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China’s growth in European patent apps was three times the U.S. in 2017

The European Patent Office (EPO) 2017 annual report, recently published, revealed several surprising patent filing trends, including the rapid growth of China .

The People’s Republic of China filed 16.6% more applications last year than in 2016, three times more than the U.S., which filed 5.8% more.

The five most active patent filing companies were Huawei (China), Siemens (Germany), LG (Korea), Samsung (Korea) and Qualcomm (U.S.).

The U.S. comprised 26% of all European applications submitted in 2017; Japan 13%. German was the lead European filer with 15% of those coming from Europe and about 7% overall.

2017 European Patent Office Annual Report

Infographic with highlights of the EPO Annual Report 2017


After European patent filings dropped slightly in 2016 from 2015, they were up overall by 3.9% in 2017.

Top fields were Medical Technology, up 6.2%, and Digital Communication, up 5.7%. Transport was down 4.2%.

SMEs, individual inventors, universities and research institutions, comprised 31% of applications; larger enterprises 69%. Grants were up 10.1%. Among European nations, Denmark experience the greatest application growth, 13.1%

For the full 2017 EPO Annual Report, go here.

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China says it leads the U.S. in blockchain patents and investment

While China is no fan of bitcoin mining – it has moved to close mining operations – it is actively pursuing block chain patents, and is touting its leadership over the U.S.

China is the leading country for blockchain patents with Alibaba and PBOC on top, claims TechNode, a Chinese IP publication that partners with TechCrunch. Blockchain is a shared digital ledger that facilitates transactions, but whose practical application has yet to be determined. A wide range of U.S. financial institutions and technology companies are interested in blockchain, as well financial technology startups, many of whom have high valuations.

Out of the top 100 companies, reports TechNode citing Chinese data, 49 were Chinese, 23 from the US (see below for table of top 100 rankings). It is unclear if the leadership is in U.S. or China-issued patents, or both.

“An increasing number of companies in China are seeking ways to patent blockchain-related inventions, an effort that is in line with the Chinese government’s agenda to push forward with FinTech applications,” reports CoinDesk.

As reported by CoinDesk previously, major financial institutions, namely Bank of China, have already weighed in on issues such as blockchain scaling. (See “China’s Biggest Political Event Sees Blockchain Praise“)

China Blockchain Growth Exceeds the U.S.

IPRdaily, a Chinese language “integrated services organization focusing on new media for intellectual property and is committed to building the most influential IP cooperation platform in the world,” follows blockchain developments.

A report from IPRdaily – which is readily translated on Google Chrome browser – shows that blockchain financing growth in China far exceeds the United States, leading the world. The statistics show that as of December 17, 2017, the global total market capitalization of digital assets has reached 600 billion US dollars, compared with only 17.7 billion at the end of 2016. In less than a year, an increase of nearly 3300%.

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Pace of patent litigation declines; 2018 applications still flat

Early indications are that U.S. patent litigation for 2018 is on track to be among the lowest in since 2005.

So far in 2018, approximately 555 patent infringement suits have been filed (3,330 on an annualized basis). This is off from a peak of 5,874 in 2015, or an average of 979 every two months. In 2005, the lowest litigation filing year in recent memory, there were just 2,582 suits. In 2017, there were 4,072. January and February are early indications, and there is time for the rate to increase.

According to statistics provided by intellectual property research firm Patexia, January 2018 patent applications came in at 27,720, just 631 higher than 2017, 27,089, which was the lowest year for that month since 2012. February applications are running behind last year, which came in at 28,329 for the same month. Final figures are not yet in.

This trend in patent applications and litigation has been accompanied by a flattening of Inter Partes Review (IPR) petitions filed. IPRs have been fairly level for the past three years, peaking in 2017 at 1,725. So far this year (through February) there have been approximately 250 IPRs filed, putting 2018 on track for about 1,500, slightly below the last two years on an annualized basis. No information on the number or percentage of instituted petitions was provided.

Litigation, IPRs and CBMs Filed to Date

IPRs and Litigation

Difficulty obtaining software and business methods patents are a likely reason for the drop in U.S. patent applications, as well as the increased difficulty defending patents. Patent uncertainty and decreased need for defendants to take a license or engage in licensing discussions, as well as the high cost of litigation, are possible reasons for an increase in IPRs.

For Patexia live litigation statistics, go here.

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E-cigarettes is the fastest growing patent class; followed by 3-D printing and machine learning

Vaping may not be a turn-on for everyone, but the fastest growing United States Patent and Trademark Office category over the past five years is e-cigarettes, with a compound annual growth rate of 45%.  

