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Patent transactions are flat; U.S. asking prices firm at $250K per

The number of patent sales in the 4Q 2016 remained about the same, but the median asking price of sellers of U.S. patents was higher than in recent quarters.

According to data compiled by Richardson Oliver Law Group, a Silicon Valley firm that tracks patent transactions, five of the ten most active sellers were Asian companies, and the most active buyers were led by a variety of operating companies, defensive aggregators, and NPEs. In general, corporate buyers were more active than NPEs.

The median asking price of U.S. patents in the 4Q was $250K; all patents, $150K (see graph below).

As a trend, operating companies represent a higher percentage of overall patent purchases when looking at a five-year sample. The sale of software assets lagged hardware, but not by much, 180 to 234, for some an encouraging trend.  

“Buyers are becoming more comfortable with software risk and understanding what may and may not be ineligible under Alice,” said Kent Richardson, Managing Partner of ROL. 

Sales are flat, which Richardson believes can be interpreted as a sign of relative health, given how badly the case law has gone against patent owners. “Arguably, there should be fewer deals on the market and fewer sales. We won’t know for sure for another 12 months, but it looks like sales rates are climbing back to where they were a couple of years ago.”

Cloud-related inventions are more likely to be technically challenging in terms of patentability, compared with, say, user interface patents. Infrastructure inventions are much more likely to pass an Alice test.

“As a test, we are defaulting to ‘Would it be patentable to the Europeans?’,” concludes Richardson. “It’s not a perfect measure, but it works.”

Available Assets Down, Packages Up

The number of patent assets available in the market dropped 13.2 percent to 2,478 new assets in the fourth quarter from the previous quarter.

The number of patent packages listed rose 3.5 percent to 147 from the third quarter. (This could mean that fewer, better quality patents are being offered for sale.) However, 2,855 assets listed in the third quarter were offered in a smaller number of patent packages.

The median asking price per new asset (U.S. and global) listed by patent brokers was $150,000 in the fourth quarter. That reflected increases of 38 percent from the previous quarter and 80 percent from the fourth quarter of 2015.

Brokers matched buyers and sellers for 28 deals on packages of related patents during the quarter, according to ROL data. Those deals totaled 637 assets, comprising 395 granted or pending U.S. patents, while the remaining amount represented granted or pending foreign patents.

By comparison, 565 assets were sold in 35 brokered patent deals during the third quarter of 2016. In the fourth quarter of 2015, 554 assets sold in 33 patent packages.

For information about Richardson Oliver Law Group, go here.

Image source: RichardsonOliverLaw; Bloomberg/BNA

Three notable IP events coming up in NY, SF and Bangalore

IP event season is upon us and at least three conferences are worth noting. 

The first takes place this week in New York, March 21-22, the 9th annual Corporate IP Counsel Forum. The USPTO Keynote will be given by Mary Boney Denison, Commissioner for Trademarks and Mark Powell, Deputy Commissioner for International Patent Cooperation.

The featured session will be “Reconsidering Patent-Eligibility under Section 101.” Speaker faculty can be found here and the conference agenda here. I understand that there are only a few seats left.

IP CloseUp readers can save $200 by using registration code IPCNYC.

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The World IP Forum will take place this year April 26-28 at the Shangri-La Hotel in Bengaluru (Bangalore), India.  The theme for the conference is “Harnessing the Power of Intellectual Property.” The fourth edition of this three-day conference will focus on recent developments in intellectual property and its syncing with business objectives. Past participants have include Judge Randall Rader and former USPTO Commissioner Q. Todd Dickinson.

For more information about the World IP Forum, go here.

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On May 18 San Francisco’s Golden Gate Club (at the Presidio) will be the site for IAM’s IP Software Summit.  The Summit is the first event to provide a platform for professionals from the software industry to discuss open innovation, open source and proprietary systems, collaboration, the scope of patent protection, and monetization.

The list of speakers can be found here and the full agenda here.

Speakers include senior IP executives from Cisco, Qualcomm, Mozilla, SAP, Open Invention Network, Google, Uber, LinkedIn, Ericsson and IBM.

IP licensing leader Tessera renamed Xperi Corp in rebranding push

One of the leading public IP licensing companies, or PIPCOs, Tessera Holding Corporation, has changed its name to Xperi Corporation, an indication that it has altered its direction. 

The renaming is an apparent effort to place more emphasis on new lines of business outside of patent licensing after acquiring DTS, as well as facilitate the company’s lagging stock price. Tessera reported disappointing results that surprised Wall Street in late February.

