• on Feb 4th, 2013 in Strategy & Public Policy | 2 comments

    The number of Postal Service patents has grown significantly in the past few decades, as have the patents for rival carriers FedEx and UPS. When compared to other industries, such as information technology and wireless communications, the Postal Service has not significantly leveraged its intellectual property or fully recognized the potential financial and strategic value of these assets. If the Postal Service considered the commercial significance of each of its patents and licensed its intellectual property, it might find a valuable source of significant revenue. A 2011 Office of Inspector General report found that the Postal Service has 329 global families of patents, which means each “family” of a patent may have a multiple number of U.S. and international patent documents. The study looked closely at three specific patents to assess the commercial significance of each patent, or the revenue that the Postal Service may be able to generate through licensing of the patent. Those three patents alone hold a commercial value of more than $18 million per year. The report concluded that the Postal Service did not manage its portfolio of patents to maximize commercial significance. However, some stakeholders have argued that the Postal Service is different from private industry, even if it is encouraged to act like a business. It is a public institution held in the public trust. In that sense, it belongs to the American people. Shouldn’t a public institution that belongs to the American people open up the technology and patents it has developed for the benefit of the national infrastructure? There is a risk that in licensing patents or holding proprietary technology, the Postal Service may stymie innovation in the public and private sectors. Some people have looked to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a model. Its idea to link computers into a national system eventually led to the development of the Internet. The key for the Postal Service is to build a strategy and let it guide decisions on how best to leverage intellectual property. The first step might be to have an active program that looks to generate as many intellectual property instruments as possible. Once the Postal Service owns and protects that property, it can determine whether the best approach is to license it, sue for infringement, or share it. Tell us what you think. Take our poll question and then go to the comment section to share what you think would be the best strategy for the Postal Service on intellectual property and patents.

  • on Jan 28th, 2013 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 18 comments

    With a large network of facilities and post offices, and yet mail volumes in decline, the U.S. Postal Service finds itself with a good deal of unused capacity. The dynamics over closing and consolidating facilities has raised the question of whether there are other uses for them. Further, the Postal Service could still own the facilities even after it closes or consolidates operations. Rather than sit empty, could the Postal Service use some of that capacity in non-traditional ways to generate additional revenue? One idea, if the law allowed, would be for the Postal Service to provide self-storage services at unused processing facilities. It could also provide safe-deposit boxes at under-used post offices. Self-storage allows users to rent storage space in the form of rooms, lockers or containers on a monthly or annual basis. Safety deposit boxes might be a miniaturized version of self-storage units, where the user could store especially valuable goods or papers in a secure and fire-safe box. These types of services would require little additional overhead or labor hours, although additional security personnel might be needed. Current law limits the Postal Service’s ability to offer services that are considered non-postal and in the past, some industries have resisted Postal Service’s efforts to enter into new business opportunities. However, as the Postal Service faces ongoing financial challenges and continued resistance to consolidation plans, is it time to consider new ways to use its infrastructure? Should the Postal Service be allowed to use its facilities to offer non-traditional services, like self-storage units and safety-deposit boxes? What offerings would you like to see? Do we need to rethink the infrastructure or simply allow the Postal Service to consolidate to match resources to workload?

  • on Jan 21st, 2013 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 4 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service can play unique and positive roles in the expansion of the peer-to-peer marketplace, as suggested in a new OIG white paper, Peer-to-Peer Commerce and the Role of the Postal Service. American consumers are familiar with peer-to-peer (P2P) digital commerce and increasingly comfortable buying and selling that way. Millions of people place offerings and shop on eBay, Craigslist, etsy, and other sites every day. In recent years, the P2P segment has grown beyond these traditional product sites and now includes services from which users can rent a vacation room in someone’s house, lend or borrow a private car, or even hire someone locally for small jobs, such as baking cookies for a child’s classroom party or assembling modular furniture. However, there are a number of problems in current P2P commerce that may prevent wider adoption by the American public. Market participants face the challenges of balancing convenience with privacy and the potential for economic or physical harm. Some of these issues can be addressed through enhanced digital identity and authentication services, but there are other opportunities, which the paper presents. The paper describes P2P digital commerce and challenges and gaps in the current marketplace, including several types of fraud and threats to personal property and physical safety. It then identifies Postal Service products and services that exist today or might be developed in the future to facilitate market expansion. Current postal ancillary and special services, both physical and digital, are well suited to the P2P market. These include insurance, Registered Mail, Certified Mail, Collect on Delivery (COD), Track and Trace, Return Receipt and Return Receipt for Merchandise, Restricted Delivery, and other services. Please share your comments on this concept as well as observations on your own P2P experiences, if any, below. Do you believe a trusted intermediary such as the Postal Service could help in this segment? Please give us your comments below:

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