Monthly Archives: June 2007

Product development on a shoesting?

A question from misc.entrepreneurs.moderated:

I just came up with a great pet food name which will be marketed with a 20 year old wolrld regonized song. Did the registration of the domain names. I am disabled and do not have lots of money to seek legal counsel. Can I patent the marketing plan or would it be prudent to pitch idea to Fortune 500 Co. or broker with a nondisclosure agreement? This is one that should clear the park wall.

You definitely can’t “patent the marketing plan”, unless there is something in it that could qualify for a business method patent. In addition, trying to patent anything without professional help is usually a waste of time; unless you prepared patent applications before, you won’t be able to prepare one on your own.

What you may want to do is to register the name you came up with as a trademark. This is doable without hiring an attorney, can be done entirely online at, and is not particularly expensive (the filing fee is two hundred some dollars, if I remember correctly).

Pitching to a Fortune 500 company probably won’t get you anywhere. You may (but not necessarily will) be able to sell them your rights to the trademark, but don’t expect to get a lot of money for it; they will probably buy it to shelf, just to preclude competitors from developing it.

Also, right now is about the worst time to come up with marketing gimmicks in pet food. The recent pet food recall exposed the fact that most of pet foods in the market are in fact the same product in different packaging. It wasn’t a secret before, but now the public is more aware of it. So unless you actually have a genuinely different product, trying to push it will be an uphill battle…

Why not post prices online?

A question from

I’ve always heard it said that you should never post your prices on your website because if you give away every piece of information you have about your product, then potential customers are not inclined to contact your for more information – if you strategically withhold specific information, then potential customers will have to contact you and then you will have their contact information to follow up and “work” the order.

Do you agree or disagree with this philosophy with regards to capital equipment ($50K and up)?

Sometimes, equipment simply can’t be priced until you know the exact specifications the customer wants and the number of units they wish to purchase. In the extreme case (passenger airplanes), customers may even be willing to purchase options on delivery of equipment (which, needless to say, are not quoted publicly).

Any other thoughts?

In many cases, list price is of secondary importance compared to lease terms (implied interest rate, cancellation clause, etc.) Sir David Tweedy, the Chairman of International Accounting Standards Board, likes to joke that his lifetime ambition is to fly as a passenger in an airplane that is actually owned by a major airline (the joke being that all major airlines lease their fleets). And lease terms depend on lessee’s creditworthiness…

Who were Julius Cesar’s parents?

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

Who were Julius Cesar’s parents?

His father, whose name was also Gaius Julius Caesar, was a partician (nobleman), held the rank of praetor (second-highest rank in Roman government), and was at one time the Roman governor of Asia (the Roman province that at different times included Greece, Asia Minor, Palestine, and parts of Egypt). He belonged to the gens Julia, which claimed descent from Iulus, the son of the Trojan prince Aeneas, who in turn was the son of the goddess Venus. The family, although very aristocratic, was not overwhelmingly rich or powerful; the family home was a modest house in a lower-class neighborhood.

His mother, Aurelia Cotta, came from a more influential family, the gens Aurelii (which eventually produced its own emperors, Marcus Aurelius and Commodus). She is mentioned in very favorable terms by both Tacitus and Plutarch and was highly respected in Rome.

Putting together a yen carry trade

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

What’s the easiest way to invest in the yen carry trade?

I’m an investor in stocks, bonds, real estate, and currencies, but I really don’t know how to engage in the yen carry trade although I’m very familiar with profit/loss implications behind the carry trade. What brokerage firm or other financial outfit can set me up? Are the fees high?

To engage in the yen carry trade, you need to be able to borrow the yen, which means you must have a good credit standing with at least one major Japanese bank.

The alternative is to conduct the carry trade in the futures market; you would buy Eurodollar futures and short Euroyen futures, while hedging the currency risk with a long position in yen futures…

Employment at will and state-specific exceptions

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

I need a list of At Will States?

Can someone help me find a list of ” At Will States” for employement?

The question is hopelessly vague. There are 43 states that recognize public-policy exceptions from the employment-at-will doctrine, 38 states that recognize implied-contract exceptions, and 11 states that recognize covenant for good faith and fair dealing. States that recognize none of the three are Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Rhode Island. For more information, see here:…

Is Progressive a buyout candidate?

