software, electronics, or pharmaceuticals, this means patent disputes now have the potential to play out on two fronts: the courtroom and the newsroom.
As a result, companies involved in patent lawsuits now have to succeed in battles on both fronts to decisively win the war. For a company that places any value on its public appearance – i.e., almost all of them – winning in the court of law but losing in the court of public opinion can actually be the worst outcome for their business. Being forced to pay damages or losing an important piece of IP is damaging, but ultimately finite; a tarnished brand, on the other hand, can follow a company indefinitely.

The recent suit filed by Bose against Apple for allegedly infringing on some of their noise-cancellation patents is a perfect example of the PR dangers of a patent dispute. While a legal win here would be great for Bose, a PR loss has the potential to be very damaging. Beats and Apple are two brand-driven companies that are beloved by a large percentage of the world’s consumers.

Bose makes great products, and their first-class noise cancelling technology is an important differentiator for them. However, as Beats has proven, people don’t buy headphones solely for their sound; the brand matters just as much (if not more). Ask any hardcore audiophile to choose between headphones by Beats and Bose and nearly all will choose the latter. The average consumer, though, will give significant consideration to the brand while making their choice – and for better or worse, Apple and Beats have a definite advantage there.

At the end of the day, Bose succeeds when it sells headphones, and favorable patent rulings are only useful inasmuch as they serve that goal. For that reason, success in this case will have to mean winning both the legal dispute and the PR battle: if the latter goes against them, it’s possible that consumers will see their win not as an important victory for IP rights but an unjust  ruling that stifles two of their favorite brands. Fair or not, the Bose brand is David to Apple and Beats’ Goliath; if Bose isn’t careful, the enormous weight of the Apple logo could turn their legal win into a Pyrrhic victory.

To prevent this from happening, Bose needs to have a proactive communications plan ready for the Beats demographic – specifically, 17- to 35-year-olds, where Beats is the top selling brand. Bose may have a great reputation with older business travelers who rely on their noise-cancelling tech for flights, but they’re much weaker in Beats’ demographic.

If Beats loses the case, it wouldn’t be hard for them to position themselves as a scrappy underdog whose innovation is being stifled by Bose’s patent enforcement. Since Bose doesn’t want young people to perceive them as an industry bully that’s picking on a brand they like, Bose needs to be ready to win this fight as well. Remember, Bose doesn’t actually have to be a bully to be perceived as one; as with most PR battles, the facts of the story end up being less important than the way they’re told.

On Monday of this week Beats fired its first salvo in this conflict, telling the ITC that a ruling against them in this case would strongly harm consumer choice. In this new age of highly publicized patent lawsuits, Bose’s success will depend as much on their PR team’s ability to debunk that claim as it does on their counsel’s ability to argue the case. Companies in patent-rich industries should take heed.

Jennifer Hrycyszyn is the Vice President of Business Development at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter: @hrycyszyn

What the iPhone 5C Means for Marketers

Photo: iPhone 5C - Flickr Creative Commons 2013 - Martin uit Utrecht

Photo: iPhone 5C – Flickr Creative Commons 2013 – Martin uit Utrecht

Yesterday, Apple introduced two new members of the iPhone family: a faster, sleeker iPhone 5S that features the new iOS7 operating system and a colorful, cheaper iPhone 5C which also runs off of iOS7, but targets a completely different audience. The 5C is designed to be a more accessible smartphone, targeted at emerging markets and, presumably, at age groups where adoption has been slower, such as tweens and baby boomers. While to some this is simply the launch of some new iPhone models, I see it as an important inflection point in the history of smartphone adoption, especially as it relates to marketing and marketers. Below are my takeaways:
1. A more affordable iPhone means more access to content… If more people can afford a smartphone, there will be more people accessing content on the go. For marketers, it means that webpages should absolutely be optimized for mobile, promotional emails should be easy to load and read on mobile devices and Facebook posts and tweets should be short, pithy and stand out in a crowded stream.

2. … And more access to content means more sharing. In the smartphone age, videos, photos, GIFs and news stories are being shared at an epic rate. In fact, more than 8% of a mobile user’s time on social media networks is spent sharing content. As a brand, you want your content to be shared. As explosions of “micro content” occur, it will be important for brands to make their stories as visible as possible to avoid getting lost in the shuffle.

3. More smartphone users mean more apps. More apps mean a wider variety. Apps have always been a staple of the iPhone. But the Baby Boomer generation probably isn’t going to download the apps that are popular with the younger crowd, such as Snap Chat or Tinder. This is your chance to truly connect with your target audience and create apps just for them. This could be apps that help new users get acquainted with the phone or ones that helps high school kids with their math homework.

4. More smartphones, smartphone users and apps all equal more demand on wireless networks. As consumer adoption grows, wireless networks need to be running in tip-top shape. Luckily, there is wireless access in pretty much any urban setting, and with mobile-optimized content, mobile users will experience content with speeds equal to that of a PC.

