La French Tech at the Consumer Electronics Show 2017

The Chinese calendar’s Year of the Rooster will soon begin, but attendees of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas were already seeing roosters everywhere thanks to yet another strong showing by La French Tech.

In recent years, France has dominated the show’s famed Eureka Park, an exhibition space within CES where startups showcase their innovative products. This year, there were nearly 200 French companies in Eureka Park alone. To put it another way, France accounted for about one-third of all startups in Eureka Park.

Mais pourquoi?

What is it about the French that makes them excel as entrepreneurs? And why the seemingly recent upsurge in talent?

As a French to English translator specializing in innovative technology, I’ve been following La French Tech online for a few years. But I hadn’t yet experienced it in person. So I decided to spend a day at CES this year to witness La French Tech in action.

La French Tech Press Conference

My first stop after picking up my attendee badge was the La French Tech press conference.

The press conference was moderated by Romain Lacombe, CEO of Plume Labs, a company whose technology helps consumers track air quality. He outlined three factors behind France’s entrepreneurial success and modern relevance, including:

  • highly talented engineers with a strong background in mathematics
  • the role of design in French culture, given the increasing focus by consumers on design and integration of tech into daily life
  • rising movement of risk-taking and venture financing

Lacombe pointed out that, while “entrepreneur” is a French word, the startups at CES all have a global strategic focus. He then allowed representatives of four La French Tech startups to speak individually about their companies. The featured speakers were Grégory Veret of Xooloo (integrated technology coach for children), Stéphane Jaubertou of Sevenhugs (streamlined smart home control), Luc Pierart of PKparis (painless blood glucose monitor watch), and Evelyne Raby of CybelAngel (online data security monitoring service).

Next to speak were two representatives from the investment side of French innovation: Ben Marrel of Breega Capital and Nicholas El Baze of Partech Ventures. They mentioned the strong education system in France, the talent of French engineers and their worldly perspective, the “cool” factor of entrepreneurship among new graduates of French universities, the strong ecosystem of support (La French Tech), and of course, the large amount of investment happening in France specifically and Europe as a whole.

To inspire upcoming startups, the next speaker was Quentin Sannié of Devialet, creator of the premium Phantom audio system and considered a unicorn among French technology companies, with its tremendous global growth and success.

The final speaker of the press conference was Axelle Lemaire (pictured above), France’s Secretary of State for Digital Technology & Innovation.

Lemaire spoke about the government’s role in promoting innovation in France in recent years. Faced with a struggling economy and high unemployment, a decision was made in 2012 to proactively invest in innovation in order to add value and create future jobs. She identified the requirements needed for truly successful innovation:

  • people: good engineering and business schools/universities in France, which are free to attend and therefore highly accessible to students. Also, coding is now a requirement in children’s education, and the government has allocated funding to train teachers. The government also offers training in web design and development that has proven highly successful in terms of job placement.
  • infrastructures: France has invested €21 billion to provide the entire country with high-speed broadband by 2021. The government has also invested in creating a vast data infrastructure, thereby creating new integration opportunities for businesses.
  • regulation: support for investment in startups. Example: legal framework for crowdfunding, reducing corporate taxation, creating favorable stock option and profit sharing plans, promoting public funding, a research and development tax credit, and more.
  • policies: La French Tech and the Alliance pour l’innovation ouverte (Alliance for Open Innovation) initiatives to help entrepreneurs.

Eureka Park

Before I got downstairs to the exhibition hall, the thought crossed my mind that I might not be able to distinguish the French companies from the others.

Yeah…. not an issue. La French Tech roosters as far as the eye can see!

I spent all afternoon visiting booths and talking with French entrepreneurs about their products, their success stories, and their future plans. I geeked out, asked lots of questions, traded business cards, posed with a robot, saw a 3D-printed violin, sat on a sound-vibration enabled couch, had my skin computer-analyzed, talked about my kids, and talked about other people’s kids.

Hopefully, I will have an opportunity to work with at least some of the companies I met to help them reach their goals as their products launch in North America and require translations into US English.

Afterthoughts

What I hadn’t grasped prior to CES was what an incredibly optimistic and supportive group La French Tech has formed for its many innovators. They posed for group photos together (or “family photos”, as they adoringly call them), visited each others’ booths, eagerly pitched their inventions, and won numerous prestigious CES Innovation Awards.

I unfortunately didn’t have time to meet with all of the French companies at CES 2017. Next year, I’ll plan to spend more time at the show, and by then, perhaps France will account for half of Eureka Park. Pourquoi pas?

Ada Lovelace: Computing Pioneer and Technical Translator

Today is Ada Lovelace Day! Observed on the second Tuesday of every October, Ada Lovelace day celebrates the achievements of women in science and technology.

Who was Ada Lovelace?

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) was the daughter of poet Lord Byron. Raised solely by her mother, Ada was given a strong education with a heavy emphasis on logic, science, and mathematics.