Much of e-cigarette growth, according to patent research company IFI Claims, who conducted the research, was in the subclass A24/47, “Simulated Smoking Devices.” The rapid growth within this classification may be due to full legalization of cannabis in some states, and prescription access in others.

Man smoking e-cigarette

Atria Client Services leads in this group with 90 published applications, followed by Philip Morris Products with 80.

The next fastest growing patent classification, with a five-year compound annual growth rate of 35%, is 3-D Printing. 2017 published application leaders in this area were General Electric (89), Xerox (78) and Boeing (50). HP Development came in at 48.

The third most active patent category at 34% was Machine Learning, sometimes known as artificial intelligence. Companies leading in predictive models and related areas include IBM (654), Microsoft (139) and Google (127). They were followed by LinkedIn, Facebook, Intel and Fujitsu.

Driverless Space is Active

Fourth from the top at 27% was Autonomous Vehicles, USPTO patent classification GO5D. Applications included automatic pilots for air and land vehicles. IBM was the leader in this category, too, with 80 published patent apps, followed by Ford Global Technologies (79), Shenzhen-based, SZ DJI Technology (63), followed by Toyota, Honda, GM and Bosch.

The remainder of the top eight looks like this: Moulding Materials, 27% (Boeing, 3M Innovative Properties, Saudi-based SABIC Global Technologies, Honda, Xerox, Nike and Hyundai); Hybrid Vehicles, 26% (Toyota, Ford, Hyundai, Honda, GM, Scania and Kia); Aerial Drones, 26%, (Boeing, Sikorsky, SZ DJI Technology, Airbus GmbH, Goodrich Airbust Ltd., and Bell Helicopter Textron); and Food, 24% (Nestec (related to Nestle), Abbott, Danone Group division, Nutricia, Dutch multinational DSM IP Assets, Malaysian-based sweetener producer, PureCircle, Conopco (Unilever) and Mars.) This classification is called “Foods, Foodstuffs or nonalcoholic beverages.”

For the complete “Eight Fast Growing Technologies” slide deck, go here.

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Why a $1.6B billion law suit for non-payment of royalties is not likely to affect Spotify’s March IPO

Spotify recently filed confidential plans for an initial public offering to take place on March 31 on the New York Stock Exchange were thrown a curve when it was sued by Wixen Music Publishing for damages of at least $1.6 billion and injunctive relief. 

Wixen accused the Swedish company of streaming thousands of its their artists songs without compensation. Wixen’s 2,000 members include Tom Petty, Neil Young, the Doors and the Beachboys, which Variety says represent between 1% and 5% of music streamed.

Spotify has an estimated valuation of about $19 billion and $3 billion in annual revenues. As of fall 2017, the leading streaming platform had accumulated 140 million regular users, including 60 million paid subscribers. Initially, its shares will trade privately, allowing some early investors to cash out.

It would be the first major company to carry out a direct listing, an unconventional way to pursue an IPO. Spotify plans to simply list its shares on the NYSE and let them trade, and, for now at least, will not raise additional capital.

Silver Lining?

Horacio Gutierrez, Spotify’s General Counsel, was recruited from Microsoft in 2016 where he learned the licensing business under the stewardship of Marshall Phelps, an IP licensing pioneer. Before establishing MS’s leading patent licensing program, Phelps helped generate more than $1billion in annual royalties for IBM.

My money is on Gutierrez to settle this suit in a timely manner and for Spotify to move on, uniquely positioned for success.

“Forcing Spotify to step up and enter into an agreement with a major publisher that is fairer to its artists may expose the streaming site to similar deals, but it will also solidify its reputation as the content leader amid streaming services,” an industry observer told IP CloseUp. “It will likely set a precedent for others industry deals of this nature and make it more difficult for Pandora, YouTube, and others to continue paying token royalties.”

Wixen’s lawsuit, reports Rolling Stone, follows several other lawsuits that have focused on Spotify’s alleged failure to pay [appropriate] royalties on a song’s musical composition. Recorded songs have two separate copyrights: The sound recording, which is typically owned by the record label, and the musical composition (also known as the “mechanical license”), which is owned by the songwriter and publisher.

In 2017, Spotify settled a class action brought by Cracker front-man and artists rights activist, David Lowery and another artist, for $43 million.

Proposed Changes

In the meantime, the Music Modernization Act, a bill introduced in the United States House of Representatives on December 21, would impact copyright holders suing over mechanical reproduction after Jan. 1, 2018, which helps explain the New Year’s Eve lawsuit filing.

