tej dhawan's random musings

Category: Legal

How killing net neutrality will affect you

This off today’s news stories – FCC poised to changes in net neutrality policy
The lobbies, supporters and the FCC continue to make the debate around net neutrality more complex than it really is.  Through the various gyrations, the lobby for media and internet companies has figured out that by removing the immediate costs to us end users, they can take us out of the debate. They’re right – most people you speak with don’t really give a damn about this issue because it won’t cost them a dime…. yet.
I have a simple analogy that I’m sure I’ve heard someplace but can’t recall to properly credit – how would you like the public highways to provide priority to those who can afford to pay for high speed driving privilege down the left lane. If the left lane gets filled up, the middle lane becomes available to the payor, continually squeezing the ‘public’ to the right lane, shoulder, and ultimately off the road. It really is that simple in networking terms also.
If you’d like to read my reasoning why – read further.  If not, think about your commute this morning and imagine the above scenario.
The news out of FCC this morning hints at rules allowing a Netflix or Apple to pay for better, faster connections to the Internet for better delivery of video. The way it actually happens in Internet hardware is that, in addition to a fatter pipe to the Internet, Netflix is provided a higher Quality of Service that gives a priority to its traffic, through networking gear, over others’ on the pipe.  Our corporate networks implement such a priority where telephone traffic is generally given higher priority than someone browsing social networks.  Extend this analogy for a moment –
highwayrobbery
You are entering a freeway and the on-ramp checks your license plate. The freeway computer recognizes that you are a standard driver, checks current traffic, and gives you access and you start driving merrily.  A convoy of trucks enters the highway and they happen to pay 10 bucks a truck. Their priority is, therefore, set higher and the highway computer moves your car off any lanes needed by the trucks until they have passed. On the Internet today, it is reality that lanes are so busy that the entity using it as a public infrastructure will be moved off-road (network term: squelched).
We enjoy Netflix, Amazon VOD, Hulu, Youtube, Vimeo, and many other services because the Internet was setup as a public utility without being called one. No one entity had more rights over the other. It isn’t a libertarian concept to seek to keep it that way. Just like our public highways, our common airspace, our electric supply, phone lines, and access to fire department or police, our Internet needs to remain a public utility, devoid of favoritism.
Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Youtube, Vimeo were all startups once. And there will be startups again. Will they get squelched because NBC and Comcast chose to pay for higher QoS and eliminate the potential for competition. Bet your bottom $ they will.
Your senators and representatives need to hear. Your newspaper needs to hear. And ultimately, people fighting this fight need support. Head on over to Freepress and the EFF. Join their work, support their work, and more importantly, spread the word about their work. They’ve made it as simple as a button click.

Clubbing the Patent Trolls

Untitled

Image courtesy CEA (Consumer Electronics Association – ce.org)


I just wrapped up a very full day meeting in Washington with several Senators and their staff on the issues surrounding patent reform.  This day was coordinated by the Application Developers Alliance, an advocacy group I connected with in December around the time of the House vote on the Innovation Act (House Bill 3309). 
Before I go further, political correctness stalwarts as well as trolls themselves are calling for the name trolls be dropped and Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs) be used instead. I will use the term troll instead… it is not only the industry standard name, it also labels these entities accurately.
Imagine receiving a letter like –

Dear CEO – you owe us $1000 per employee at your company for each networked scanner that emails scanned documents and one or more of your employees potentially uses that feature.
or
Dear Kevin – we noticed that when you picked up groceries for your mom and sister during your recent shopping trip, and delivered them on your way home, you violated our patent on efficient routing for purposes of grocery delivery between retailer and one or more consumers. You owe us $1200 per delivery point for this violation.