Lovelace pursued a number of scientific interests, including phrenology and bird flight. In 1833, when Lovelace was just 18 years old, she was introduced to Charles Babbage, a mathematician and inventor, who was impressed by Lovelace’s analytical skills. By that time, Babbage, who was 23 years older than her, had already spent 10 years developing his difference engine, a machine that uses finite differences to perform a series of calculations.

Over the next several years, Lovelace and Babbage corresponded over Babbage’s subsequent invention, the analytical engine, which could perform general computations using instructions fed into the machine via punched cards.

In 1840, Babbage presented his invention during a seminar at the University of Turin, in Italy. In attendance was young Luigi Menabrea, who would become Prime Minister of Italy decades later. Menabrea took detailed notes on Babbage’s presentation, and in 1842, he published Notions sur la machine analytique de M. Charles Babbage, in French, describing the machine.

Umm… But this is in French. Translation please?

This is my favorite part of the story…. Ada Lovelace was a technical translator.

At least, that was her springboard for leaving a lasting contribution in the history of computing.

Lovelace spent nearly a year translating Menabrea’s publication from French into English. In addition to the translation itself, she added extensive annotations to further explain Babbage’s machine, based on her direct expertise. These annotations include an algorithm that is often credited as being the first computer program.

For this reason, Ada Lovelace is often credited with being the first computer programmer.

But I relate to her MUCH more when I think of her as an early French to English translator, specializing in technology. 🙂

Yes, Even YOU Can Own a Computer (This Day In History – August 12, 1981)

Thirty-five years ago today, IBM introduced its first personal computer, or PC, complete with an operating system.

By today’s standards, the computer’s specifications were unimpressive: 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 microprocessor, 16 kilobytes of memory (expandable to a whopping 256kb!), an external cassette or floppy disk drive, and an optional color monitor. The price was a cool $1,565, nearly $4,000 in today’s money. Gazoinks!

Yet the IBM PC was a momentous leap in consumer technology for a number of reasons, including its distribution and its components.

Unlike previous attempts within the fledgling personal computing market, the IBM PC was distributed through established retail chains, like ComputerLand and Sears Roebuck. This created widespread availability across a very large geographical area, so interested consumers could easily find and purchase the product.

Another distinguishing factor about the IBM PC is its use of off-the-shelf parts. This open architecture made manufacturing, repairs, and upgrades easier, while also exposing the market to competition.

Not surprisingly, it did not take long for IBM clone computers to appear on the market. Increased competition fueled innovation, and consumer demand for personal computers swelled. Thanks to plenty of supply and economies of scale, personal computers became more affordable to consumers. By the end of the decade, the number of personal computers in use in the United States had jumped from about 2 million in 1981 to nearly 54 million in 1990 (according to the International Data Corporation).

Corporate Innovation

In hindsight, the shift from office automation to personal computing was a good move for IBM. But it was highly controversial within the company at the time. How could such a large and notoriously bureaucratic corporation be so innovative?

The answer is the use of independent business units, or IBUs. IBUs are dedicated subsets of large organizations designed to operate relatively independently for a focused purpose, such as innovative technology. IBUs enjoy funding from the corporate coffers, while their smaller size gives them the benefit of faster decision-making processes.

This is precisely what IBM did in the late 1970s and early 1980s to develop its personal computer, within an independent business unit nicknamed “Project Chess”.

Conclusion

Personal computing has certainly come a long way since 1981. Sure, our smartphones are more powerful than IBM’s 1981 PC. But let’s still take a moment to pause and appreciate the spark of innovation that helped bring computers into our homes.

(Want to feel really old? My son once asked me why Word has a funny-looking square icon for “Save”. Yep… Kids today don’t necessarily recognize a floppy disk! Why would they? Disks are so old school!) 😉

Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks… Oh My!

You’ve worked hard to develop an innovative idea. The last thing you want is for someone else to steal your intellectual property or take credit for it themselves, whether it is your brand, an invention, a design, or any other creation.

When expanding your European business into North America, there are a number of options for protecting your intellectual property in the United States.

Patents

Patents protect inventions, including methods and apparatus implementing such methods.

Patented inventions must be novel, useful, and non-obvious, and the process of obtaining a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is costly and time-consuming. Once approved, patents remain valid for 14 or 20 years, depending on the specific type of patent. Due to the necessity for uniqueness, it is important not to publicly disclose ideas that you intend to patent. If another inventor (individual or legal entity) applies for the patent before you do, you may lose your rights to the intellectual property.

Copyrights

Copyrights protect written or published works, such as books, songs, films, online content, and artistic works.

The good news is that such works are automatically protected by copyright, provided that they are original (no copies please!) and fixed over time. Copyrights do not need to be registered, but it may be a good idea to register yours anyway, depending on what your works entail. Registering a copyright establishes a public record of ownership and helps protect your rights in court.

If the owner is an individual, a copyright is valid for the life of the author plus 70 years. If the owner is a business or legal entity, a copyright is valid for 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation.

Trademarks

Trademarks protect signs, symbols, logos, words, or sounds that uniquely distinguish your products and services.

