Call it Rathodics, Rathodology, Rathod-gineering, or Rathodistry; chances are high that you will find lot of useless things on this blog. Nevertheless, I thank you for visiting my blogsite, and hope you spend sometime reading the blogs and commenting on them. Further, you can visit me at http://www.unm.edu/~srathod

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Merck and J&J

The recent news regarding Merck (MRK) announcing a safety recall of its arthritis drug Vioxx reminds me of the Tylenol issue in 1982.

7 people died because of cyanide-laced Tylenol tablets in Chicago. The tablets, it seems, were tampered with. What did Johnson and Johnson (JNJ)do to handle it? J&J put customer safety first, before their profits.

J&J asked consumers throughout US not to consume any Tylenol product. It recalled all Tylenol capsules from the market. This amounts to approximately 31 million bottles of Tylenol, with a retail value of more than 100 million dollars. Also, it stopped production and advertising of Tylenol. J&J announced a reward of $100,000 for the killer.

Just the executives at J&J came to know about the issue, a lot of questions were raised. Should they announce a recall of one of their most successful product (37% market for over-the-counter painkillers)? If yes, how many? Should the recall be nationwide? Will it create a panic? The recall was put on hold for the weekend. On Saturday, the burials of the victims was covered on the television. Any opposition to the recall within the executives, vanished, and on Tuesday, the recall was announced. The recall cost the company $240 million in earnings.

J&J offered to exchange all Tylenol capsules that had already been purchased for Tylenol tablets, costing millions of dollars more. In less than six weeks of the sudden deaths, Tylenol was reintroduced with a new triple-seal tamper-resistant packaging. Many consumers may have switched to other painkillers after the incident. To encourage them to use Tylenol again, McNeil Consumer Products, subsidiary of J&J, provided $2.50-off coupons that were good towards the purchase of any Tylenol product in November and December of 1982. These coupons were available in newspapers. It could be obtained by consumers calling a special toll-free number too.

Further, a 25% discount was put into practice in 1983. Over 2250 J&J sales people made millions of presentations to people in the medical community to promote support for the reintroduction of Tylenol.

How did J&J decide their actions? They turned to their corporate business philisophy, which they call "Our Credo". Their credo was written in the mid-1940's by Robert Wood Johnson, the company's leader for 50 years. J&J's concern for societal interests is summarized in this document, which stresses honesty, integrity, and putting people before profits. Under this credo, J&J would rather take a big loss than ship a bad batch of one of its products. No wonder, J&J is rated each yearin a Fortune magazine poll as one of America's most admired companies, especially for its community and environmental responsibility. In the long run, the company's swift recall of Tylenol strengthened consumer confidence and loyalty, and Tylenol remains the United States' leading brand of pain reliever.

A parting question playing on probably everyone's mind: how will Merck compare to J&J in this respect?

Pre-quality days...

Got stuck in a number of reports, submissions, classes, etc., and hence couldn't post anything for almost 3 weeks. Thanks for inquiring, Aditya.

I was talking with a professor here, who had worked in a big company long time ago. Those were the times when punch cards were still in use in computers. Japanese had still not entered the US market, and Quality was still not a buzz word. The big company had bought computers from another big, well-known PC manufacturer. The professor noticed that there were some guys almost all the time in the room where the computers were kept. He got curious and wondered that these guys must be up to something really important that they were present most of the time in the computer room. Later on, he found out that those guys were from the PC manufacturing company. PC broke down more often than not in those pre-quality days. The PC manufacturer was trying to portray, and successfully, that when it comes to customer service, their personnel will be present 24/7, to the extent that the PC manufacturer put their own rooms in the client firm.

Enter the Japanese, and quality took a different meaning altogether. I wonder, how many such 24/7 customer service personnel lost their jobs, after the US firms also started paying more attention to quality.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

FDI: good or bad?

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI): Is it good or bad for economies of developing countries? I don't know the answer to that, but I can provide one reason which I came across which says that FDI is, indeed, good for a developing nation. The article titled "Asian Economies Striving To Enhance Innovation Capabilities" by P. G. Yoshida, under the 'Perspective' section on page 2, in a January 2001 issue of Research Technology Management emphasized that for a country to develop, it needs to privatize state-owned enterprises. The author said that private sector participation is important to stimulate technological innovation, and to increase the rate at which these innovations reach the consumers. It cited that percentage of R&D expenditure by countries such as Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore. It said that over the years the percentage of R&D expenditure by the industry, mostly through FDI, increased resulting in a better economy.

