Mark November 16 on your calendar -- the day the new federal trademark law takes effect. The good news: under the revised law, you can protect a trade- or service mark before you use it. The bad news: that will most help those with legal savvy and long product-development cycles, such as large corporations; they'll be able to apply for more than one name for each product or service idea. As a result, officials expect a 30% increase in trademark applications, making trademark searches more important than ever. Otherwise, you could end up using a mark someone has already claimed.
Regional quality councils are becoming more popular. About 30 regions have organized such programs, many in the past year or two, according to the Transformation of American Industry Project, in Jackson, Mich. The hope? To spread W. Edwards Deming's quality-improvement techniques to all of an area's organizations, not just big manufacturers. In Kingsport, Tenn., for example, participants in the 60 hours of classes range from the city itself to a car dealer. But very small businesses still find it hard to free up four employees to form a team for the training, notes city manager James Zumwalt.
How strong is the trend toward strategic alliances between large and small companies? Strong enough to have spawned at least one publication whose primary purpose is to serve as a matchmaking forum for potential strategic partners. "It's 'personals' for high technology," jokes Dileep Rao, editor of Minneapolis-based High-Technology SuperConnections. Do the $50 ads work? It's too early to tell. After four issues, Rao claims that some 250 to 300 ads have resulted in 175 meetings of potential partners. But he does not yet have any idea how many deals will be consummated.
High-school entrepreneurs can get state-guaranteed loans under a new South Dakota program. The nation's first such program, it isn't for high rollers: loans can't exceed $2,500, with 80% guaranteed. Then again, South Dakota's goal is not so much to create jobs as to convince young people -- who have been leaving rural communities in droves -- that there are opportunities in their hometowns. Other states are taking a similar tack. REAL Enterprises, which trains rural high-school students to start businesses, plans to expand its program this fall, adding eight new states to the three it now serves.
The "shared factories" movement is gradually gaining momentum. In July the National Coalition for Flexible Automated Manufacturing was formed in Washington, D.C. One of its goals: to promote shared centers where small firms can learn the latest computer-integrated manufacturing techniques. Meanwhile, in Meadville, Pa., a few companies have begun leasing time in the pilot program of what may be the first such shared "teaching factory." About a dozen other projects across the country are in the planning stage, reports Ted Lettes of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Is the world finally ready for entrepreneurship TV? Victor Kiam and others failed in previous attempts to produce regular programs about entrepreneurship, but Bobby Sturgis is making more headway. His "Working on the Dream" program debuted in Minnesota this summer, and Sturgis hopes to take it national on Financial News Network this fall. In each show, Sturgis interviews a successful entrepreneur and a newcomer in the same industry; then the newcomer questions the more experienced CEO. Sturgis's message? To succeed in your own business, "it takes work and it usually takes a long time."
-- Martha E. Mangelsdorf
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