The name change was announced on February 22. On February 23 Tessera/Xperi reported that it had missed its Q4 earnings by $.25 per share.

Stalling Stalwart?

Tessera (TSRA), InterDigital (IDCC) and Rambus (RMBS) have been the lead players among PIPCOs, with industry-leading market values of $2.2B, $2.9B and $1.4B respectively.

Tessera/Xperi (58ae87c857fd3-imageXPER) reported fourth-quarter adjusted earnings of 32 cents per share, missing the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 25 cents. Also, revenues of $70 million missed the consensus mark.

Following the weak earnings release, share of the leading chip packaging and interconnect solutions provider slipped more than 13% in the after-hours trading. Over the past year, shares of Tessera Technologies underperformed the Zacks categorized Electronics Manufacturing Machinery industry. While the industry gained 27.66%, the stock generated a loss of 2.13%.

TSRA was 44.65 on February 22 with approximately $2.2B market cap. XPER is 35.55 on March 2 with a $1.7B valuation. A 2015 article the investment weekly Barron’s questioned how Tessera accounted for “recurring” revenues, which the publication said were really patent litigation settlements paid out over time, not royalty income.

In May 2016 Vringo changed its name to Form Holdings (FH).

“2016 was a transformational year with the combination of Tessera and DTS, which today we are excited to have rebranded as Xperi, reflecting our new vision of bringing together digital and physical experiences in smart, connected and personalized ways,” said Tom Lacey, Chief Executive Officer.

Acquisition of an Acquisition

On September 20 Tessera Holding announced its $850 million deal to acquire DTS, a premier audio solutions provider for mobile, logo2014_tagstack-sitehead_232x92_2xhome, and automotive markets. Only a year or so before that DTS entered into an agreement to acquire HD Radio developer iBiquity Digital Corp.

Tessera/Xperi says that its technologies and intellectual property are deployed in areas such as premium audio, computational imaging, computer vision, mobile computing and communications, memory, data storage, 3D semiconductor interconnect and packaging.

“We invent smart sight and sound technologies that enhance and help to transform the human connected experience.”

On February 8, 2016 Tessera’s shares were $26.57. They reached $44.74 on December 12, and excellent year by any standard, but closed flat at $44.65 on February 22. Since then its shares are down by $9 or about 20%.

On Yahoo! Finance, TSRA, the old stock symbol, shows the price of shares at the close of the session on February 22. A Google search of TSRA takes you to the new stock symbol for the company, XPER, which shows an end of Friday price of $35.10.

Image source: HDradio.com; zacks.com

Center for IP Understanding is started by leading IP execs to raise awareness, improve attitudes

The Center for Intellectual Property Understanding (CIPU), an independent, unaffiliated non-profit dedicated to increasing IP awareness and improving negative attitudes towards patents, copyrights and other rights, was launched in New York last week. 

As reported in IAM, Law 360, World IP Review and other publications, the non-profit Center for IP Understanding was founded to address the uncertainty among audiences regarding patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets — especially who do they benefit and their impact on new ideas and jobs.

“[The Centre’s] creation is in many ways a response to the battering that IP’s public image has taken over the last several years,” reported IAM blog, “particularly in the US. In that time a series of Supreme Court cipulogodecisions are widely seen to have undermined patent rights; the idea of efficient infringement has taken root; and the ‘patent troll’ narrative has gained wider traction in many parts the media.”

Outreach

Executives and advisors involved in CIPU on the board of directors or as informal advisors include Marshall Phelps (Microsoft, IBM, retired), Brian Hinman (Philips, active), Keith Bergelt (Open Invention Network, CEO), Harry Gwinnell (Cargill, Eastman Chemical, retired), and trade secret expert James Pooley (Orrick).

Also helpful in getting CIPU underway were Judge Paul Michel (Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, retire), David Kappos (Commissioner of the USPTO, retired) and film producer and author Irv Rappaport, former chief patent counsel at Apple and Medtronic, who has generated more than 20 patents, and Jonathan Taplin, a film producer, author and Director Emeritus of the Annenberg Innovation Lab a the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Among the CIPU’s goals for 2017 are a survey of IP awareness and attitudes among the general public and business owners; a research report on trends in media coverage of patent disputes; and a possible joint conference with Duke University on Innovation Policy.

The Center for IP Understanding also plans to provide outreach to educators, parents and business that help to facilitate better IP behavior.

