• on Dec 18th, 2013 in Strategy & Public Policy | 2 comments

    Let’s talk intellectual property and the U.S. Postal Service for a moment. IP, as it’s commonly called, refers to intangible assets involving creativity and invention. Things like movies, books, computer software, engine design, and even the ZIP Code.

    The Postal Service introduced the ZIP Code in 1963, but never patented it. Too late now, but imagine if someone or a business other than the Postal Service had. Odds are you would be paying – directly or indirectly – a fee to the patent holder every time you put a ZIP Code onto a letter or package, in addition to the postage or shipping cost. Moreover, the Postal Service as well as private couriers and shippers would likely be paying, too, as would the many other businesses that use and benefit from ZIP Codes, such as real estate and insurance companies.

    In short, all stakeholders in the ZIP Code system, from everyday citizens to global logistics companies, would be at the mercy of a patent holder’s legal rights – and potential licensing fees.

    While the ZIP Code is safely in the public domain, the same can’t be said of other mailing-related IP. And as our recently released white paper shows, while the Postal Service has patented some technologies, the agency lacks a fully developed, organization-wide strategy for managing and protecting its substantial IP assets. Such a strategy would help secure Postal Service and postal stakeholder access to useful innovations.

    At the request of the OIG, experts at ipCapital evaluated the Postal Service’s current IP strategy. In addition to examining the Postal Service’s intellectual asset management processes, the experts performed a data-driven analysis of the agency’s patent portfolio and explored strategic models for IP development. The results led the OIG to outline the critical points and considerations of building a formal, scalable, and organization-wide IP strategy for the Postal Service.

    Towards A Postal Service Intellectual Property Strategy could not be more timely. Patent claimants have alleged infringement and for the past year been pursuing legal action against mailers and other businesses for using bar codes and QR codes. Bar codes are a central part of operations not just for the Postal Service but the industry at large. The outcome of the cases, which are still pending, could have profound impact. If claimants prevail, will bar code users have to pay fees? What about mailpieces enhanced with some type of augmented reality – would they be subject to fees, too?

    Tell us what you think: What is the right IP strategy for the Postal Service? Do you or does your business benefit from postal innovations? Would you be affected if access to them were blocked? 

  • on Dec 16th, 2013 in Products & Services | 2 comments

    Holiday greeting cards still outweigh e-cards in terms of sentiment and personal touch, recent surveys indicate. Even digital natives say a card in the mail evokes a stronger reaction than a text or email. Yet, each year, fewer and fewer people are sending holiday greeting cards through the mail.

    In 2011, American households on average sent about 16 holiday greeting cards, according to the Postal Service’s recently released 2012 Household Diary Study report. Twelve years earlier, 23 holiday cards were sent. Data from the Greeting Card Association also chart the downward trend: U.S. consumers bought 1.5 billion holiday cards in 2011, compared to 2.7 billion in 1995.

    Still, mailed holiday greeting cards remain an important component of the Postal Service’s revenues for the year, as single-piece First-Class letters are one of the Postal Service’s most profitable products. While mail is not as seasonal as it used to be, a strong holiday season still sets the tone for the entire fiscal year.

    It seems unlikely that this trend in holiday greeting cards can be easily reversed, given the overall decline in mail use and a growing comfort with digital communications. But, perhaps some small innovations might revive interest in sending holiday greeting cards. For example, Australia Post is pioneering the use of “video stamps” – a recorded 15-second video that the addressee can view using a smart phone app. While the post is allowing the stamps on parcels only at the moment, a similar type QR code might provide an interesting opportunity for greeting cards.

    What other innovations or digital enhancements might work well on hard-copy greeting cards? Do you plan on sending greeting cards this year? Do you expect to send more or fewer cards than last year? 

  • on Dec 11th, 2013 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 3 comments

    Wouldn’t it be nice to receive only the advertising mail that interests you? Information about products and services you like or want to learn about, and nothing else? And wouldn’t it be nice for advertisers to know more about what recipients think about their ads? Is an offer appealing, but the timing is not right, or is a recipient completely uninterested?

    Creating a system to share this information is a possibility, and the U.S. Postal Service could play a key role in making it happen. That’s the concept of a new white paper released by the Postal Service Office of Inspector General today. Strengthening Advertising Mail by Building a Digital Information Market highlights the importance of maintaining and strengthening advertising mail by enabling more direct communication from mail recipients ultimately back to the advertiser.

    Ad mailings could then be targeted with almost pinpoint accuracy, increasing revenues for advertisers and reducing recycling for everyone. The system would benefit the Postal Service, too, by making ad mail even more relevant and valuable.

    One potential approach starts with using a smart phone or tablet to scan a digital code on the front of a piece of ad mail you receive, and then accessing an interactive system into which you can record your advertising preferences. In return, you are sent a coupon redeemable for merchandise from a variety of vendors, and in the future you would receive ads tailored to products and services of interest to you. Participation would be strictly voluntary, and privacy guidelines would be established.

    Tell us what you think! Do you think customers would be inclined to access an interactive system to record advertising preferences if it meant special offers or more targeted mailings in the future? 

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