Monday, April 29, 2013

Clarity: patent pending.

Let me get this straight: 'in the last year over 30.000 patents were granted to European companies and that is more than all the patents issued in the US, Japan, China and South Korea combined". Wow! Did you expect that? I surely did not. Here in Europe we are still inventing like there is no tomorrow...(no pun intended).

Now, you can try to draw all the conclusions you want from this quite incredible fact, but what I get from it are two things (stay with me!):

1) With all this talk of Europe being on the way out, obsolete, backward looking, paralysed by the crisis, it is easy to forget that there are incredibly innovative and creative companies in Europe and that it does not all have to be doom and gloom (mind you, I come from a country where 'dooming and glooming' is a national sport and I am a true representative, I am afraid, especially these days. For a reason, I may add! You see, I can't help myself!).

I know that for most journalists 'good news is no news', so I did not expect headlines in the main broadsheets. And in fact, I took that first quote from this, ehm..mesmerising, video:

The video wants to promote this year's European Inventor Award (or the Oscar of Technology as they call it in the video, yeah right), an event organised by the European Patent Office or EPO. The EPO website says: 'The European Inventor Award pays tribute to the men and women whose quest for new ideas drives technological progress and economic growth, shapes society and improves our daily lives'.  Great idea, and great news, as I was saying. Great video? No. It tries hard but it is, how shall I put it? very, very boring. Boring in the way things are told and in the way it is shot. The elements are all there (and that is probably part of the problem): interesting stats, historical context with museum pictures, description of the event, interview with previous winner and even vox pops!!! But where are the innovation and the creativity one would expect from a video on such a subject? If you don't have the budget (although I think this one was not cheap either), then just don't do it! Or maybe just focus on the inventors and their story, if you want to deliver - as you should - the message about the number of patents in Europe.

But here comes the doubt. (Or, the second thing I got from those numbers -you thought I had forgotten?)

2) Are these numbers true? Let's listen carefully once more. The video starts with the quote I mention above. Then, at 4 minutes 16 seconds into the film, you see a graphic of the world. And the voiceover says: 'Shortly more than 36% of all patent filing in 2012 comes from Europe with Asia following closely behind'.

Here is the graphic:

So, more European companies than US, Japan, China and South Korea combined get a patent but Europe is just marginally above Asia in terms of filing them?  What does that mean?  Does it mean that it is easier in Europe to get a patent? Maybe the EPO has the explicit aim of promoting innovation in the EU, then say it clearly! Can we consider these real numbers and are they still good news for Europe, or isn't more impressive that Asia files almost the same number? Why do I need to guess?

Clarity brings transparency. And neither requires a patent.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Eurobubble: blink at your own risk!

The much anticipated web series 'Eurobubble' - well let's say much anticipated here in Brussels -  has finally put out its first episodes. We have three so far. And that is exactly 10 min and 17 seconds of video in total! I am pointing this out merely because I like them all, especially considering the tiny budget the producers have at their disposal. But I have noticed that the length of the episodes is rapidly decreasing. The first episode was 4:39; the second 3:08 while the third episode came down to 2:38. And each episode has 30 seconds of titles (more on that later). I am scared that if I blink, I'll miss the next one! Seriously, I am all for short videos, to keep people's attention span. But isn't this cutting things too short?

Here is the first episode - the long one!- to give you a taste:

Let me say immediately that I applaud this initiative and I really enjoyed watching them all. Why?

First and most importantly: it's well written. When I spoke about it in one of my previous posts, my worry was that it wouldn't be funny enough. But it is quite funny for a selected audience, I guess, as most of the funny bits are for 'insiders'. It flows and the description of the characters and the situations is accurate and witty.

Second: the graphics and the music are good. The Catch me if you can-style title sequence is definitely well done - if perhaps a bit long - and I suspect Steven Spielberg had a slightly bigger budget!

Third: as non-professional actors go, I think Yacine and the rest of the cast is doing a very good job, probably because they are all pretending to be....themselves!

Having said this, the main issue I have with the series is its speed, which is the flip side of the coin of the qualities I just mentioned. It feels as if someone has left their thumb on the fast forward button. I know it is fashionable to speak fast, especially for non-native speakers, so you can show how well you master the English language. And a lot of people think it makes you look smarter. When I was working for Newsnight, I remember the morning meetings as a race to see who could speak fastest, as if what you had to say would be considered more insightful or newsworthy if told at max speed. I justified it to myself - probably wrongly- by saying: 'we are a news programme, news has to be fast. But in this case, the speed makes some parts of the script incredible - can you actually find a job so easily and quickly in Brussels these days? - or prevents you from understanding some lines, which is a shame. And the lovely graphics appear and then disappear in a nano-second: they are great but fly by and you can't take them in. I guess you could pause the film and read it, but why should that be necessary? Is it so problematic to keep them on screen for a little bit longer?

Maybe I am just getting older - an wiser hopefully! - but I do believe that smart and fast do not always go hand in hand; and neither do funny and fast for that matter. So could we calm down for a second?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Hello Europe! Are you ready to meet your fellow Europeans? Don't worry, only virtually!

The idea is using giant screens and place them in some of the main European cities to get to know one another. A European project, but a very Belgian video. A crazy idea? Maybe but well worth a try! Have a look:

I have checked with one of the producers: they are making good progress but have not found the sponsor yet. I bet they will though, because it's a nice concept and would give good visibility to whoever decided to fund it.  Or at least I hope so. Certainly it confirms the feeling that, these days,  Belgians are the only pro-European people still left in Europe!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Videos and populism: surely, that's not the problem (and don't call me Shirley!)

As some of you know, I am a member of the board (voilĂ , transparency and full disclosure all in one!) of Avanti Europe! a new online citizens movement that wants to recapture the European narrative from the hands and mouths of the Eurosceptics and create a constructive debate with engaged European citizens. The debate started last week with the launch of the first solidarity campaign with the citizens of Greece. Yes, Greece. I know that all you have been hearing in the last weeks is about Cyprus, but the situation in Greece is dire and it is ordinary citizens who cannot afford healthcare any longer who are suffering, not some Russian oligarchs.

To launch the campaign we wanted to produce a video to put on our website. Ok, on the week before Easter, maybe not the best idea in terms of timing, but it was on Greek National Day, and  it's never too soon or a bad time to be supportive. Now, the video needed to be short, catchy and give enough information to make you:

a) upset about what is happening in Greece
b) interested enough to share the video with your friends
c) want to become a member of Avanti and sign the petition.

Here it is:

On the whole, it has been a successful launch and although one might dispute whether the video succeeded in all three objectives, surely it's a good start (and don't call me Shirley!  - I have re-watched the film 'Airplane' - here is the link to the clip! - after many years and cannot help using that line when I say or write surely, sorry!! ). What I found quite interesting were some of the comments on the video: some could not understand how we could use a war/video game metaphor and some found it very populist. I could have understood people criticising the actual campaign - maybe disputing whether it is wise or possible to revise austerity measures - but criticising the video for me means having a distorted idea of what that kind of video is supposed to do. Quite often I find myself defending videos which are considered too reductionist, too populist and too simplistic. Of course, I am only referring to videos whose aim is to become viral. Those videos HAVE to be simple. Don't get me wrong: this does not for a minute that I condone populism. But the danger of populism for me is in the content, not the form(at). It would be a bit like criticising ballet dancers for not singing well enough: THEY ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO!!!!

By all means, let's have a debate, about solutions, Europe and solidarity. This is why Avanti was born in the first place. But the means to deliver the messages, surely, need to be accepted for what they are and can be. And stop calling me Shirley!