Cultural Shift

“We have entered the ‘free-information’ era, where online content and patented inventions are readily pocketed by those who would never dream of shoplifting,” said Bruce Berman, CIPU Chairman, and CEO of Brody Berman Associates. “Products like music, books, novel designs, inventions and counterfeit goods appear to be there for the taking – or feel as if they should be. Uncertainty about what IP rights cover and their appropriate use compound the problem. CIPU will address these and other issues.”

“IP confusion is costly for consumers and businesses alike,” said Vice-Chairman Marshall Phelps, who is a member of the IP Hall of Fame. “Free-riders – unauthorized users of IP-protected products and works – come in many shapes and sizes. They impact performance and investment, as well as job creation. IP awareness and acceptable behaviors are too important to be left to audiences to decide on their own.”

For the IAM story go here.

For the Law 360 article go here.

For the full launch announcement go here.

For more information about the Center for IP Understanding, please visit www.UnderstandingIP.org. 

Image source: The Center for IP Understanding

Pre-IPO Snap, with $25B valuation, paid $9M for 245 IBM patents

A soft market for patent licensing has not stopped the right patent portfolio from commanding a respectable price from the right buyer – at the right time.   

Snap, the corporate parent of Snapchat, reported recently in its S-1 pre-IPO filing that it had acquired a strategic patent portfolio from IBM, according to PatentVue, the data-focused IP blog.

In a well-researched post, PatentVue reports that approximately 245 of Snap’s 328 issued patents have been purchased from IBM.

“While the terms of its patent acquisition from IBM were not made ibmpublic,” says Maulin Shah, Managing Partner of Envision IP, “and with no mention of this patent transfer in the S-1, it appears that Snap may have paid roughly $9-10 million for the 245 patents and 207 pending US patent applications from IBM.

Excluding the patent applications, this means roughly $36-40k per patent.

Twitter acquired 945 patents from IBM in 2014 for a reported $36 million, in an effort to settle patent infringement claims brought against it by the technology giant. This comes out to approximately $38k per patent, again, excluding patent applications.

Similar Strategies

“Snap and Twitter’s patenting strategy at this point appear to be very similar,” concludes Shah, “with the vast majority of both portfolios predominately made up of acquired patents from IBM.”

The current IAM magazine features an article, “Big Blue’s new groove,” which examines IBM’s evolving patent strategy, and lists 34 patent and portfolio sales Big Blue has made between 2014 and 2016. Buyers include LinkedIn, Hulu, snap-ipo-riskRed Hat, Global Foundries and Lenovo. IAM subscribers can find the article here.

Snap, Snapchat’s parent, expects to raise approximately $3 billion from an initial public offering this spring. Despite a $25 billion valuation, Snap lost $514 million last year.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others all sought patent portfolios before they went public, in part to justify their valuation, and perhaps because they had the cash to justify the instant leverage provided by a meaningful portfolio.

Today, patents’ more abstract M&A or financial transaction value can be more meaningful that its direct licensing or revenue-generating value.

The PatentVue post, can be found here. The blog’s original coverage of Snap’s mobile messaging patent acquisition, here.

Image source: computerweekly.com; techcrunch.com

Trade in counterfeit & pirated goods is $.5 trillion – 2.5% of all imports

“Fakes,” or counterfeit products, are a growing menace that deplete resources, threaten jobs and endanger lives. 

A report compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says that imports of counterfeit and pirated goods are worth nearly half a trillion dollars a year, or around 2.5% of global imports. That is about the entire GDP of Austria, or of Ireland and the Czech Republic combined.

The U.S., Italian and French brands have been the hardest hit, and “many of the proceeds going to organised crime.” The 2016 report was co-authored by the EU’s Intellectual Property Office. China also is in the top 12 (see graph below).

Five-percent are Fakes

Trade in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods: Mapping the Economic Impact puts the value of imported fake goods worldwide at $461 billion in 2013, compared with total imports in world trade of $17.9 trillion.

Up to 5% of goods imported into the European Union are fakes, the report stated. Most originate in middle-income or emerging countries, with China the top producer.

“Transit points include economies with very weak governance and having a strong presence of organized crime or even terrorist networks (e.g. Afghanistan or Syria).”

nationshit

“Given the fundamental economic importance of IP, counterfeiting and piracy must be directly targeted as a threat to sustainable IP-based business models,” concludes the OECD report.