Does either sound ridiculous? Yet, one is real and the other… well… the other could become real.  In the case of the former ‘letter’, a trolling entity has divided the US into territories where patent attorneys are actively sending demand letters to businesses using scanner to email function. Each letter demands the $1000 compensation. It has ticked off enough complaints and confusion in the business world that state attorneys generals have been called into action.
In a remarkable move, 42 Attorneys General have urged Congress to take action and to provide the Attorneys General to utilize the powers granted to them in assisting the citizens in their states and territories. This letter generated significant buzz during our visit and was largely being seen as a positive action toward patent reform.
Fast forward back to today – and what brought me here to DC. Meetings today covered members of the press, a dozen senators, a number of legislative staffers from senators’ offices, and two representatives from national VC firms – Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures and Jason Mendelson of the Foundry Group.
Trolls aren’t a headache JUST for large technology firms. They are beginning to affect everyday businesses through measures that can best be described as extortion. Send vague letters to businesses large and small claiming that the business is infringing on a patent. Given them a short window to respond with payment or the penalty will go up. If the business chooses to litigate, the ‘fines’ will go higher and potentially private and personal information extracted through discovery of the company’s systems, mobile devices, phones, etc. This is a national problem that affects all of us and household names in my own state – Kum & Go, Bettrlife, Kinze Manufacturing,Iowa Bankers Association, HyVee and more have gone on record documenting their problems with trolls.
It was good to have two very large VC firms and a relatively small angel group represented in DC by our group of three. As Iowans we have an unusually significant sway – whether it is in the first in nation status in the caucuses to having two very senior senators who are respected universally. Senator Grassley’s position as a ranking member of the Judiciary committee makes him particularly powerful in this realm. Those who have read this know that I’ve spoken with him and his staff in the past about immigration issues and found him receptive – even though party politics (and the 2012) election rocked that boat past his control.
Patent reform has taken the form of a 325-91 support in approving the House bill (H.R. 3309) in December 2013.  The bill, also called the Innovation Act, immediately received support from the White House . The companion Senate bill (S.1720) was introduced in December and is currently being studied by the Judiciary committee while other bills make their way around the Senate. Our direct request today was for the Senate to move forward toward passage of patent reform in the senate that can pave the way to conference that will resolve the difference between the House and Senate bills before the President can sign it into law.
The key provisions we asked for are –

  1. Clear identification of who is suing (who has the financial interest in the claim)
  2. Clear identification of why the claim is being brought – specifically which portion of the company’s patent is being infringed
  3. Clear identification of how the infringement happened – specifically what did the infringer do wrong
  4. A fee-shifting provision (about who pays what)
  5. Potential for pre-litigation review of a business-process patent through an expansion of the covered business method statute

I reached out to several attorneys in Des Moines who are know for their work in intellectual property, including patents.  Several who represent small, innovation focused companies, warn of a chill that could befall such small companies due to the need for paying winner’s attorney’s fees, as they fear that large companies could simply bury the small company under legal costs. Similarly, members of the software community who have business process patents are naturally against provisions that could expand a review of a previously issued patent. I feel that the innovation community is at a greater risk of being attacked by trolls who are using old patents from now defunct companies. These patents, issued in huge quantities after their 1996 allowance, and bought up during the dot-com crash, now are utilized by entities that exist solely to litigate.
Though we haven’t seen this in the Iowa investment community, Jason and Brad both talked at length about how the companies they see closely tend to come into the trolls sights right about the time they receive serious funding or exhibit commercial viability and success. Companies are actively being formed to go acquire patents from companies in bankruptcy for the sole purpose of litigating with that portfolio.
The meetings at Senators’ offices proved very detailed. There was hardly any fluff in the 20-30 minutes we had with each senator, and the Senators and staff did an equal amount of talking and asking. Since we didn’t need to push an agenda with senators  who are already on board with patent reform, we offered help and the meetings entered meaningful discussion about ideas, alternatives, and potential solutions. Today, there are the Leahy-Lee (S 1720) and Cornyn-Grassley (S 1013) bills that represent the Senate position and the underlying conversations.  Sen Schumer adds teeth to the Leahy-Lee bill via Schumer (Senate 866).
I am a huge fan of the Cornyn-Grassley bill as it clearly covers most of my desired outcomes. Passed independently, either the Leahy or the Cornyn-Grassley bill would resolve a lot.  If Leahy-Lee-Cornyn-Grassley-Schumer got married into a single bill, our work today would be very productive.
I left DC with that hope, and plan to remain engaged with the Iowa Senators. The fitting end to the day was flying along side with Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and being able to thank him on his action on this issue.
 

