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School ties: how Spiral licensed Easyplot.

SCHOOL TIES: HOW SPIRAL LICENSED EASYPLOT As a programmer at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, Stuart Karon spent two years developing a powerful technical graphing program called EasyPlot. Midway through the project, Karon realized that EasyPlot was more than just another academic exercise: The package just might be good enough to compete in the commercial marketplace. And if that happened, Karon wanted a piece of the entrepreneurial action.

The sticking point was that Karon, who wrote the program entirely as an MIT employee, didn't own the copyright to EasyPlot. "Fortunately, MIT has a full-fledged licensing office, a very structured setup for dealing with inventors," Karon says. "At other universities, sometimes there's no policy at all, so people just do what they want--until they're caught."

MIT's licensing office told Karon he had a choice: Let the university sell EasyPlot (without "any serious marketing or support") or have MIT license it to an outside company on a royalty basis. Either way, the Karon would get a royalty based on any income the product earned. But Karon had a better idea--he would set up his own outside company and acquire the license himself.

The licensing office was agreeable. In return for a "surprisingly modest" royalty on sales, Karon picked up exclusive marketing rights to EasyPlot for five years. The contract also included a few performance milestones that Karon "laughed at" when he saw them. "After the first year, I have to sell one copy, and three or four years down the road, I think the number goes up to ten."

Moreover, Karon says his contract allows him to acquire joint copyright to the program as he incorporates enhancements and ports it to other environments. "By the time the five years are up, it will be a completely new product."

Karon concedes that most software created by academics probably doesn't have as much commercial potential as EasyPlot. "There's a big difference between creating something functional and creating something with a user interface good enough for a marketplace product."

But Karonhs own experience suggests that at least some university software is good enough to succeed commercially. Operating out of his house, Karon has just begun promoting EasyPlot--and orders are already trickling in. In addition, a major technical software publisher has recently approached him about a bundling deal. "Things are starting to get really interesting," says Karon.

Stuart Karon, president, Spiral Software, 6 Perry St., Brookline, Mass. 02146; 617/739-1511.
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Spiral Software
Date:Nov 7, 1989
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