China may be making great strides in domestic patent protection (see China is Poised to Overtake the U.S. as the Leading Patent System) with low injunction hurdles and high respect for foreign-held rights, but as of 2013, it was responsible for almost two-thirds of global counterfeits, based on the percent of seizures documented.

Missing: Content and Invention Theft

Ironically, the Trade in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods: Mapping the Economic Impact, does not mention content sharing or copying, copyright violations, as a global threat.

It also does not address the economic impact of products being falsely sold as original that are infringing other businesses’ patents.

fakeoriginators

For those interested, the 2017 OECD Global Anti-Corruption and Integrity Forum will be held this year in Paris, March 30-31. For more information go here.

 

Image source: OECD report

‘Innocent’ IP theft is widely accepted and dangerously viral – Why?

So widespread is IP abuse that it no longer is regarded as a crime by many of the people committing it or authorities entrusted to preventing it. 

What has happened to change law-abiding citizens and honest businesses into serial patent, copyright and trademark infringers?

Start with geometric increases in information and speed. Putting enormous computing (and copying) power in the hands of billions of people and tens of thousands of businesses has made access seamless. What’s theirs often feels like mine, even when it is not.

26069006_sA heightened sense of entitlement is another factor. People want their Rolex or Gucci bag, or latest Adele song, and they want it now, for a fraction of the actual cost if not for free. (The same could be said of the latest mobile phone chip.)

Many businesses believe that even if they did not invent a particular product feature, they definitely could have, and why should they pay for it if no one is forcing them to. Besides, someone has to identify infringement and prove it in court. Good luck with that.

Unusual Bond

Consumers and companies have an unusual bond: they know that they can freely infringe without much fear of retribution. And you know what, they think — “everyone seems to be doing it lately.”

A third but not final reason is suspicion of IP rights and owners. Patents, copyrights, trademarks all are government-issued, lawyer-administered and business-owned rights. The average person will never own an IP right and believes that benefiting from them is for the privileged or wealthy. They are only partially right. No one – not the lawmakers, not federal agencies, not the police, the schools or businesses or community leaders – has done a very good job of explaining what’s in IP for them?

Fueling the Rise in IP Abuse

“When theft is no crime” in the March IAM magazine, the Intangible Investor looks at the rise in IP abuse and what is fueling it. IAM subscribers can go here for the full article.

Free riding comes in many shapes and sizes. It is economically a threat and constantly growing. It has become so much a part of American fabric that millions of people, businesses and community leaders are not even aware that it is taking place. IP theft may seem like a victimless crime, but data shows it is not.

The Department of Commerce’s 2016 update, Intellectual Property and the US Economyreports that IP-intensive industries supported 45.5 million jobs and contributed $6.6 trillion in value added, equivalent to free-riding-final-2-768x34638.2% of US gross domestic product. These impressive results for IP holders are far from guaranteed if IP protections can be easily ignored. On the down side counterfeits, patent infringement music file sharing are way up.

Re-writing the Rules

Whether they acknowledge it or not, some companies and individuals are attempting to rewrite the property rule-book, or, at least, ignore it as long as they can. The impact may not be that readily apparent at first, but it will eventually be widely felt: by musicians, authors, inventors, investors, small businesses, consumers and companies selling products from automobile brake parts to pharmaceuticals and luxury goods – along with their employees. 

Lack of awareness plays a role in ignoring IP rights, but there may be something deeper and more insidious going on: distrust of authority and frustration with government and laws. Some of this anger has been orchestrated by anti-patent lobbyists.

Routine acceptance of IP theft also reflects the growing antipathy towards so-called ‘elites’, which led to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Why IP holders don’t deserve exclusivity and land owners do is rooted in how the culture views IP rights and holders, as much as the difficulty accepting their value.

People need to be reminded that with IP rights, not every restriction is an obstacle.

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I will be announcing a non-profit organization in a few weeks dedicated to addressing the lack of IP awareness and increasing hostility to rights. Watch IP CloseUp for more information.

Image source: digitalguardian.com; theCenterforIPUnderstanding

 

Experts: Void from U.S. patent “train wreck” is being filled by China’s patent system

In a few short years China’s patent system has gone from an IP rights wannabe to one of the most responsive and patent-friendly systems in the world.

Leading U.S. IP experts say that underlying this rapid evolution is a desire for China to become a science and technology powerhouse, with the ability to create new and formidable industries that employ many of its 1.4 billion people.

“China wants to be an innovation leader for multiple reasons,” Irv Rappaport, former Chief Patent Counsel at Apple and National Semiconductor, who served on the Uruguay Round of GATT, told IP CloseUp recently. “It is fascinating to see how the U.S. patent system is imploding, while the Chinese system is exploding with activity and purpose.