My article in the DSM Register on the Net Neutrality ruling

This article appeared in January 19, 2014 issue of the Des Moines Register’s Business section. It is encapsulated here and the original article is here to discuss my opinion on the recent Net Neutrality ruling by the DC Court of Appeals.
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Like many homes, Internet services enter mine via cable connected to a Mediacom box. It’s the same cable that provides me with telephone and video service.
But these services’ similarities, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals, ends there. Even though many of us use the Internet to communicate through text messages, email, Facebook, etc., the court says it is an information service and telephone and video services are communications services.
The distinction is important because Tuesday the court struck down FCC regulation of the Internet on the grounds that the regulatory body cannot control information services.
The D.C. court’s action now opens the way for an Internet provider to selectively block content from whomever they choose. If Mediacom doesn’t like the broadcast network ABC providing access to free streaming shows from the network’s website, they can simply not provide consent (try streaming the recent “Modern Family” episode from ABC, if you’d like to try today). The great firewall of China has come to the U.S., and here it will be controlled by AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Mediacom.
Our government, using the intelligence of lobbyists while checking its own at the door, chose to narrow the definition of communication service in the early 2000s, and despite promises, didn’t fully define the Internet as a communication service during the past five years. The largely impotent Congress, despite constant communication from the masses, remained mired in its own battles. It neither gave the FCC direction to define the Internet as a communication service, nor did it require its chairpersons to act.
You, the readers of this newspaper, still have a little power to act. Our six representatives to Congress need to be reminded by all of you to keep the Internet free of corporate interests. The president needs to be reminded that his promise to reverse the previous administration’s mistake is still not fulfilled. And organizations fighting for your open and free access need your support — monetary and through the power of signatures on the petitions.
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The organizations needing your support are the Electronic Frontier Foundation and FreePress.net

What if someone like the NRA defended the fourth amendment?

Almost as old as the United States of America itself, this particular portion of the Bill of Rights known as the fourth amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. It states –

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

image copyright, www.eff.org


As many who are vigilant against the activities of the US Government and its intelligence network have pointed out since late 2001, the police state is growing in its clandestine watches against its citizens. It took the audacious acts of Edward Snowden in the early 2013 to actually wake a few more Americans to the issue. Though a bit more familiar, we remain woefully clueless and apathetic about our eroding privacy. And the Government continues to expand its reach.
Unsurprisingly, there is a neighbor of the fourth amendment under a similar onslaught. Though I happen to fall on a different side of the debate, I find it admirable that the proponents of gun ownership have attached themselves so tightly to the second amendment which, according to the text, merely states –

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed

Though its various words and phrases are perpetually in question, the second amendment is seen nationally as sacred and not to be infringed upon. It is considered sacrosanct enough to be attributed to the founding fathers who must have intended American’s to always have the right to bear arms. Yet, we forget that the fourth amendment too is a creation of the same founding fathers (introduced by James Madison and announced by Thomas Jefferson).
What is obviously lacking isn’t patriotism or some sense of right or wrong. What I believe is lacking is the mean marketing machine that is the benefactor of the second amendment (and incidentally the beneficiary).  If the NRA didn’t exist, would the general public alone be able to protect its right to bear arms?
Many of us in the tech world expressed outrage, chagrin, and outright anger at Snowden’s revelations. We teamed up against SOPA and PIPA (and for a short time, won), we rallied against ACPA, immigration laws etc., but always went back to our keyboards, expecting our lives to remain normal and untouched by the bureaucrats. How wrong we were. We need an organization, national in scope, mean in execution, persistent and tenacious. We need an NRA like entity to protect the citizenry from unlawful search and seizure, illegal and warrantless data collection by the NSA, and the propaganda unleashed by Congress and its minions daily.
It turns out that we do have such an organization that is equipped to do many of these things but needs every ‘gun owner’ to join the battle – that is anyone utilizing a computer, a smartphone, a telephone, or a tablet to support the EFF.  Follow its writings, its protests, and its campaigns to get to Congress. Support it with your cold hard cash so it can fund the fight, Distribute its links on social media. NSA spying isn’t all the EFF monitors, but the simple history and timeline will get you on your journey.
Join the EFF here.

Past Performance is not a predictor of future results…but sure helps filter bullshit

“Past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance.”

