Feathers! 2.0

People have been loyally using Feathers! since its release in December of 1999.  Yes, it has been in use for more than eighteen years now.

When Feathers! was launched, it pulled its data from the TARR system.

By the way, maybe the alert reader will figure out where the name Feathers! came from.  Yes, from the phrase “tar and feathers”.

In December of 2011, the USPTO migrated from TARR to TSDR.  The nice folks at the USPTO set up a special virtual machine that would continue to receive the “tarr” requests from the Feathers! software and would pass those requests to TSDR.  And for the past seven years, this is how Feathers! has continued to function.

You can see here a video on the USPTO web site dating from the year 2012 about the migration from TARR to TSDR.

Feathers! is a program that runs only on Windows.  When Feathers! was developed, it was designed to run on Windows 98 and Windows NT.  In the eighteen years that have passed since the first release of Feathers!, Windows has migrated through Windows ME, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, and now Windows 10.  The original design of Feathers!, including its way of storing the trademark status data, worked well on Windows 98 and Windows NT, but is not well suited to Windows 10.  People who try to install Feathers! on a Windows 10 computer sometimes have trouble getting it to work.

Feathers! was designed back when it was easy to send email by means of almost any SMTP server.  In the eighteen years that have passed, the administrators of email systems have had no choice but to lock down their SMTP servers to try to block spammers.  This means that it is no easy trick nowadays in 2019 to find an SMTP server that will permit a Feathers! user to send notification emails.

These developments put the Feathers! community into a predicament.  What really needs to happen is, we need to have a Feathers! 2.0.  What are the qualities of Feathers! 2.0?

Migrate to PHP-MySQL.  Feathers! 2.0 needs to not run on Windows any more.  It needs to run as a PHP MySQL app on a general-purpose Linux server.  This will permit people to use it who are Mac and Chromebook and Linux users.

A normal PHP MySQL hosting platform will have a way to send emails without the user having to think about it.

A normal PHP MySQL platform can often be set up with “cron” jobs so that it will run automatically, each day.

Make use of a current API.  Feathers! 2.0 needs to draw its data from whatever the current API is at the USPTO.  It is not a good thing that for eight years now, Feathers! has been relying upon a (probably somewhat fragile) virtual machine at the USPTO that emulates the old TARR server.

The current API is or hopefully will be XML rather than HTML.  It will hopefully be Restful.  It will hopefully have constructable URLs, constructable using the same entry points as TSDR (application number, registration number, international registration number, reference number).

Enable migration from legacy Feathers! Clearly we will want to have some easy way that a user of the legacy Feathers! will be able to migrate the “tradmark.dat” file from legacy Feathers! into Feathers! 2.0.

Add features.  There are doubtless many features that users of Feathers! have wished for. My favorites include checking to see if any new assignment has been recorded against a property, and checking to see if any document has been added to a TTABVue file that relates to a property.  I’d also like to be able to load an international registration number (Madrid Protocol) into Feathers! and to be told later the moment that a US application number gets assigned either to an original designation or to a subsequent designation.

Money.  Which gets to the question of how to get Feathers! 2.0.  When my firm developed Feathers! back in 1999, it did not cost very much money and we had a really unique and advantageous situation in terms of who was writing the code.  That developer opportunity is in the past now.  And it will be more expensive in 2019 to develop the successor software.  My firm is not in a position to repeat what it did in 1999.  Probably we need to do some crowdfunding.

I am guessing the cost to develop Feathers! 2.0 will likely be in the range of $20K to $40K.

Revenue model.  One of the important things about the original Feathers! is that it was provided for free.  The user was thus not in a position to demand that anybody provide tech support.  To the extent there was anything like tech support, it came from the Feathers! listserv.

One possible crowd-source approach would be that each sponsor contributes what they wish, and part of what they get for their sponsorship is that the software provided to them would be the full functioning package.  I guess there would need to be some minimum dollar amount.  We already have one sponsor at $1000 so maybe that would be the minimum sponsorship level.

Then, once the product gets released, it would be available to others but it would be crippled.  Maybe it only permits monitoring twenty applications/registrations, something like that.  And to get an unlock code to make it into the full functioning package, the user would pay a bunch of money.   Maybe the minimum sponsorship number ($1000 in my guess).  Every three months or something, I would distribute maybe two-thirds of that money in proportion to the sponsorship numbers.  I would keep one-third, something like that.  People would just have to trust me on this.  Until eventually the sponsors had gotten back their sponsorship amount plus one-third, something like that.

Everybody would have to be told over and over again (and through clickwrap) that there is no tech support other than what they can get (if anything) through the listserv.

Installation. A few of our readers may be familiar with how one does installation for a PHP-MySQL product.  Basically you find or build or obtain a virtual or a physical Linux box.  The best way by far, these days, is to do a Linux hosting package on Namecheap for $3 to $9 per month.  And then in cPanel you set up an execution space for a virtual Linux machine.

And in cPanel you set up a domain name that points to that execution space, and an SSL certificate.  Feathers.mydomain.com.

Next you create a database in MySQL.

Next you copy all of the install files into the directory of the virtual machine.

Next you run the installer:  https://feathers.mydomain.com/install.php .  it asks for the location of the database and the user ID and password.  You define the admin password and then you are golden.

Oh and then you set up a cron job so that it will run once a day, probably at a time that is randomly chosen each day for a random time between maybe 1AM Eastern and 6AM Eastern or something like that.  We would ask the USPTO folks what range of times of day they want it to be.

The access to the system is through https://feathers.mydomain.com .  It sends email using the native email sending capability of your Linux hosting environment.

There would be a place to upload your tradamark.dat file from the legacy Feathers!

The starting point would be for the system to mostly replicate the functions of the legacy Feathers! but we would also do some feature adds.

Self-test.  The Feathers! 2.0 software would have a self-test button that displays a detailed report of things like:

  • acceptable version of PHP in place
  • system is able to get into the MySQL database
  • system is able to send email
  • system is able to do a lookup in the USPTO API
  • system has an SSL certificate
  • other healthy-baby checks

Installation service.  I suppose another thing is that some users would prefer to be able to pay somebody to install the software for them.  So maybe there is an installation service.  Some of our Feathers! users will be comfortable offering such an installation service.  The idea is that the user signs up for Namecheap cPanel hosting, maybe the one that is $3 per month.  And the user picks a domain name for the hosting.  And the user then pays maybe $1000 to the installer.  The installer sets it all up (either the free crippled version or the paid-for or sponsored full-functioning version) and gets it running.  Uploading the tradmark.dat file if asked to do so.  Setting up a cron job if the hosting platform permits.

It would have to be made clear that for the $1000 one is not purchasing support in perpetuity.  All you get is the thing works for a week or you get your $1000 installer fee back.  It would be up to the user to do backups if desired, to pay the recurring fee for the hosting, to keep the domain name working, to keep the SSL certificate current, and so on.