“For more than a decade the U.S. has been emasculating its patent system, while the Chinese have been studying it and adopting the benefits of a well-coordinated and fast-moving one. The U.S. has gone from being on the global cutting edge in IP in the 1990s, to becoming a patent backwater, because of a well-heeled, anti-patent faction among technology companies that want to stifle competition.

“Train Wreck”

“China has watched the U.S. train wreck and is moving fast to fill the void,”continues Rappaport. “It wants to become the world’s ‘Eastern District of TX,’ that is, a fair and fast adjudicator of disputes that respects patent holders’ rights. China will soon be the world’s largest economy with the biggest population and a middle class the size of England, France and Germany combined. Their commitment to innovation can not be ignored.”

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Peter Holden, CEO of ipCreate and former managing director with London-based Collar Capital and a founding executive with IP Value, has worked extensively with Asian companies and patents. He has traveled to Korea, China and Japan more than 100 times over the past twenty years. “The Chinese have learned from the U.S. and are sincere about making their IP system the best — one that will encourage innovation and help their nation to become the economic leader. It is not merely a thought. It’s an idea that they are dedicated to.

“China’s attitude towards foreign patent enforcement may not always be as generous as it is currently. It knows that it needs to bend over backwards to be fair if it is to be taken seriously on a global scale. To encourage competition there needs to be a level playing field.”

Counterfeits Still Rule

But China’s record on counterfeits is poor, with everything from luxury goods to pharmaceuticals sold domestically and exported globally. According the U.S. International Trade Commission, Chinese theft of U.S. IP in 2009 alone cost almost one million U.S. jobs and caused $48 billion in U.S. economic losses.

“Counterfeit goods are still an issue for China,” says Erick Robinson, a patent attorney in Beijing and author of Defending a patent case in the brave new world of Chinese patent litigation, in the current issue of IAM magazine. “However, sales of fake goods are no longer openly accepted and the government has been on the war path trying to stop them in different ways. Authorities know that in order to be taken seriously about IP rights, they cannot ignore the problem of counterfeit goods.”

For a prior IP CloseUp post summarizing the Robinson article, go here.

“Go-To” Jurisdiction

China is just beginning to build its giant tech companies. They have succeed with Alibaba and Huawei, and acquired Lenovo from IBM, which is now a $45 billion (USD) business. Their big businesses currently have less to lose from strong patents and quick dispute resolution than those in the U.S. and Europe. To create successful businesses and attract investment, incentives need to be provided, and strong patents and a reliable legal system for adjudicating disputes are great for encouraging that.

Perhaps when China has as many big tech players as the U.S. it will start to think more defensively, but for now it is the perfect setting for encouraging new ideas with strong patents and courts that make it easy to obtain injunctions.

“It’s interesting that the Chinese are encouraging large foreign corporations to sue non-Chinese companies in China,” opines Rappaport. “This suggests that they are looking to become the patent litigation go-to jurisdiction.” As their innovation grows and becomes more complex, I believe they will have less interest in exporting cheap knock-
china-is-receiving-the-most-invention-patent-applications-in-the-world-insideiim-rishikeshakrishnan-1024x792

offs.  Their IP path is similar to that followed by many of today’s developed economies, such as Japan and South Korea.  You start off copying others and gradually move to internal innovation.”

Despite China’s success in facilitating stronger patents and more decisive courts, a huge question is just how prominent a role will patents play in new companies in a data-driven information age.

“Given the accelerating pace of technology development and nature of discoveries, which are frequently software driven, it’s not clear whether existing patent systems can remain relevant in the longer term,” says Rappaport. ” This effect may partially explain why patents currently seem to be less relevant in the U.S.  It remains to be seen whether this is a longer term development. It is a development that needs to watched.”

“100% Win Rate”

“Trust the Chinese government to do what is best for the Chinese people,” reminds Beijing-based Robinson. “It’s less about assisting foreign patent holders than establishing a really viable IP system that encourages innovation and growth, and that attracts foreign investment. Forty-percent of the smart phones in India are currently manufactured by Chinese companies. Innovation coupled with enforcement will drive China’s new businesses and help them grow.”

As reported by Robinson in IAM, “foreign plaintiffs notched a 100% win rate [65 – 0] in civil cases heard by the Beijing IP Court last year, according to a judge who has been on its roster since it was established in 2014.”