Though the disclaimer has become so oft-repeated footnote in financial disclosures that it has become ignored by the very people who should pay close attention to its hidden meaning.  Its shield is the hidden wall that any new investor is bound to hit as they spend money on investment advice, hand-holding, and account management fees.  As I open dozens of reports and disclosures weekly, I can’t bit smirk at the warning above.
I was chatting with an old friend the other night as he went through his 401(k) asset-allocation.  He was simply seeking help on the pie-chart of equities vs. bonds, domestic vs. international, and fund selections.  As we looked past the marketing names and details, the discussion quickly shifted to fees, when I noticed a sales load on some of the funds doing something has trivial as attempting to track the market (a S&P 500 index fund!).  He seemed to be trading the company match just to pay the ‘entry’ fee to the fund!  What utter nonsense, unless I thought, the manager was beating the index consistently.  No surprise, however, when I saw that the returns were abysmal despite the asset purchase and asset management fee due to the advisor ‘actively’ managing the fund by timing certain purchases/sales.
Since an investor is expected to pay for active management of their funds and asset management fees are often withdrawn at the beginning of the period, shouldn’t the investor expect a certain level of return.  After all, the father of modern investing, Ben Graham wrote of what defines an investment in “The Intelligent Investor” –

“An investment operation is one which, upon thorough analysis, promises safety of principal and an adequate return. Operations not meeting these requirements are speculative.”

When we go to a doctor, we have a reasonable expectation of becoming healthy in the near future.  When we hire a lawn mowing service, we expect the grass will be cut.  When we hire software developers, we expect the product to be developed to our needs.  So, why is it, that when an investment advisor allocates our assets into the market, their own asset is not on the line?  Why is it that, when the market has returned historical data for almost a century and we have predictable market movement, advisors who claim superior strategy, research, active management and tactics, have no responsibility when they don’t deliver?
I’m calling bullshit on the cop-out served by ‘past performance is not a predictor of future results”

When the site is free, you are the product

The debate pops its head up, seemingly every six or so months.  The new website or app that you happily downloaded and connected through all your social networks issues an updated terms and conditions or privacy policy, a news source notices it, publicizes it, everyone shares it on social networks, a brouhaha ensues, the company issues a retraction with an update that no one notices or cares about anymore, and information about users continues to get sold.
Software isn’t cheap.  Whether developed in basements, outsourced to contractors, offshored to India or elsewhere, funded by friends, families, fools or venture capitalists, it takes real people, real time and money to develop it.  The developers, people in high-demand and high-salaried, expect to get paid for working.  They don’t release applications for free because they are being philanthropic.  The apps and sites are free because they expect to sell something entirely different as a product.   In the 80s and 90s, independent developers or small programming shops made software and made it available for free under a concept called ‘shareware’.  People who found the application useful were expected to pay for it and the amounts were usually small – $10-$50.  People downloaded these applications and a relatively small number ever paid for them.  Developers tried time-bombing apps, limiting features, etc. but never really seemed to recover a decent income.  Then came the world of advertising where revenue could be generated by showing advertisements.  Contextual advertising replaced that… with ads that were specifically targeted to the user and no longer generic.
The number of applications that suddenly became free in the past decade, however, is staggering.
Remember Hotmail circa 2000?  You received 2MB of mail space and the company attracted users by millions.  It was sold by the original developer for a mere $400 Million and served generic advertising for revenue.  Then came Gmail in 2004.  Google offered 1GB of storage for free and showed advertisements based upon the content of the message.    Users ignored the loss of privacy and flocked from hotmail, AOL and other mail services by the millions for the massive data space made available to them for free.
Facebook, Instagram, Foursquare, LinkedIn aren’t doing anything they haven’t publicly stated before — they are selling you to their advertisers.  If you don’t like it, cancel your account and buy the software for the service.  Want email – Microsoft sells Exchange for an advertising free experience.  Want photo management – Adobe sells Elements.  Want to share photos – buy a domain and host your images for sharing with friends.  Facebook is free.  Gmail is free.  Instagram is free.  Pinterest is free.  Words with friends is free.  Yet, these companies are valued for real dollars on the stock markets and their owners and shareholders are living indoors, eating food they bought .  What makes that possible is the product being sold by these companies — the USERS.
Users have been presented with the caveats in the sign-up screens.  Check these out for yourself:

Facebook – “We use the information we receive about you in connection with the services and features we provide to you and other users like your friends, our partners, the advertisers that purchase ads on the site, and the developers that build the games, applications, and websites you use. For example, in addition to helping people see and find things that you do and share, we may use the information we receive about you:”
Linkedin – “We use the information you provide to… Create and distribute advertising relevant to your or your network’s LinkedIn experience. If you share your interactions on LinkedIn, for example, when you recommend a product, follow a company, establish or update your profile, join a Group, etc., LinkedIn may use these actions to create social ads for your network on LinkedIn using your profile photo and name. You can control whether LinkedIn uses your name and picture in social ads here.”
Pinterest – “The information we collect may be “personally identifiable” (meaning it can be used to specifically identify you as a unique person) or “non-personally identifiable” (meaning it can’t be used to specifically identify you). We use both types of information, and combinations of both types, as described above. We may use or store information wherever Pinterest does business, including countries outside your own.”
Yahoo Services –