Later on, I had a chance to talk with one of the professors whose research interests include technology management, and I asked him regarding his point of view on this issue. He said that he agreed that, in this era of globalization, it is important for a developing nation to attract FDI to be competitive.

The reason he said that the citizens of a developing nation has tremendous potential to innovate. To tap into such a resource, it is of utmost importance to provide all the help they need to turn their innovativeness into something which will benefit their country, and hence, the society. One of the easiest avenues to fructify these resources is the government in terms of educational institutions, state-sector industry, etc. However, more often than not, the government can provide only limited amount of capital. The government has money, but it has to play wisely, when it comes to allocation of such limited resources. Further, people in the government who approve funding for technological projects don't necessarily have the relevant background, which is required to understand the need of the hour as mentioned in the proposal. So, many times, it so happens that a promising technology doesn't get any funding, but a vague idea can get funding. So, effectively, the government funding goes waste.

Now, the next source of capital is the industry. The chances of a developing nation having a well-established industry with sufficient amount of capital to fund such technology is pretty slim. Hence, they have to attract foreign companies to invest in such research and development, since foreign companies of repute from developed nations are expected to have sufficient capital to invest in countries other than their home. Further, a company will invest in R&D of a technology only if it lies within its area of operation, or is closely related to its current technology. Exceptions are in cases where a firm wants to diversify. The point here is that, unlike the government, such a firm has the necessary human resources to critically evaluate the R&D proposal, before committing their money towards it. In such an instance, bad ideas, vague ideas, etc. gets filtered out. Only ideas which have a potential of being commercialized are funded.

This gives rise to the question that what about basic research. Who would fund basic research? The professor answered that companies that just think about commercialization of technology, and hence just applied research, have a short-term view, and they have a very high failure-rate when faced with stiff competition from a company which invest in long-term research, such as basic research. The ideal combination would be to invest in both basic as well as applied research. Firms such as IBM, AT&T, Intel, etc. have both types of research going on in their labs.

So, the next question would be the extent of FDI. Some people argue that privatization, usually, goes against the benefit of the common people of the nation, since companies work for making profits; for them, the basic question is whether they would in business tomorrow or not. So, why would they care about the welfare of the common man. I guess, that is where the concept of Corporate Citizenry comes into picture. But, more about this, some other time.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Silly Patents

Last night, I attended a seminar on Intellectual Property Management & Licensing by Kevin Murphy of Sandia National Laboratories. He covered lots of nitty-gritties of IP related issues. First of all here is a bit of history.

The first patent was issued in 1449 by the British. The story goes something like this. A glass blower in Italy was on a business trip to England. However, he wondered that if I go and teach his art of glass-blowing to someone in England, then he will lose his business to his competitors. So, he approached the monarch about his problem. The monarch wrote a letter saying that so and so person will teach those interested in learning the art of glass blowing on the condition that the students will not practice this art for a certain specified period, during which any glass-blowing to be done will be performed by the Italian glass-blower. Anyone found glass-blowing apart from the Italian glass-blower will face punishment. The monarch, then, signed the authorization. Thus, came into being a patent. The first US patent was given in 1790. Thomas Jefferson reviewed the patent, and then had president Washington sign it. The right to patent is mentioned in the US constitution, too.

In US, the first person to invent gets the patent rights, if accepted. In Japan, the first person to file the patent gets the rights to the patent. So, in Japan, if you missed your train, since there was a traffic jam, you lose your right to patent.

Many times, people don't realize that such and such invention can be patented. And, then, someone jumps on the technology, and patents it taking all the laurels, and money, associated with it. In few cases, the lack of a patent on the invention makes it available to the whole world. One such example is the clean-room technology. The first laminar flow hood was made by a personnel in the Sandia National Laboratories. However, the inventor didn't have a clue that he can patent in the laminar flow hood. On the contrary, he went about explaining his laminar flow hood to all he can meet, to the extent that he presented in quite a number of conferences. When others in industry came to know about the laminar flow hood, it was quickly adopted in the microelectronics industry, the medical industry, etc. Another such example is the video recording. Another student in the class said that the video recording technology was invented by Sandia National Laboratories, but patented by some other firm later on.

