STOP Fakes: Exporting Your Intellectual Property

Protecting your company’s intellectual property in global sales transactions means ensuring that America’s creative and innovation assets remain valuable and relevant, able to overcome illegal trade barriers raised by piracy. That covers every exporting American company, whether they sell products or services.

There’s a federal government initiative run by the US Department of Commerce called Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy (STOP!), a comprehensive program that makes it easier for rights holders to obtain and enforce their IP rights at home and abroad. Its ultimate goal is to leverage international law enforcement tie-ins to dismantle the criminal networks that manufacture and distribute fake goods.

If you have not already secured your company’s intellectual property rights, then start your own STOP today. Call 1-866-999-HALT or visit www.stopfakes.gov

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… Might as well try and tax the wind

Apologies to Dylan, but while pondering recent taxation maneuvers around the globe in renewable energy, the lyrics to his song Catch the Wind were blowing through my head. Investment Tax Credits (ITC) appear to be holding up in most countries, to the benefit of wind and solar power industry players; even as governments map out new taxation of output. So, what’s given to these pioneer entrepreneurs up front in the form of ITCs will be partially recouped, starting when the first turbine spins. That is where taxing the wind comes in… expect to see generators forking over to their local taxing districts a direct payment based on the electricity production from the wind turbines. Is it fair to tax the wind? Sure – petroleum exploration and refinery companies and providers of hydroelectricity have been subjected to the same tax obligation, while converting the natural elements into vital power output.

My expectation, though, is that renewable energy ITC policies should in fact render more after-tax revenue for providers than those policies that benefit petroleum-based energy providers. A nascent industry needs a boost, for a pre-defined period of time. Healthier after-tax margins will serve as a sign that these amazing new ventures around the globe are open for business and here to stay, which will attract ever-ready venture capitalists and mutual fund portfolios. There is already in play a multi-tier global industry: from land developers to manufacturers of specialty control equipment. The industry has drawn the most unexpected players, too, such as Knight-Carver, who’s made the delightful transition from design and construction of racing yachts to specialty wind blades. Their operations can be found today on both the San Diego bay front and on the South Dakota prairies.

Renewable energy programs are also becoming a local asset touted by regional economic development offices around the world, signaling a stable, diversified base for companies in search of a home. It’s the availability of, and the ability to generate, renewable energy that’s attracting companies in manufacturing, distribution and transmission of renewable energy and its components. A truly global industry is arising, with both mighty and emerging countries competing equitably. And it allows even perennially rainy spots like Portland, Oregon to tout themselves as a Solar City USA.

All governments will of course tax the wind — that’s a given. But they must keep their eye on the global competitive roadmap, mindful that companies can choose to locate most anywhere on the globe and easily reach customers everywhere.

International Business Pre-Flight Checklist: V

We’ve covered four vital steps on a reliable, affordable pre-flight checklist. Like a good pilot, we’ve checked off Get Executive Thumbs-Up, Analyze Market Horizons, Prove Demand, and Allocate Resources. Fifth and final entry on this short-but-sweet pre-flight checklist discusses how to Select a Team.

Who will be part of your trusted crew? Build up a trustworthy and reputable group of strategic partners, employees, alliances, vertical channel setup, key customers, spokesmen, and analysts. Work your network of former and current colleagues and converse with industry partners through your company’s trade associations. LinkedIn, the free social networking site for the business world, has proven to be an excellent site for forming what I call “virtual tribes” of actual and potential colleagues, very targeted groups whose membership is full of professionals who know what you need to know, and who want to learn from you, too.

Are you hiring non-US staff who will work and live overseas? Ensure that your company’s HR team is qualified to recruit, hire, train and compensate foreign nationals. Ask your CEO (he’s your cheerleader, remember?) to engage a recruiting consultant. Again, a good place to start is at your local US Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center. They help to remove the mystery of engaging with internationally-based professionals who want to work with you or to be your new employee.

Once the core team is in place, if you’ve taken these recommended steps you’ll likely find that your new international team meshes well with you and your company. Shared values and priorities, style of selling and supporting, and standards for quality and service to name a few. Whether you’re hiring an international sales manager or joining the alliance program of a Fortune 100 partner, the same rules apply.

Chances are, another company has already forged the trail that you need to follow.

International Business Pre-Flight Checklist IV

Previously, I touched first on the need to Get Executive Thumbs-Up, then to Analyze Market Horizons and Prove Demand. Up next: Allocate Resources.

Can you afford the trip? Or, rather, trips. Lots of them. Face time with selling partners and customers is your key to success, especially when up against local competitors. Your sales and support co-workers and staff can count on a few new passport stamps every year, as you cultivate international revenue for your company. So budget accordingly across all departments to cover the special skills and resources that are needed when dealing globally.