  • We look at a person’s browsing activity, such as the types of content the person accessed, ads the person clicked, and searches the person conducted. Based on this, we infer certain interests the person has, and we show ads likely to meet the person’s needs. For example, for people who like to check out the golf scores on Yahoo! Sports, we may show ads that focus on golf-related products and services.
  • We offer this service not just on the Yahoo! network but across our partners’ sites as well.
  • Advertising is how we’re able to offer the innovative, free services that are traditional at Yahoo!. As we continue to customize your Yahoo! experience, you may see ads that more closely reflect your interests.

Foursquare  – information collected includes … “We receive and store any information you enter on our Service or provide to us in any other way. The types of Personal Information collected may include your name, email address, phone number, birthday, Twitter and/or Facebook usernames, use information regarding your use of our Service, and browser information. We automatically receive your location when you use the Service…… ” and is shared with entities including “Agents: We employ other companies and people to perform tasks on our behalf and need to share your information with them to provide products or services to you. Our agents do not have any right to use Personal Information we share with them beyond what is necessary to assist us, and they provide a comparable level of protection for your Personal Information.”

These are just a handful of privacy policies from a few sites that are free to users because they derive revenue from elsewhere.  Your favorite social network – Quora, Google+ and others probably have privacy policies that aren’t very different from above.  Their  revenue is generated when ads are served to the browsing user.  The ads are neither free nor cheap and entire industries are built upon advertising.  For example, if you are about to begin selling something in Iowa and want to target women aged 24-37 (young moms?), Facebook will let you configure an advertising to specifically target the 21,460 women who identify themselves as just that.   That data is worth  some serious dollars and was generated by you, the user when you uploaded the kids birthday pictures, invited friends to a party, or perhaps wished a Happy Birthday.  Want to target specific audiences who visit specifc sites – checkout one such syndication network site’s blog list and how much each impression can be worth.
These sites/apps  provide a valuable service to our social networks and the social graphs are prospering because of that.  But before we get up an bash the companies for using our data, we bear the responsibility for reading what the privacy policy of the site explicitly states.  In most cases, the privacy policies aren’t legalese and relatively easily understood.
The bottom line remains – if the site is free, YOU are the product being sold.  Put that lipstick on 🙂

Immigration issues – revisited in DC


There is an eerie consensus across the aisle in DC that our current immigration system is broken, in need of reform, and change is necessary for the long term economic growth.  There is little consensus on how such reform will be achieved, who will lead it, and what will eventually motivate Congress into action.
Human Capital, impacted by immigration, was one of the core topics of the Des Moines Partnership’s DC trip this spring and I am privileged in being able to join business and government leaders from our region on this trip.  I am certainly privileged to work with Lori Chesser from the Davis Brown Law firm and invited to a panel on immigration.
The panel, consisting of Rosemary Gutierrez and David Johns from Sen Harkin’s office, Kathy Neubel Kovarik from Sen Grassley’s office, Aaron Brickman from Department of Commerce, Ben Johnson from American Immigration Council, and moderated by Lori Chesser was attended by various members of the Des Moines community and focused significantly on answering questions from the audience and thus remaining very interactive.
There are three forms of legal immigration today – 1) marriage to a US citizen, 2) sponsorship by an employer, or 3) sponsorship by an American citizen family member.  Being involved in all three forms, I felt comfortable contributing my experience and need for policy changes and bills currently circulating in DC.  I am married to a natural born US citizen from Iowa,  have sponsored, on my previous company’s behalf, several H1b candidates from India, Nepal, Indonesia and Vietnam, many of who are taxpaying residents, green card holders, naturalized citizens and contributors to Iowa and the US economy.  I am also sponsoring my sister, a Malaysian citizen to the US.
What is broken and in need of fix are the second and third categories.  Whether it is the HR3012 bill that allows green cards to be issued from the available pool rather than be artificially limited, the proposed StartupVisa that allows for foreign entrepreneurs to start their businesses in the US when sponsored by an accredited US investor, the DREAM act  or others, several solutions exist and are available to Congress.
What I heard from many during this recent visit to DC was that many in Congress would rather wait for a comprehensive immigration reform.  Both Senators’ offices comments were consistent that they prefer comprehensive reform such that visas should not take jobs from US workers, college seats from native US students, be considered comprehensively and not piecemeal etc.
Though a desire for comprehensive reform is respectable, Congress hasn’t shown an ability to work together toward real reform in my voting life in the US.  Furthermore, careers in STEM fields continue to be underfilled by software developers, doctors and  engineers.  Companies large and small, represented in the audience for our forum, continue needing to offshore their work in absence of sufficient resources here.
As Jim Clifton so clearly pointed out in Coming Jobs War, there is a marked change underway worldwide.  Qualified technology workers are finding an ability to find careers overseas and no longer want to stand in line as second-class citizens in the US.  Recent news reports are listed net-immigration from Mexico even to be zero, resulting in shifts even in the agricultural economies of Texas, Florida and California.    People are finding opportunities elsewhere in the world, and if we are unable or unwilling to bring job-seekers here, our companies will be sending the jobs overseas.
My message to the congressional representatives and other members on the panel was clear –

