The Ocean Liner and the Speed Boat
Joe Beyers headed IP business at H-P where for decades he helped to monetize thousands of patents and other innovation rights in dozens of different ways. Chief IP Executive in name if not title, Joe reported to the CTO and Board of Directors before it became fashionable to do so.
Over a 34 year career at H-P he headed other divisions, including areas of M&A and contributed inventions of his own. Today, Joe leads Ambature, a smart energy start up www.ambature.com. IP Insider caught up with Joe recently.
IPI: You worked for one of the largest and most successful technology companies for most of your career. What has it been like making the transition to a venture funded start-up like Ambature?
JB: HP was not always the largest nor the most successful technology company. It had to struggle like any other company to achieve its current position in the market place. At a personal level, when I worked for HP I attempted to create an entrepreneurial environment in my organizations
When I started the IP licensing function in HP I had to build it up from the ground up starting with just me. There are published reports that the IP income for HP grew by over 10X during my tenure. Probably, the key difference with my role in Ambature is that in addition to being the Chairman and CEO, I am also the acting CFO, HR manager etc.
IPI: Are there any similarities between the two companies?
JB:I guess it would be like comparing an ocean liner to a speedboat. They both float on water and are powered by energy sources. One can weather a hurricane and the other can’t. One can go faster and turn quicker but the other one can go farther without refueling.
IPI: You were strongly anti-troll when you were head of the IP businesses at H-P. What’s your perspective now?
JB: The industry seems to be continuing to confuse the topic by:
a) Merging the concept of merging NPE’s (non-practicing entities} with companies whose primary business model is to acquire IP to assert against other companies (my definition of a patent troll). I was on a panel at an LES conference last week. One of the panelists on a separate panel accused Stanford of being a patent troll. The Stanford representative claimed that Stanford was not even an NPE. And
b) Linking the “troll” concept with deceptive (marginally ethical) patent assertion tactics. Such deceptive practices are a function of an individual’s or a company’s engagement ethics and can be independent of their actual business model
My view when at HP and today is that people should be able to obtain fair value for their intellectual property. This has not changed. Now that I am the Chairman and CEO of a company that is developing technology that we intend to license, and not build actual products using this technology, then by some definitions I am now the head of an NPE.
I and my stakeholders are taking a risk in developing this technology and should be properly rewarded if we are successful. In the past I have argued that the uncertainty in the current judicial system as it relates to patents enables patent trolls to obtain an unfair value for their IP. Recent court cases that decrease the likelihood of an injunction and increase the risk of a declaratory injunction for a patent assertion have improved this situation. Further, changes/refinements are possible, but at this point I might question whether such further actions might impair the ability of a small NPE to actually obtain its fair value for its inventions.
Ambature is developing technology that could significantly impact people across the planet. I believe that my engagement with the company will have a significant impact on the success of the company. If the patent judicial system was further changed to the point that it is extremely difficult for a small NPE to obtain fair value for its IP, I have often asked myself the question of whether I would have taken the personal risk to join the company. It is this dilemma that has given me pause in my thinking.
IPI: You, Marshall Phelps at MSFT, Rudd Peters at Philips and to some extent Dave Kappos at IBM might all be considered Chief IP Officers (CIPOs). You reported to CTOs, CEOs or even the Board of Directors. Why do you think the pendulum has swung back to the legal department?
JB: IP is a strategic business asset. It should be managed accordingly. Monetizing IP involves risk. One of the many contributions of a legal department in a large company is to help advise/manage/control enterprise risk. A key factor in the choice of the model for an IP monetization function is the level of risk that a company is willing to take relative to the benefits. I am not so sure that “the pendulum” has swung, as that the risk profile in some of the companies with high visibility IP monetization programs has shifted.
IPI: What advice would you give to today’s IP executive?
a) Work with your key executives to get alignment on the company’s IP strategy.
b) Make sure that you have in place an agreed-upon set of success metrics.
c) Stay aligned with the key business units on strategies and key execution tactics.
d) Keep testing all of the above to watch for unexpected changes in views.
e) Be innovative in developing ways to accomplish these objectives.
IPI: Are you still active with the Boy Scouts?
JB: Yes, I have been an adult leader for 16 years and I continue to be the Scoutmaster of the Troop. I have two boys who became Eagles and a third who is one rank away from Eagle.