Wake-Up Call

A decade of weakening has taken its toll on the U.S. patent system and patent holders. It will not be quick to recover unless a concerted effort can be made to take IP rights seriously. Allowing U.S. patent policy to be dictated by those with the greatest financial success and market share may be appealing to shareholders, but it is not necessarily what is needed for the nation to remain competitive in a global economy, and to generate new businesses and jobs.

Hopefully, the wake-up call comes soon for the U.S. and it can retain the title of innovation leader it has held since the 19th Century but is slipping away.

Image source: insideiim.com; chinapatentblog.com; wsj.com

China is poised to overtake the U.S. as the leading patent system

A few years ago a company whose patents were violated in China had little or no chance of defending its rights. 

Determined to move beyond its role as a low-cost provider of look-alike consumer products, and establish itself as an innovation leader, China has learned from the successes – and mistakes – of other intellectual property systems, especially the U.S. The nation of 1.4 billion inhabitants has rapidly emerged as what is currently among the fairest and most patent holder-friendly systems in the world.

Chinese patent courts second only, perhaps, to Germany in quickly and fairly adjudicating disputes.

A fascinating article in the current IAM magazine, “Defending a patent case in the brave new world of Chinese patent litigation,” details China’s rapid rise from low-cost copier to a patent power, and a nation that has caught the attention of major global technology powers who are often defendants.

Damages awards are relatively small in China, with median awards currently around 35,000 Renminbi or about $5,000, but injunctions, the power to stop a likely infringing product from being sold, are now issued over 99% of the time to winning parties. NPEs, what some U.S. companies refer to as patent “trolls,” are treated fairly as long as they their patents are of sufficient quality and are the companies are generally supportive of Chinese welfare.

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Patent litigation win rates, according to the article, average around 80%. Startlingly, foreign plaintiffs fare better statistically than Chinese. 

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The U.S. effectively ended the granting of patent injunctions in 2006 with EBay v. MercExchange. Now, only operating companies can obtain them in rare circumstances. This removes most of the leverage afforded patent holders. Granted, injunction abuses are a fact of life, and dubious patents have at times been used to enjoin products, costing companies time and money. But without the power to stop a product from being sold, patents have little meaning.

Race to the Bottom

“Largely as a result of the United States’ race to the bottom in terms of patent enforcement, Germany has emerged as a go-to patent jurisdiction, with virtually guaranteed injunctions, quick time to trial and no discovery resulting in a highly efficient system,” writes Beijing-based Erick Robinson, chief patent counsel, Asia-Pacific for Rouse, a global IP strategy firm.

Patent-holder Win-Rates and Median Damages Awards 

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“Enter China. For years the laughing-stock of all things IP related, the Middle Kingdom was ridiculed for the easy availability of counterfeit handbags, software and DVDs. However, over the last 15 years, and especially in the last two to three, China has put together an extremely effective patent enforcement system. Based largely on the German system and all of its advantages, but with selected portions from US law, China has now become a top forum for patent litigation.”

Unlike most countries which enjoin making, using and selling allegedly infringed products in-country, as well as imports, Chinese law also bans infringing exports from leaving the country. So, for example, if the accused device is Apple’s iPhone, not only can sales of iPhones in China be enjoined, but also exports of the devices from China. This would enable a patent owner to achieve an effective worldwide ban, since iPhones are manufactured in China.

Slippery Slope

With U.S. patent protection significantly diminished over the past decade, and China’s on the rise, the U.S. is on a slippery slope when it comes to stimulating R&D, innovation and investment. It is well on its way to becoming a second-rate patent system, and a slip in disruptive innovation, necessary for the creation of new industries, difficult to measure in real-time, has probably started. Certainly, companies and their stakeholders are thinking twice before pursuing or relying upon USPTO-issued patent protection.

It remains to be seen if China, a continuing source of counterfeit goods that are shipped worldwide, is committed to providing its businesses, as well as those outside of the country, with a legal system that can meet the needs of all business holders, and permit fair and timely resolution of legitimate disputes.

High Win-Rates; Low Damages Awards

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China is now the second largest filer in the U.S. and, while its companies have rarely resorted to filing suits in the U.S. against U.S. companies, there is little doubt that it will do so in the future. Technology giants include Alibaba, Xiaomi, Huawei and Lenovo.

China is likely to be more aggressive enforcing its patents than U.S. frequent-filer Japan, which has been reluctant to engage in domestic or foreign patent disputes. (There are some signs that is changing.) Samsung, by far the largest holder of U.S. patents in the world, has shown a greater willingness use its patents for licensing and leverage.

