1998 Direct Marketer of the Year - Jay Walker
Twelve years ago, the Supreme Court said life forms are patentable—bacteria that eat oil, hybrid forms of corn. Biotech laboratories got patents on forms of DNA. They didn't have to make it or service it. If they invented the code—the DNA—they could patent it and use it themselves or license it to others; either way, they could make a lot of money. Walker:
Most people think of a patent in relation to a machine or a device. Fifteen years ago the earliest pioneers of software argued that it was a patentable process—a method of doing something. On July 28, 1998, in Signature vs. Fleet Financial, the Federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reaffirmed that a business method can be patented so long as it meets the three traditional criteria for legal protection: that it be new, useful and not obvious to someone with knowledge in the field. For example, Diner's Club could have patented the charge card. Dan Bricklin of the Harvard Business School could have patented VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program. Direct marketers have invented many systems that could have been patented: merge-purge, scoring systems, the suppression of nixies, new phone selling systems. If I could patent the cryptography of online casinos, what else could I patent? It's imperative to prevent competitors from ripping off intellectual property you have created!
At that moment Walker decided to put together a group of people and learn how much he could own. The company was called Walker Digital.
The Execution. Walker told Michael Loeb that the NewSub Services business model might be patentable. Loeb, convinced that competitors would copy NewSub Services as soon as they figured it out, told Walker that if he could patent the idea to go for it; Loeb agreed to let Walker take some of his money out of NewSub Services to launch a new company to patent this and other inventions while Loeb left his money in. "Michael realized I had to do this," Walker said. "Talk about great partners ..."