A pioneer of technology law in New Zealand, Wayne Hudson has some insights for marketers of innovation-based products.
Wayne has recently formed a new legal partnership called Hudson Gavin Martin, focussed on intellectual property and technology law, after having spent more than 20 years as a partner in Bell Gully.
His stellar career in the sector began 25 years ago, as one of the pioneers of what was then known as “computer law.” “My first engagement was doing some work with FACT, the software company founded by John Blackham,” says Wayne.
Involvement in some of the biggest commercial transactions in New Zealand technology history have marked his career since. Wayne was closely involved in seminal deals like the sale of Ghost to Symantec, GIS to Sunguard and Navman to Brunswick. “But I actually really love working with the smaller, start-up businesses too, there is a real excitement there.”
He has also put back into the sector as a former President of the New Zealand Software Association and as a current board member of the HiGrowth Project Trust.
Conservatism can be the hallmark of the legal profession, but Wayne’s philosophy is more action-oriented. “Given the appropriate preparation in a legal sense, the best protection you can get for your technology is to get out and sell it.”
While at pains to point out that patents can be very important, you have to be prepared to invest in their protection. “That can be expensive and divert attention from running the business.”
“It is a balance between protection and speed to market. As long as you are not infringing another company’s patent, being first to market gives you some protection under the law.”
There is an important place for patents but companies must enter into the process understanding the issues and how it will affect their ongoing performance, says Wayne.
As an experienced observer and participant in technology business sales, Wayne reiterates the importance of getting out and selling. “In my experience the established channels to market a company has for their technology is an important component of the value of their enterprise. For example GIS had a channel established through KPMG which was hugely attractive to the buyer.”
In addition to his “just do it” philosophy for early stage technology companies, Wayne says the biggest mistake they make is not to be well prepared on the legal side of their business at the outset.
The value of things like clear and well structured ownership of intellectual property, or strong terms of trade, cannot be underestimated. “Templates for these kinds of things are available through the NZ Software Association – there is no excuse for not having the fundamentals in place.”
Legal advice at an early stage is much like insurance says Wayne, a real cost at the time but potentially a lot cheaper than not investing at all.