Question the Answers

My father used to tell me “Myles, it is not enough to answer the questions. You must always question the answers.” The concept has lived with me ever since and is part of my way of working as a solicitor.

One of the more interesting examples of this happened to me when I had a new client, an astronomer, who had ‘invented’ a poster, with original artwork, showing the passing of Halley’s comet through the night sky. He asked me “Can I patent it?”

He also asked “Can I patent this?” holding a small item consisting of two cardboard wheels which could turn to match up the date (printed on one wheel) with some other variable factor (printed on the other wheel) An arrow would point to the quadrant in the sky where the comet was expected to appear. It is called a planisphere.

Neither the poster nor the planisphere, in their basic form, were capable of registration as a patent, so my answer to his question was ”No.”

I then questioned the answer “No” with “Why is it important?”

He said “Because Halley’s comet is in visible orbit for about 9 months and I want to make a lot of money from it. I want to sell the poster and planisphere to schools for student projects and I think I could make about $50,000 over the 9 months.”

But I questioned that answer too. “You cannot patent them, but if there was another way to make money would you be interested?” He said “Yes.”

What followed was exciting!  With some professional assistance, we organised an introduction to Caltex who, at the time, had a logo of a big red star with swish lines and the positioning statement ‘follow the star’.  We sold a 2.5 cm square of the poster space to Caltex for sponsorship rights. They provided distribution through all their petrol stations in Australia and paid for large numbers of posters to be printed and distributed through the school system, free for the children.

What followed was an exponential explosion of the original concept. We obtained introductions to Caltex NZ and repeated the process. 

The concept then went to Asia, followed by exporting the copyright to the USA and, through a series of tax treaties, we were able to make the product viable for the American market.

By thinking outside the square, we enabled the client to make a lot more money than his original expectation

It was questioning the answers that made it possible.

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