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

Is the insurance holding company, Progressive, (ticker:PGR) a buyout or takeover candidate?

Recently, after being a flat to down performer over the prior 12-18 months, Pgr announced an extraordinary dividend of $2/share and an additional 100 million share buyback plan. This will add shareholder value, and most likely attract new shareholders to their stock. Still, could this attract a buyout offer in this time of consolidation in other industries.

Based on financials alone, no. The company generated about $1.5 billion in free cash flow in the last 12 months. Divide it by market capitalization ($17.5 billion), and you get a yield (8.5%) that is barely above the prime rate (8.25%). Good buyout candidates have cash flow yields far in excess of the prime rate. Alternatively, they can have substantial surplus assets, but to figure out whether Progressive has any is impossible without some deep digging…

The military strength of the USSR during the Cold War

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

What was the peak military strength of the USSR during the Cold War?

Does anyone know where to find a good summary of the size and strength of the Soviet armed forces during the Cold War? Number of troops, tanks, aircraft, submarines, etc.

Size is fairly easy to compute. Soviet armed forces were organized on a conscription basis; every man aged 18 was supposed to be drafted for two years (three, if you’re unlucky to land in the navy). There were, of course, health-related exemptions, but those were relatively few. The policy on drafting college students has been repeatedly reversed. So anyway, all you need to do to arrive at the size of Soviet armed forces on any given day is to figure out how many men aged 18 to 20 there are and adjust this number 30% up to account for officers and warrant officers.

Strength, however, is a different matter altogether. Soviet armed forces had a tendency to undertrain personnel and undermaintain hardware. Misappropriation of supplies was another pervasive problem (so much so that thieving warrant officer became a stock comic character). Those problems, however, were never discussed; they were easier to ignore than to deal with…

What is nationalism?

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

What do u understand by the term nationalism?

It depends on where in the world (and in time) you are.

In Europe, nationalism was a movement for independence of nation-states from the Catholic church (and, until its demise, from the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation).

In a similar vein, in colonies, nationalism was the movement for independence from the colonial power.

In the Soviet Union, nationalism was a label that was assigned to separatist movements working towards forming independent nations in place of Soviet republics (as in, for example, “Ukrainian nationalism”).

In India, nationalism is a movement for independent and politically unified India (i.e., unlike the Soviets, who thought nationalism was a separatist ideology, the Indians think that nationalism is the opposite of separatism, which they also call “regionalism”).

Military victories and German unification

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

How far were the military victories resonsiple for bringing about german unification?

They weren’t. German unification was a project that lasted at least two generations, from the post-Napoleonic debates about the future of German states to the eventual proclamation of the German Empire in 1871. German intellectuals have long agreed on the need for unification (Wilhelm von Humboldt founded the University of Berlin in 1810 to be a cultural center of the to-be-unified Germany), but the provincial aristocrats stood in the way until Bismarck duped them into submission by appealing to their bias against France…

If there wasn’t a Franco-Prussian War, another unification avenue would have been found. The movement started by Humboldt gained too much momentum…

Investing in healthcare?

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

What healthcare industries would be safe to invest in now if universal healthcare becomes a reality in the future

Healthcare is NOT a safe investment, regardless of whether there is going to be a universal healthcare system. Healthcare companies have numerous risks, from litigation to inability to make the latest product well enough to get it approved by regulators. Healthcare is an incredibly competitive field, too.

Moreover, universal healthcare is supposed to be a good thing for patients, not for providers and suppliers. Most universal healthcare systems in the world have at least one of these two features, (1) the national healthcare system actively uses its sheer size to negotiate the prices down, and (2) at least some healthcare services are provided by public-sector organizations in direct competition (and at lower prices) compared to private providers. Many have both. As a result, healthcare is affordable for the patient, but not particularly profitable for the provider.

One industry that would greatly benefit from introduction of universal healthcare is health policy research and healthcare consulting. Alas, most companies in this arena are either privately held or structured as very small and fairly insignificant divisions of much larger companies (Medstat, for example, is owned by Thomson).

Medical education could benefit as well, but, alas, it is dominated by universities.