Yes, your company may be in for an extreme makeover: accounting, product management, operations, and sales teams will take on new duties, and have to re-think basic procedures. For instance, does your accounting department need to hire foreign exchange and letter of credit experts? Does your HR director know how to recruit, hire, compensate, and motivate employees located in local markets? Will you need to contract with a logistics company to outsource fulfillment, support, and warehousing?

If you’re the one in charge of developing international markets for your company, you will quickly find out which of your co-workers will be on your case about moving their cheese, vs. those who become avid cheerleaders for you as you build up international sales. Like it or not, nearly all American workers have a direct hand in international trade. Most of us work for small to mid-sized companies, which in turn contribute the lion’s share of export/import revenue for our nation’s economy.

Handling most international transactions usually requires extra time, flexibility, and patience … all of which are in short supply in many businesses these days. In your role as international sales leader, have a weekly to-do item that will advance the cause of team-building. Enlist the help of those cheerleaders and your bosses to help you convert angst to adulation across add departments. Jumbo-sized boxes of chocolates from faraway lands won’t hurt, either, so leave room in your bag and shop the duty free retailers before taking off!

International Business Pre-Flight Checklist III

In 2 previous entries, I touched first on the need to Get Executive Thumbs-Up and then to Analyze Market Horizons. What’s Step 3 on the checklist? Prove Demand.

Is the destination worth the time and resources? There has to be tangible, measurable demand for your products and services in international markets, which signals long-term revenue growth, which you’ve already quantified in step 2’s analysis. Are your solutions able to reach new markets in their current or altered form, motivate local partners, win new revenue?

Here is where time spent at industry fairs in your target countries will pay off. While I encourage you to make friends with local distributors and brokers — they are great at local networking, and can introduce you to trusted resources in banking, legal and logistics circles — I advise against signing ANYTHING resembling a distribution agreement with them, exclusive or not, for the time being. It is just too soon to go steady, and you want to protect your goods and services from sandbagging by nefarious competitors or those who intend to steal your intellectual property. Sorry if I sound jaded here, but I’ve seen this scenario play out more than once.

While planning your trip, don’t forget to enlist the aid of the hard-working team at the US Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center near you. Though they work for Uncle Sam, these people think like entrepreneurs, have global-scale rolodexes, and act with the sense of urgency that business owners can appreciate. Their services, many at no cost, include access to in-market studies for your particular industry, ranging from political and regulatory obstacles down to current and forecasted market growth based upon point-of-sale data from retailers and world-class research. Put your tax dollars to work for your business!

At this step, companies very often make the strategic decision to split product lines down domestic vs. international lines. Feature sets that are vital to winning international revenue — multilingual interface, for instance — may be of negligible value to your domestic customers. And once this happens, be certain that your operations, accounting, and logistics functions can handle it. More on that in future entries.

Next installment on the list: Allocate Resources.

Hello world!

My name is Tom Hanson.  I make a living in marketing by linking products to markets worldwide. My bag of tricks is hefty: I have worked in a host of industries, promoting products to help people live and work smarter. My hope is that this blog will spark some ideas for you, allowing you to see your work from a new angle. It’s my aim to convey how amazing I find the world of international commerce to be.

Why marketing? Well, I inherited a mish-mash of family genes for creative writing, avid reading, wanderlust, wry humor, silent observation, and, well, for yakking with anyone who fogs a mirror. Along the way, I became fluent in Spanish and hijacked a workable French and a smattering of Japanese. All this jived, and into the work world stepped a fellow who likes to communicate and gets paid to do it.

I started out carrying a sales quota and a bag, pitching and wooing my way deep into a territory known ominously as ROW (Rest Of World, i.e., “them”). I learned how building channels and alliances that put feet on far-away streets would help me make my numbers, easing my bosses’ angst over those always-suspect expense reports. I soon realized that when it comes to marketing strategies, one size does NOT fit all. So, sure enough, I joined the thundering herds of marketers, striving to ensure that my sales colleagues would carry timely, focused, and practical selling tools in their own bags, always suitable for local consumption.

In the ensuing years, I’ve worn holes in my soles and stamps in my passport, and gained valuable insight into what works in the world of international marketing. I invite you to read my blog — peek into my bag of tricks, listen to some stories, and get my views on what’s happening in the market that moves customers and makes them take notice.

I don’t think any of our childhood dreams involved growing up to become a bleary-eyed wage mule, so I hope to have some fun along the way as I cover a variety of topics related to where I work and what I do. All work and no play makes for a deadly boring blog.

 

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