  1. We can’t wait for comprehensive reform.  To stem the outflow of jobs, we must tweak our immigration policy through bills like the HR3012 that received significant support in the house (373-15) but remain stuck in the Senate.
  2. Small and new businesses are the job creators.  Startups, a subset of the new businesses, are the high growth leaders in wealth creation that leads to more job creators.  The StartupVisa, as introduced by Kerry and Luger in 2011 needs to be addressed in Congress.
  3. Our colleges and universities are global leaders in education and attract students from around the world.  As we graduate them and give them options to intern/train via OPT/CPT statutes, we should allow them the ability to apply for a green card and legal employment at the end of the practical training rather than subject them to 3-10 years of servitude via the H1b program.  These students represent a large community of individuals who are establishing strong ties to America – we need to grow through them.
  4. Our schools and colleges are not graduating needed numbers of STEM fields.  While we build that population up through K-12 systems over the next 20-30 years, we should make our universities and colleges attractive globally through a foreign student program as attractive as the one I used when entering this US in the 1980s.
  5. The DREAM Act proposes to give children of illegal immigrants a legal way to stay in the country.  Whether it is the original Dream act or the modified version by Senator Marco Rubio, the purpose is the same – keep and grow with those who love and cherish America.

We do not have time for comprehensive reform, or does Congress show any willingness to bridge the divide, specially in this election year and beyond.    If you have any doubts about our place in the world, pickup a copy of Jim Clifton’s Coming Jobs War or Thomas Friedman’s many tomes, including That Used to be Us.

The StartupVisa, Green card acceleration and Congress… aaarggh!

Christian and I recently submitted this post to the editors at Omaha World-Herald and the Des Moines Register in support of various bills pending in congress.  I am a strong believer in immigration reform that accelerates the entry of highly skilled, technical resources to our shores and is imperative to our growth.
These initiatives have been reported on recently by Silicon Prairie News, discussed in a fair amount of detail on a recent Prairiecast and are supported, tracked and documented by the StartupVisa website.