5. The iPhone 5C is all about expressing your personality and individuality. Not only does it come in a variety of candy-hued shades, but Apple offers a special case featuring circle cut-outs to give the phone a two-toned look. From a marketing perspective, this makes the phone more appealing to both fashion-forward teen girls as well as Baby Boomers, who may have been previously put-off by the untouchable look of super-sleek phones. Personalization should play a big role in mobile campaigns optimized for the iPhone 5C.

What do you think of these bright new iPhones? Let us know in the comments below.

Gaby is an account executive at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter: @Gabyberk

Google Glass: Has Technology Crossed the Line?

As a member of the Millennial Generation, I have seen quite a few new technologies emerge. It seems that in just a matter of years, we have gone from desktops and cordless phones, to flip-phones and laptops, to smart phones and tablets and most recently, to Google Glass, the first technology ever to allow humans to live in a virtualized reality.
As our technologies have gotten smaller, our dependence on them has gotten larger. I rely on my iPhone for much more than just phone calls and texts; it’s my alarm clock, my iPod, my weatherman, my GPS, my camera and my newspaper on the train in the morning. But if I am so attached to my iPhone, why does the idea of Google Glass scare me?

Actually, the real question here is can we survive in a society where people walk around with tiny screens attached to their heads? I’m not so sure.

Yes, there are the positives of Google Glass. There’s the story of the high school teacher taking students on a virtual field trip through Switzerland, and of the woman who can take war vets on tours of memorials they would otherwise never get the chance to see.  And of course, CIOs are already scheming up ways that Google Glass will help make their employees more productive.

But then there are the negatives. First and foremost: privacy. How will you know if the stranger walking down the street wearing Google Glass just discretely snapped your picture? What are the consequences of having technology intrude into every step of your everyday life? One bar in Seattle has already banned patrons wearing Google Glass from its establishment, citing privacy concerns as the main reason.

And, there are all of the unknowns. Google Glass will change how we communicate and interact with each other.  Is the dude in line behind you for coffee wearing Google Glass talking to you or his glasses? Will having screens attached to our faces destroy personal relationships by allowing people to retreat back into their technology, even when surrounded by friends? Will Google Glass distract and remove us from what is actually going on even more than our smartphones already do? Not to mention, will staring at a screen that close to our eyes for hours every day cause a new eye disease or premature blindness? And finally, will the ability to perceive and experience things differently, and maybe even better, through technology, ultimately lead us to be disappointed in our off-screen lives?

The only way to answer these questions is to experience Google Glass first hand, or at least through this video. Do you think you have the answers to my questions? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Gaby is an account executive at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter: @Gabyberk

Recharge On-the-go

Photo: Nokia Wireless Charging Shell, Nokia 2013

Photo: Nokia Wireless Charging Shell, Nokia 2013

Smartphones, tablets and mobile devices rule our lives. But sadly, we are still dependent on the need to plugin (as exemplified by my laptop, which only works plugged into the wall, making it the world’s most foldable desktop). But when we are walking around with our devices snapping pics for Instagram, streaming jams through Spotify at the gym, reading the New York Times on the train or simply chatting or texting away, there’s always a little nagging fear about what we will do if our device (gasp!) suddenly runs out of battery. Luckily, there’s a solution to this: wireless charging.

I first heard about wireless charging when I saw the super cool, super hip Nokia ad for their Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 phones. While I was surprised that Apple wasn’t the first major company to launch wireless charging, I was intrigued by how it worked.

Basically, instead of needing a dock to connect the battery to, wireless charging (also known as inductive charging) uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy from a charging pad to the battery. Nokia has released a few different options for wireless charging pads, including a case. That way, you can literally charge your device while walking around.

While this technology is still in the early stages, it is important to have on our radar. Not only will wireless charging change how we think about and interact with our devices, this technology will eventually allow for even more, now tethered, technologies to become mobile. Plus, from a business perspective, it will open up a whole new set of potential products.

Wireless charging isn’t just limited to mobile devices. A bus line in Mannheim, Germany is testing PRIMOVE inductive charging technology, which will charge an electric bus through charging pads buried underneath the road. To conserve energy, the pads are switched on by the pressure of the bus passing overhead. The on-the-go charging systems reduce chances for delays caused by uncharged busses, and, the smaller batteries allow for more passenger space. Plus, apart from bikes, this bus may just be the greenest mode of transportation ever.

Wireless charging could help to further seamlessly integrate technologies in our lives. Not having to worry about wires, chargers and docking stations will allow us to rely on our devices more than ever and use them to their full potential. Wirelessly charged devices will also open the floodgates for new innovative technologies, and we are excited to see what comes next. Have an idea for what the next wirelessly charged device should be? Tell us in the comments below.

Gaby is a Consultant at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter: @Gabyberk

With Great Potential Comes Regulation Uncertainty for Medical Mobile Apps

Photo:, 2012

Photo:, 2012

Ask the average smart phone user and he can probably show you a whole slew of apps he uses, providing a range of different services,  from keeping track of his schedule to streaming custom radio stations to paying for a meal with the scan of a barcode. But what about using your phone to monitor or diagnose your health? According to Research2Guidance, a mobile industry market research firm, approximately 247 million mobile phone users worldwide downloaded a health-related app in 2012.
Health apps are on the rise, providing users with software to log exercise, count calories and even assess moles to decide whether they warrant a visit to the dermatologist. Some apps target doctors, allowing them to view X-rays on the go or communicate digitally with their patients. The US FDA noted that there were 17,288 health and fitness apps on the market in mid-2012, along with 14,558 medical apps. However, these mobile apps are the subject of debate as policy makers sort out how to ensure these health resources are credible and safe for consumers to use.

