One of the most frustrating things I encounter when blogging is finding a really great story courtesy of a press release and then realizing that the press release provides so little useful information that it is impossible to write anything other than a puff piece, which I simply will not do. From time to time I have even written to companies and those paid to do PR for companies asking for more information, and rarely, if ever, do I hear anything back. Typically all I am looking for is a patent number, and still nothing. When I do hear back I am typically told that they will try and find the information for me, and then get back to me offering to make someone available for an interview. All I want is a patent number for goodness sake, and that information is held close to the vest as if it were some national security secret. It is unbelievable to me that any press release touting a patented invention would ever be issued without a patent number, but sadly that seems to be the norm. Earlier today, however, I was searching for some interesting news that might be fodder for a good article, and to my surprise I located several press releases that I would characterize as excellent, both touting patents and explaining the substance of a proprietary technology. Props to USA Technologies (NASDAQ: USAT) and to Vivaldi Biosciences Inc..
USA Technologies yesterday announced the issuance of US Patent No. 7,593,897, which relates to the tracking of cashless wireless vending payments. Several weeks ago Vivaldi announced the issuance of US Patent No. 7,588,768 covering live attenuated influenza vaccines with modifications to the viral NS1 gene. What makes these press releases so unusual is that they provide factual information and allow the reader (or reporter/blogger) to follow-up and find additional information. This is where most press releases relating to patented technology fail. No one wants to read pure puff. We all know that a press release is going to explain that the technology underlying the invention is super-great, but what is the technology? What is the patent number? Having quotes from the CEO or other official, which this press release also contains, are nice, but they are no substitute for actionable information. Simply put, if you are going to spend the time, money and energy to provide a press release why not actually make it something that is useful and increases the likelihood that it will be picked up and written about?
So what exactly makes this USA Technologies press release so good? Well, it contains useful information, which is sadly a rarity for press releases. For example, the press release itself contains the following information:
- The ‘897 patent raises USA Technologies patent portfolio to 71 issued patents.
- USA Technologies was recently granted a reissue patent for a system to provide remote audit, cashless payment and interactive transaction capabilities in a vending machine.
- USA Technologies also owns a variety of patents that apply to radio frequency swipe card and contactless card technology.
- USA Technologies provides networked credit card and other non-cash systems in the vending, commercial laundry, hospitality and digital imaging industries.
- USA Technologies has agreements with AT&T, Visa, MasterCard, First Data, Compass and others.
The USAT press release also describes the technology involved, saying:
The patent covers the technology in USAT’s ePort cashless payment system for accepting financial card identification data as payment for items vended, and an interactive interface, protocol, and support for interconnecting the system to a computing platform. It further covers the ePort technology to accept card ID data, authorizes the validity of the card, and executes and settles the transaction payment for the goods and services that are vended.
Similarly, the Vivaldi press release provides specific and tangible information, such as:
- Live attenuated vaccines replicate safely in the recipient without causing disease, providing longer lasting immunity and greater protection than vaccines based on inactivated virus.
- Distinct from live influenza vaccines developed by isolation of temperature-sensitive strains, Vivaldi uses advanced reverse genetics methods to delete a portion of the gene for nonstructural protein 1 (NS1), a virulence factor of the influenza virus.
- The recently issued patent is assigned to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine (MSSM) and licensed exclusively to Vivaldi, and is part of a patent portfolio that includes more than 25 issued patents and numerous patent applications, to which Vivaldi has exclusive rights in the US and major international markets.
- This proprietary technology is applicable to rapid development and production of LAIVs against virtually all seasonal and pandemic influenza strains, including novel (swine-origin) H1N1.
The one common denominator between the two press releases, separate and apart from the fact that they are actually good and convey meaningful information, is that they do not seem to come through a Public Relations firm, but rather come directly from the companies themselves. To some extent I am making an educated guess here, but if you look at the press releases you will notice at the bottom of the page a box containing contact information for further information. In both instances the contact information provided is for individuals directly in the respective companies. In many press releases, particularly those that I would characterize as poor, the contact information provided will be to a marketing firm or PR firm. I personally do not believe that to be happenstance.
Are the folks at marketing and PR firms who are paid to write and disseminate press releases clueless? I tend to think the answer is yes, at least to some extent. These folks no doubt know how to write a press release so that it is search engine optimized, and they follow a familiar industry standard in terms of content and flow, but convey little if any useful information for those who are interested in really learning about the substance involved. I don’t mean this to come off quite as bad as it probably sounds, but the reality is companies pay good money to get news out and to those who are unfamiliar with technology and the needs of technology reporters and bloggers provide puff without substance.
In my humble opinion, if the goal is to drive interest and tout a positive development, shouldn’t the press release give a patent number, explain the technology, why the technology is exciting and explain how the company is at the cutting edge of industry technology? Perhaps I am missing the point and press releases are supposed to be mindless dribble, but I have to think that press releases are best when they are substantive. After all, don’t we already know that those issuing press releases obviously think they are onto something important? So why not share details. I just don’t get it.