“We are very disappointed that these services will retroactively get a free pass for actions that were previously illegal unless we actually file suit before Jan. 1, 2018,” said Wixen president Randall Wixen in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “Neither we nor our clients are interested in becoming litigants, but we have been faced with a choice of forfeiting rights and damages, or taking action at this time.”

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They shall overcome: Classic song’s copyright is invalidated by non-IP attorneys

The iconic protest song, “We Shall Overcome,” is now in the public domain after a small team of primarily non-IP lawyers succeeded in having its copyright invalidated.  

The settlement with publisher Ludlow Music, according to Law360, “which for decades charged fees for use of the civil rights anthem — came after nearly two years of class action litigation aimed at freeing the song from copyright protection.”

The suit, filed by the filmmakers behind “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and others who wanted to use the song, argued that “Overcome” was merely a repackaging of a century-old African-American spiritual, meaning it couldn’t be locked up with a copyright. Last fall, a New York    judge agreed.

Under the terms of the deal, Ludlow Music will return the licensing fees paid by the plaintiffs and will no longer claim a copyright to the song. The tune, the publisher said, will be “hereafter dedicated to the public domain.”

Free at Last

The copyright invalidation of “Overcome” is the latest victory for lawyers from Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz LLP, whose focus is social justice, consumer protection and labor law, reported the newsletter, and is rapidly becoming the authority for lawsuits aimed at proving that a famous old song should be in the public domain.

Those lawyers, Randall S. Newman and Mark C. Rifkin, famously won a court order in 2015 over the ubiquitous “Happy Birthday to You,” eventually securing a similar public domain agreement and $14 million in repaid licensing fees. That victory led to the “Overcome” case, as well as another pending case challenging the copyright to “This Land Is Your Land.”

In a telephone interview with Law360, Newman and Rifkin said they hadn’t exactly set out to corner the market on freeing famous songs — neither had done much copyright work prior to these cases — but that they welcomed their newfound niche.

“Please don’t call us the caped crusaders of copyright,” Rifkin joked. “But somebody has to hold owners accountable for misuse of a copyright like we saw in these cases.”

For the full Law360 story and links, go here. 

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Study finds that black, hispanic and women inventors lack opportunity and role models

Economic hardship and lack of exposure to innovation are preventing minorities, low-income backgrounds and women from becoming inventors. 

Those are the findings of “Lost Einsteins: Innovation and Opportunity in American,” conducted by the Equality of Opportunity Project (EOP). The study was conducted by researchers from Stanford, Harvard, the London School of Economics and MIT.

EOP analyzed the lives of more than one million inventors in the United States to understand the factors that determine who becomes an inventor in America.

“If women, minorities, and children from low-income families invent at the same as high-income white men,” the study concluded, “the innovation rate in America would quadruple.”

Patent Grants vs. Patent Success

Dramatic differences in patent grants do not account for lack of patent success.

The report did not examine reasons for the failure of  “advantaged” inventors – those from better socio-economic background – to establish businesses, generate licenses and otherwise contribute successfully to innovation and technology. This may more likely be a result of weakened IP laws under the American Invents Act and a general lack of support for inventors, including those associated with corporate research departments and research institutions.

The study concluded that children who excelled in math were far more likely to become inventors but that being a math standout was not enough. Only the top students who also came from high-income families had a decent chance of becoming an inventor.

Low-income students who are among the very best math students – those who score in the top 5% of all third graders – are no more likely to become inventors than below-average math students from affluent families.

While minority inventors certainly should be nurtured, the high failure rate of innovators who had the benefit of and privilege raises serious questions about whether financial support and role-models are the only resources bright people from minority groups need to succeed.

The full Intangible Investor, “Minority Inventors ‘Lost,'” in the March IAM magazine, go here

Study documents for the Equal Opportunity Project – including an executive summary, slides and a paper – can be found here

For the summary slides alone, from which the above images were generated, go here.

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Royalty rates paid musicians decline for some streaming services

When it comes to getting paid, the bigger streaming service is not necessarily better for most musicians and song writers.

While the revenue and market share have grown for the leading streaming services, some significantly, the royalties paid to artists have been declining.

According to a recent article in The Trichordist, a publication dedicated to the protection of artists rights in the digital age, streaming royalties paid to artists declined in 2017.

The blog took snapshots from a major indie portfolio for 2017, 2016 and 2013. It found that “when streaming numbers grow, the per stream rate will drop.”