Towards the end, the speaker mentioned about 'Silly Patents'.

Silly patents are patents that are, well, silly. He handed out a few such silly patents, which I have listed below. Reading the titles, I think, one can guess why are such patents called 'Silly Patents'.

So, enjoy the list, do let me know of more such silly patents, though there should websites which list these.

Method of Concealing Partial Baldness, US Patent # 4,022,227, Granted on May 10, 1977: Divide the hair which is still present on your head into three sections, and use one of them to cover the bald area. It has 5 claims and 6 drawing figures. Trust me, there should be a lot of people out there accused of infringement of this patent.

Flashing Ear-ring Heartbeat Monitor, US Patent # 6,277,079, Granted on Aug 21, 2001: The ear-ring has an IR LED, which flashes when the person wearing that ear-ring is excited - this is one of the suggested use. Another use is for medical monitoring of patients. I wonder, which was the dominant application of this invention.

Method of Exercising a Cat, US Patent # 5,443,036, Granted on Aug 22, 1995: Shine a laser pointer on the floor and make your cat to follow it as you move the pointer. Nifty, isn't it?

Method of Swinging on a Swing, US Patent # 6,368,227, Granted on Apr 09, 2002: Well, let's see; the last time, I used a swing was definitely before April 2002.

Thumb Sleeve for Thumb Wrestling Game, US Patent # 6,704,937, Granted on Mar. 16, 2004 No comments!!!

When asked why do people file such patents, the speaker answered that the cost of filing a patent was very less 20 years ago. That was when a bunch of people started filing patents in hordes. When the government realized this, they started increasing the cost of filing a patent. Currently, the cost of filing a patent is around $1,600. Still, some file such silly patents; one of the obvious reason for people spending money on such patent applications is just that they got too much money to spend.

But, trust me, such silly patents do make an otherwise dull patents and articles reading more interesting.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Aliens trying to contact Earth???

New Scientist magazine reported on Tuesday, September 04, 2004, that an unexplained signal from deep space might be a contact from an alien civilization. The article Mysterious signals from 1000 light years away ,however, reports other possible causes of the signal too.

The telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, seems to have detected this signal on three separate occasions.

It was detected by the SETI@home project, which uses programs running as screensavers on millions of personal computers worldwide.

The signal is named SHGb02+14a and is emitted at a frequency of about 1420 MHz. 1420 Mhz is also one of the main frequencies at which hydrogen readily absorbs and emits energy. Hydrogen is the most common element found in the universe. The detected signal's frequency is moving rapidyl, as if the tranmitter was located on a planet that is rotating very rapidly, about 40 times faster than Earth, and where the civilisation is not correcting the transmission for the motion of the planet. However, it is noted that the SETI@home software corrects for any drift in the frequency. Does that imply that it in no exactly an intelligent life out there?

The argument for this signal to be coming from extraterrestials is that it came from a point between the constellations Pisces and Aries, where there is no obvious star or planetary system within 1000 light years. Some astronomers argue that extraterrestrials would likely use this frequency to transmit any signals they would want to notify their presence. The signal doesn't seem to be a result of any obvious radio interference or noise, and it does not resemble the signature of any known astronomical object. This last statement is important, since it implies that there might be other reasons too which might have generated this signal as follows.

New object: It might be possible that the signal was generated by a natural phenomenon, which might be unknown to mankind. Jocelyn Bell Burnell of the University of Bath, UK, detected a pulsed radio signal in 1967, which the research team at the time thought was from extraterrestrials, but which turned out to be the first ever sighting of a pulsar.

Artefact: Since the signal always appears to be coming from the same point in the sky, it might that the signal is actually an artefact due to the telescope itself. The Arecibo telescope has a fixed dish reflector and scans the skies by changing the position of its receiver relative to the dish. At a certain position of the receiver relative to the dish, it might be possible that the waves are reflected from the ground onto the dish and then back to itself, making it appear to come from the space. It might also happent that there is an object on the ground near the telescope emitting at about 1420 MHz frequency. This possibility can be eliminated or confirmed by using a different telescope to listen for SHGb01+14a.

Fraud: Someone might have hacked into the SETI@home software such that such a frequency is detected. However, these signals were detected on two different occasions previously by different SETI@home users and there calculations were confirmed by others.

As of now, the source of the signals is not clear. But, one things can be said that folks in Roswell might be elated on hearing this news.