China may or may not be deliberately attempting to embarrass U.S. and eventually surpass its moribund IP system, but the impact is the same. Continued lack of awareness of what IP rights achieve and for whom, and lobbying, has significantly compromised the once-exemplary U.S. patent system. The Chinese are not too new to capitalism not to see this as an opportunity to compete. For the U.S.’ sake, let’s hope it’s not too late to make invention rights a priority again.

Subscribers can access The brave new world of Chinese patent litigation here.

FUTURE POST: What patent experts believe China’s patent-friendly system means for the U.S. – Experts: Void from U.S. patent “train wreck” is being filled by China’s patent system

Image source: IAM magazine

IP CloseUp visits were up 81% in 2016, breaking previous record

It was the second record-breaking year in a row for IP CloseUp readership, with 43,946 visits in 2016, an 81% increase from 24,273 in 2015. The previous record increase was 31% in 2015, up from 2014.

The most popular51yeitvgpal post was “Kearns’ son still fuming over wiper blade suit,” with 21,652 views. Other popular posts included “For Samsung charity begins at home, Marshall, TX,” coming in with 5,464.

The Kearns article, detailing his 12-year patent suit with Ford and other auto companies, has generated 31,081 hits since it was originally posted in 2011.

Renewed interest in the Kearns biopic detailing the inventor’s patent suit, “Flash of Genius,” starring Greg Kinnear and Alan Alda, likely stimulated interest in the topic, as well as new obstacles to patent licensing.

 

Image source: amazon.com; hippajournal.com

 

Inventor Kearns’ fight with Ford & other auto cos is 2016’s most read IP CloseUp post; 20,000+ visitors

An article summarizing inventor Robert Kearns’ epic battle against the automobile industry is this year’s most read IP CloseUp post with more than 21,000 visits.

The post summarizes the twelve-year patent suit mounted by Kearns, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper, against Ford and much of the automobile industry in the 1980s and 1990s, for stealing his invention.

“Kearns’ Son Still Fuming Over Wiper Blade Fight” generated 21,374 visits thus far in 2016, up from 6,928 in 2015. Total visits are over 30,000, which makes it the most read of almost 300 IPCU posts.

What about this story resonates with readers?

It could have something to do with the 2008 movie, Flash of Genius, that memorialized Kearns’ battle and depicted how it contributed to his mental breakdown and loss of his family.

Bittersweet Victory

Flash of Genius, starring Greg Kinnear as Robert Kearns and Alan Alda, as Gregory Lawson, his ambiguous attorney, opened to mixed but generally positive reviews (59% Tomato Meter; 55% Audience Score). It had a $20 million budget but grossed just $4.8 million at the box office. (Alda, of M*A*S*H fame, BTW, is a champion of understanding science 51yeitvgpaland innovation, and founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.)

The movie has many fans. I suspect that when it it is streamed or runs on a movie channel curious viewers run to Google hopeful of learning more about the enigmatic Kearns and his dispute with auto giants. It pitted him as David to their Goliath. (Thanksgiving weekend alone, which is prime movie-watching time, there were more than 1,500 visits to the post on IPCU.)

Even though Kearns eventually won significant awards, $10.2 million from Ford, and a total of $30 million from Chrysler, it is easy to believe that the struggle, which cost him his family and affected his sanity, may not have been worth it.

Apparently, no one thought so except Kearns, a college professor, former cryptographer in WWII and officer at a U.S. agency that was the forerunner of the CIA. (See the link to his obituary on the original IP CloseUp post, above.)

High Search Ranking

The Kearns’ post’s popularity probably also has something to do with its high Google search ranking under Kearns’ iconic name. It’s the second item after a rather tepid Wikipedia entry.

Supporters of the film include Peter Travers, long-time film critic for Rolling Stone. He gave it three out of four stars, saying “Kinnear takes the star spot in Flash of Genius and rides it to glory… Kearns wasn’t a movie hero. His halting courtroom delivery lacked Hollywood histrionics. Kinnear plays him with blunt honesty, sagging under the weight of stress but maintaining a bulldog tenacity that would win the day. Was the battle worth it? Kearns’ conflict is readable in Kinnear’s every word and gesture. His performance is worth cheering”.

Stephen Holden of The New York Times called the film “a meticulously constructed mechanism, one that wants to convey the same mixture of idealism, obsession and paranoia found in whistle-blower movies like Silkwood and The Insider,” thought it “has the tone and texture of a well-made but forgettable television movie”.