Currently, as is often the case in the tech world, health app technology has outpaced regulation. Heath-related mobile apps represent the intersection of consumer technology, communication, and medicine, making it unclear as to who the responsible regulatory body should be. Both Apple’s App Store and Google Play require that app developers meet some standards, but their guidelines do not currently pertain to content quality or validity. The FDA regulates medical devices, and provides oversight to certain health apps that in effect converts a phone into a medical device. “There are apps today that change a mobile platform into an EKG machine. When it’s being used to diagnose patients, it’s a medical device we believe is subject to FDA oversight,” explained Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in an NPR interview. But that still leaves the oversight of thousands of less technical apps up in the air.

At the moment, federal legislators are working to move a bill through Congress that would help clear up this regulatory ambiguity. Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) has introduced The Healthcare Innovation and Marketplace Technologies Act, which proposes creating an Office of Mobile Health within the FDA. Establishing this new department would ensure that health apps actually provide users with credible and safe information.

We are inevitably going to see a shift towards mobile healthcare and a greater use of health-related consumer technology.  Local health care system Partners HealthCare has already established an entire Center for Connected Health to focus on efficiently and safely developing and implementing mobile health solutions. The recent focus on how to best regulate this new technology is a step in the right direction. The safety and security it will provide will enhance consumer confidence and ultimately accelerate the technology’s adoption.

Lucy Muscarella is a Consultant at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter: @lucymuscarella

The Sound from the Fury: Positively Disruptive Telecommunications Technologies

Photo: Richard Buckminster Fuller - ARCADE 2012

Photo: Richard Buckminster Fuller – ARCADE 2012

“Our living rooms are empty seven-eighths of the time. Our office buildings are empty one-half of the time. It’s time we gave this some thought.”Where do you think the above quote comes from? Maybe it’s from yesterday’s Times story about some startup full of Millennials, printed below a picture of them sitting on a ping-pong table and running out of venture capital. Maybe it’s from the script for your new HR representative’s “5 Key Practices for Healthy and Happy Work-Life Balance” meeting.

Here’s the answer: it was said by the famous systems theorist, inventor and futurist, Richard Buckminster Fuller. He was born in 1895 and fought in World War I. He’s also the only person in history to have both a carbon allotrope and an EPCOT ride named after him.

It’s clear that ideas, stories and theories about the benefits of multipurpose space and mobile productivity have been around a long time. They have implications for many aspects of a business, including efficiency (both of time and of resources), work-life balance and company culture. What makes these storylines so popular today is that, unlike at the turn of the 20th century, we have now refined our communications technologies to the point that reliable, instantaneous and user-friendly remote communications are truly possible.

Over the past 10 years, there have been several major technological advancements on the mobile communications front. One is VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, which has made huge strides in the business space – in 2008, 80 percent of all new PBX lines installed internationally were VoIP lines. Makers of ATAs (analog telephony adapters) and VoIP desktop phones, such as Grandstream, offer connectivity solutions for businesses that go beyond setting up extensions – employees in VoIP-based offices can have their calls routed to any phone on the network, including one installed at their home office, without loosing the protection from their IT department.

Photo: Telegraph Office - Wikimedia Commons 2008

Photo: Telegraph Office – Wikimedia Commons 2008

In addition to hardware VoIP phones, a “softphone” can make staying connected even easier for those who travel often. A portmanteau of “software” and “phone,” a softphone is an application that runs on a computer, smartphone or tablet, and allows users to make calls via the internet rather than a cellular connection. Adding softphones into a VoIP PBX network could do a lot to save costs and remedy Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) problems.

Another real breakthrough in mobile communications has been the refinement of personal audio technology. No matter how strong your mobile telecommunications infrastructure is, it’s useless if the people connected can’t clearly hear each other. Fortunately, headphone manufacturers like Etymotic and VXi have made serious progress with personal audio over the past decade. Wireless, lightweight and reliable headsets are making dialing in to a call as easy at the airport as in a conference room. But possibly the most important technology is noise cancellation, which reduces the ambient noise transmitted through the phone to the call’s receiver – for an example, watch this video of a VXi BlueParrott headset being used next to an idling tractor-trailer.  Also interesting is Etymotic’s Awareness! app, which lets users program their headphones’ noise cancellation to allow certain sounds, like boarding announcements, to pass through. This lets mobile users decide what to ignore and what they’re willing to be interrupted by.

When Buckminster Fuller started thinking about how to maximize the efficiency of our home and work spaces, most Americans didn’t even own a telephone. Today, with the arrival of modern telecommunications technology, I’m predicting some serious efficiency and productivity gains.

Zach Pearson is a Consultant at Greenough. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_p_pearson