America’s technology industry is hungry for talent to feed our entrepreneurial spirit to drive our leadership.  Our universities remain a target for students worldwide to receive higher education.  Our companies continue to need qualified engineers and developers.  Yet, we graduate thousands of developers and give them no path to employment here in the United States.  We choose to pave a way for them to go back to their native countries when we should be stapling a green card to the very valuable diplomas we hand over.  We also have several hundred-thousand skilled technology workers who arrived here on a myriad of temporary visas but are beholden to their sponsoring employers, unable to create companies – the true engines of growth – due largely to bureaucracies and delays in immigration policy.
Congress has solutions on the docket but lacks the wherewithal to act.  A bill that passed the house by a vote of 389-15 (H.R. 3012) languishes in Senate as it awaits Iowa Senator Grassley’s approval before moving to the Senate floor for a vote.  If approved, it stands to accelerate approvals of green card applications to over 500,000 H1b visa holders.  These green cards will enable many individuals to create more high-tech companies that hire an exponentially large number of people.  These startups create intellectual property so eagerly sought worldwide.  It will incentivize many to stay in the US and productively contribute further to our economy rather than returning to their home countries where they can be equally accretive to job creation.
We continue to graduate students from our institutions of higher education with valuable bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees yet provide the same graduates with little to no ability to work in the country.  These highly trained, motivated individuals consequently return to their home countries or countries like Canada with more relaxed immigration policy.  We should incent these graduates with accelerated ability to stay in the US and create companies.  Companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Google weren’t created by seasoned businessmen – they were created by skilled and hungry college students with an ability to execute on their dreams.  We need thousands more such students unleashing the power of our economy.
Talented individuals still eye America’s global dominance in technology.  Many would love an opportunity to create businesses in this country and hire Americans, buy and build real estate, invest in communities and become accelerators in our communities.  The StartupVisa (H.R. 1114 and S 565) propose to deliver on this promise and needs Congressional support.  The really good news is that this enables foreign students and workers who are already in the U.S. to qualify for a visa. The requirements for them are very reasonable—they must show that they have enough in savings not to be a burden to American taxpayers, and get a qualified investor or a government entity such as the Small Business Administration to validate their ideas by making a modest investment.
Yes, there is a risk for holders of this visa that, if their venture fails or doesn’t go anywhere, they must start again or leave the U.S. Precisely!  The Startup Visa is for risk takers who are willing to build companies that rival the largest, most successful ventures and hire the brightest talent to develop products sold globally.
These initiatives in Congress are supported by many senior representatives and senators.  Several in the technology industry, venture capital, education and government support these initiatives.  We need support in Congress and the constituencies to recognize and deliver on these initiatives to maintain and grow our economic and technical leadership.
 

Our civic responsibility

As we discussed the SOPA and PIPA bills in front of the Senate and House on Silicon Prairie NewsPrairecast today, one of the viewers liked something I said and mentioned that I should teach civics. Though meant as a compliment, I found it intriguing that someone thought my read of and commenting on a couple of bills qualified me to teach civics.
We owe it to ourselves and our future generations to read more about what is being proposed for future laws. Even more, we need to remain vigilant about what the politicians say in public, sponsor in chambers and espouse in print.  No civics teacher needed in the days of Google, open government, public records laws and FOIA.

What about adjourning?

I was lucky to attend Central College a private, liberal arts college in Pella that afforded time and flexibility to connect to faculty beyond the traditional lectures and grades.  Friendships developed then and remain true today.  So, it was a mixed emotion with which I attended Dr. Jann Freed’s retirement party recently.  Even though I was a Computer Science/Math major, Jann’s Organizational Theory and Behavior class made a huge impression.   During her retirement ceremony, as speakers came and went, honoring (and eulogizing!) her career, I was struck with her reference to the 5 stages of a team.
Psychologist Bruce Tuckman first came up with the memorable phrase “forming, storming, norming and performing” in 1965.  He later added a 5th stage – adjourning.  I truly believe that all of these stages apply amazingly well to the concept of business as they do to a team.
When you start a business, you love the idea of others coming along to share your risk, passion, glory, money, and more.  The team forms with 2 people and grows to 10, 20, 50…  As the team storms its products out the door, normalizes strategy into tactics and performs beyond its own wildest imaginations,  the human element creeps in slowly and quietly with tiny steps.  Partners lives, passions and goals morph and often in separate directions.  And then comes a time when partners have to separate.  AND THE TROUBLE BEGINS.
As many of my friends in the legal profession tell startups dozens of times–plan and formalize a legal document.  Don’t leave anything to verbal.  Don’t assume anything.  Your partnership, like all others will break.  If you are the rare duo and no business reason breaks it — human mortality will end one of your lives someday — and it will break.  Plan for it now while all is nice and comfortable, happy and with a bright future.
To plan for such an adjourning, you have to have a basic buy-sell agreement.  It may be something 1/2 a page long or 10 pages of details that cover esoteric elements of trusts and estates.  It may contain formulae or simple instructions.  It may go into trigger events or the desire for a breakup.  Whatever it needs, it needs to be formalized and memorialized in your corporate paperwork while you’re still dating each other, in love and with roses dotting the path to success.  Sit down together as partners, write down your priorities and share them with your lawyer.  Then file the document away in the safe for the unfortunate day when you will separate.
Remember, even marriage, the global partnerships practiced worldwide, formalized in front of family, friends,  religious leaders, co-workers, sometimes accompanied by vows, break.  All you have is an idea that germinated over a beer in a restaurant and the plan drawn up on the paper tablecloth on which your food was served.  It needs an adjournment plan.

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