“Turn and face the strange” – Patent values fall to earth; PIPCOs, too

Changes, or should we say “ch-ch-changes,” channeling David Bowie, who reinvented himself repeatedly, have decimated the performance of most publicly held patent licensing companies.

Public IP licensing companies (PIPCOs) are changing their names and restructuring in an attempt to reframe themselves. The move appears part of an effort to shed the past, given that many of these businesses have significantly under-performed the S&P 500 Index.

With patent values at historic lows, a fresh perspective is welcome. But can PIPCOs turn the corner and successfully adapt to changing times (and valuations) in the patent space? Only some are likely to succeed.

A fuller discussion of public IP companies, “PIPCOs adapt to ch-changing times,” can be found in my “Intangible Investor” column in the September IAM magazine, out today. Subscribers can find the piece here. It includes companies that have changed their name or issued reverse splits of their stock. or otherwise reinvented themselves as operating companies with product sales.

A Closer Look

A closer look at the IP CloseUp 30 reveals several significant developments. One trend which financial analysts tend to question is rebranding; another is a reverse split, where a $0.50 stock can suddenly become a $4 one when investors are provided with fewer shares at a higher price.

To casual observers, it can appear that performance has taken off, when in fact the weak stock price is merely being obscured by a diminished public float. Many PIPCOs were formed by a merging a private enterprise into a public shell, which while not disreputable, often comes with baggage.

While one can appreciate different patent strategies – the need to monetize good assets through different business models – the perils of public ownership are ill-suited for the majority of companies whose primary focus is licensing.

Still, there are public and private patent licensing company successes, including Finjan, which has successfully fended off multiple IPRs, Network-1, inventor-owned PMC (Personalized Media Communications), which continues to license, and colleges like Northwestern and NYU, which have scored big on pharmaceutical licensing.  

Stanford University’s patent licensing take in shares of Google are said to be worth more than $300 million.

Image source: wikipedia.org

About Bruce Berman

Independent IP observer, adviser and author.

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