Lead actor Greg Kinnear, who in the lead role is more likable than Kearns was, won the Boston Film Festival Best Actor Award for his portrayal.

kearns-familyThe Kearns story strikes a chord deep in everyone. It is a quintessentially American tale of the forward-thinking little guy against diverse array of nay-sayers, his family included. Kearns’ sincerity as an engineer who craved recognition for his work more than his financial security is not lost on audiences, who see Flash of Genius, weaknesses aside, as an emotional and somewhat cautionary tale that is difficult to forget.

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Whether it was ego, anger, greed, or a combination, that ultimately motivated Kearns to go as far as he did for as long, the inventor’s greatest accomplishment may not be the valuable device he created, which no doubt helped save lives, but his perseverance and drive to prove that it was stolen from him.

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Whether or not Kearns was selfish or unbalanced, patent holders have benefited from his trail-blazing determination and refusal to take settlement money when he needed it most.

Stacked Deck

The environment for inventors and innovative small businesses today who wish to license their rights is not much different from when Kearns fought his epic battles. In fact, the obstacles may be worse.

With “efficient” patent infringement the preferred strategy of many the leading technology companies today, and higher validity and patentability hurdles established by the Patent Trial and Appeal board and the courts, the deck continues to be stacked against IP holders – even those with the capital, time and patent quality to succeed.

[Note: A company that employs “efficient” infringement believes that it is highly unlikely it will be caught using an invention it is not entitled to, and if it does, it is unlikely that it will have to pay much. For them, choosing not to take a license unless forced to by the courts is in their view a prudent business decision, ethics aside.]

Flash of Genius is available from Amazon, iTunes and other sources, to stream, rent or buy. Recently, it became available to Netflix subscribers for free. The official movie trailer can be seen here.

For those interested in the topic of Kearns and independent inventing, the long and thoughtful 1993 New Yorker magazine article by John Seabrook on which the movie is based is not to be missed. It is available for free by going here.

To read the original Kearns post on IP CloseUp, go here.

Image source: allesantiago.wordpress.com; amazon.com

 

Trump Jr.’s op-ed reveals a solid understanding of patent licensing

Donald J. Trump, Jr.’s editorial in the The Daily Caller in 2012, a conservative leaning publication that generates more than 16 million monthly visits, indicates that he has had significant experience with patents and disputes, and has a good understanding of the difference between legitimate IP holders and those attempting to game the system.

In Defending Innovatdonald-trump-jr-2ion in America,” young Mr. Trump berates tech companies that infringe software patents.

“What’s lost in the rush is that many of the software breakthroughs that underpin these apps were created years before the boom, when only a handful of companies could see the code’s revolutionary potential.

“Now, bigger companies are scrambling to catch up, and in their anxiousness they are missing or ignoring the origins of the fundamental components that make their apps possible. The violations can quickly spiral out of control, as companies race to copy each other without realizing that their competitor’s app is itself derived from software created by an original patent holder.

“Such runaway proliferation makes it even harder for small patent holders to keep their grip on the rights and returns they deserve.”

Not all Licensers are Trolls

There is a bit of confusion early in the piece as the young Mr. Trump attempts to separate patent abusers from businesses that wish to license truly innovative inventions.

Not everyone agrees that the company in question, MacroSolve, has the patent quality it claims to. TechCruch wrote that in 2014 in the company’s suit against self-described troll-killer Newegg, the company was forced to “fold like a cheap suit.”

Kudos for Recognizing

Kudos to the Donald Jr. for recognizing (in 2012) the difference between IP bulogo_200siness models and between good patents and bad – even if the system frequently does not.

In an article in The American Lawyer on December 13 it reported that “Peter Harter, a consultant and lobbyist on IP issues with The Farrington Group, has noted that Donald Trump Jr. and Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, have held positions with IP enforcement company Drone Aviation Holding Corp., formerly known as MacroSolve Inc.”

Drone Aviation Holding Corp. (DRNE) trades on the Other OTC exchange. Its website says that the company develops tethered drones and focuses on global agencies and organizations in the commercial, military, research and law enforcement sectors. Customers include the US Army, US Marines, US Navy, US EPA, NREL, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ecuadorian Air Force, many US research universities and US law enforcement agencies.

DAHC is based is Jacksonville, FL. It’s website can be found here.

Image source: redchip.com; businessinsider.com

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