Trademarks must be registered in order to be protected, but that’s not enough. You must also actually use the trademark as intended in order to protect your ownership of it. Unlike patents and copyrights, there is no time limitation on trademarks. As long as you continue to use your registered trademark, it will remain yours.

Lawyers…. Who Needs ‘Em!

You do.

Sure, I can translate your patent from French or Spanish into US English, no problem. But when it comes to legal advice, you’d better hire an attorney in the United States who specializes in intellectual property.

An IP attorney can explain the details of the law, help prepare your patent application, help you register your copyright or trademark, and represent you in any disputes involving intellectual property protection or infringement.

Innovative markets move quickly. You need to keep up, while also maintaining a firm grip on protecting your intellectual property.

Mr. Watson, Come Here (This Day In History – March 10, 1876)

We give very little thought these days to picking up a phone and calling anywhere in the world. Or texting. Or snapchatting. We are immensely connected to one another, a reality that has had monumental implications on our societies, economies, and more.

The world was entirely different just 140 years ago, when Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever telephone call to his assistant Thomas A. Watson, who was in the next room. (Couldn’t he just get up and walk over to his desk?!)

Bell, like several members of his family, devoted his life to the study of sound, specifically elocution, acoustics, and speech. His interest was motivated by the fact that both his mother and his wife were deaf.

In the years preceding Bell’s famous invention, telegraph communication was popular, consisting of tones transmitted via telegraph wire. However, it was clear that this form of communication would not suffice for long. From his laboratory in Boston, Bell went to work on developing a solution for transmitting sound via wire.

Initial experiments with transmitted sound produced promising, yet muffled results. To be effective, this technology would have to transmit the human voice clearly enough to be understood by someone on the receiving end.

As with many innovations, Bell was not the only inventor working to produce a feasible solution for transmitting vocal sound, but he was the first to patent the invention, issued on March 7, 1876, as U.S. patent #174,465, for “the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically … by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound.”

Three days later, he demonstrated a working prototype of the telephone, by calling his assistant Watson. He said, “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you.”

And with that, the telephone was born!

(Curiously, Watson remembers the famous words slightly differently, as instead being “Mr. Watson – Come here – I want you,” so you could say that this was also the first game of telephone as well!)

Let There Be Light! (This Day In History – January 27, 1880)

On this day in 1880, the United States Patent Office granted patent #223,898 to Thomas Edison, for “an electric lamp for giving light by incandescence.”

As Edison toiled in his Menlo Park workshop, numerous inventors were also hard at work trying to create incandescent light. While Edison was not the first, his light bulb offered something the others did not: practicality. His bulbs stayed lit long after those of his competitors has burned out.

Edison had powerful connections in industry, including the profoundly wealthy J.P. Morgan, whose home was the first to be equipped with electric light.

Soon after, Edison spearheaded the electrical wiring of several blocks in New York City, in a bid to gain the public’s trust for this strange new innovation. (It is said that President Benjamin Harrison refused to touch the light switches in the White House after electricity was installed during his term.)

The buzz over electricity sparked a rivalry between Edison, still backed by Morgan, and his brilliant former employee Nikola Tesla, himself financed by George Westinghouse. The two inventors disagreed on the better current for transporting electricity: AC (Tesla) or DC (Edison).

Their feud came to a head at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, an unparalleled showcase in which to demonstrate the glory of electric light. Both men bid for the contract to provide lighting for the fair. Tesla and Westinghouse ultimately won the contract.

The rivalry between Edison and Tesla continued for many more years, fueled by their financiers, Morgan and Westinghouse. Finally, facing an insurmountable debt, Westinghouse pressured Tesla in 1907 to back off his claim for royalties tied to AC power generation. In his frustration, Tesla tore up the contract altogether, allowing Westinghouse to continue implementing AC power without the burden of having to pay royalties.

In the end, Tesla’s AC technology won, but Edison’s business sense prevailed. Both men are recognized today for their contributions to the modern age.

Whether you side with Team Edison or Team Tesla, this was certainly a notch in the timeline of human invention.

Innovation

What Is Innovation?

These days, the word “innovation” is teetering on buzzword status. We hear about innovative products and companies all the time. But what does it really mean to be innovative?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “innovation” as “A new method, idea, product, etc.”

This definition suggests that “innovative” is synonymous with “new”. But is it really? To truly be innovative, we must go beyond providing something new by providing something better.

“Better” may mean more efficient, less costly, faster, less polluting, more beneficial, and so on…. This is how we have moved from a horse and buggy to gas-burning automobiles and ultimately to vehicles running on clean energy. Innovation has brought us the Internet, inspired space travel, and developed vaccines. Not just change. Progress.

Innovation drives us to figure out how to do things and then find a way to do them better. And then again. And again. And again. It requires creativity, passion, and a hell of a lot of hard work.

As a global society, we must value our innovators in all parts of the world and encourage them to excel. In many ways, our future quality of life depends on it. The innovations of today will be the springboard for the inventions of tomorrow.

Go forth, innovators… We’re counting on you!

If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” -Thomas Edison