This data set is isolated to the calendar year 2016 and represents a label with an approximately 150 album catalog generating over 115 million streams, a fairly good sample size. All rates are gross before distribution fees.

Spotify was paying .00521 back in 2014, two years later the aggregate net average per play rate dropped to .00437 in 2016, a reduction of 16%, reports the Trichordist. The current effective per stream rate at Spotify has now dropped to 0.00397, a reduction of 9% since last year. This a cumulative reduction of 24% since 2014, which is an average decrease of 8% a year of the per stream rate.

Business Model Questions

“If the music business could set a per stream rate that allowed revenue growth, proportionate to consumption growth that would be a much better model,” said David Lowery, editor of The Trichordist and leader of the band Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. Lowery teaches in the Music Business Certificate Program at Terry College of Business, University of Georgia.

A notable change from last year is that Pandora replaces YouTube with the greatest value gap of streams at 21.56% volume with only 7.86% of revenue. YouTube drops to 8.38% of volume with only 1.70% of revenue.

Indie Label Sample: 115 Million Streams

Top Players

Apple appears to be the lone streaming service that is growing both in market share and revenue, and is paying relatively high royalties. It accounts for 22.29% of the revenue on 10.48% of the streams, and pays approximately six-times the per-stream royalty rate of Pandora. (Apple’s iTunes is a direct purchase model, while Pandora offers a more radio-like format, which precludes on demand listener selection.)

More than 95% of the streams and 98% of the revenue were concentrated in the top ten companies. The top three, Spotify, Apple iTunes and Pandora, comprise about 80% of the streams for this representative catalogue and 82% of the total streaming revenue.

For The Trichordist‘s 2017 streaming sample, go here; 2016, here; and 2013 here.

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44% of top U.S. patentees for 2017 are U.S. companies; 50% are Asian

Many companies received more U.S. patents in 2017; IBM, the perennial leader, was number one for the 25th year. However, there were some notable declines in patent grants.

Canon, Qualcomm and Google were down 10%, 9% and 13% respectively. It is difficult to determine if it is as a result of poor company performance or a shift toward higher quality. Toshiba 20%, Philips 15% and Brother Industries 24%. The grant results were provided by IFI Claims. They also were reported in Law 360. Facebook at number 50 was up 49%, but on a much lower base; Toyota was up 36%, an indication that the automobile companies may be positioning themselves in autonomous vehicles and batteries for electric cars.

(Click on image for the entire list or go to IFI Claims at the link above.)

What does it mean?

Interpreting this data is not simple. Clearly, more is not necessarily better, and some patent recipients, like IBM, up 12% in 2017, frequently do not hold their grants to term. (Samsung, the largest U.S. patent holder, is a much larger active holder than IBM.)

But being able to afford patents and obtaining them with a purpose is typically a positive among information technology companies. Only 22 of the top 50 U.S. patent recipients are U.S. companies, down from a decade or more ago. Fifteen are Japanese, five Korean and four Chinese. (One is from Taiwan.) European businesses accounted for four companies on the 2017 list – the same as the number as China without Taiwan, and one fewer than Korea.

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Weak stock performance for leading PIPCOs in 2017; PIPX is suspended

 Shares of many of the leading PIPCOs (public IP licensing companies) significantly under-performed the leading markets indices in 2017, with only a couple showing gains.

Despite annual increases of around 20% for the S&P 500 index and 29% for the NASDAQ composite index, IP CloseUp 30® companies were down for the most part, some by more than 40%..

The PIPX composite index of 13 PIPCOs, which IP CloseUp has run quarterly for the past two years, is no longer being prepared.

“I’m going to stop doing the index,” Dr. Kevin Klein, its founder, wrote to IP CloseUp in an email. “The performance of the companies has not been good, several are going private, changing their business models, and/or issuing additional stock so keeping the index coherent is getting to be a challenge.”

Negative Trend

Acacia Research Corp (ACTG), started the year at $6.70 and ended it at $4.05.  Its market capitalization is currently $210 million. Finjan (FNJN) began in January at $1.35 and closed at about $2.24, up 82%. Its market cap is around $62 million. Finjan has survived multiple inter partes reviews.

ACTG, FNJN, NTIP, QTRH, RMBS and XPER stock comparison for 2017

Network-1 Technologies (NTIP), a solid performer until an adverse district court decision this year, dropped from $3.45 to $2.35, down 28%. Its market cap remains around $57 million. Quarterhill (QTRH), formerly WiLAN, dropped from $2.32 to $1.82. Market value is $220 million.

A larger player, with a $1.5 billion capitalization, Rambus (RMBS), finished the year at $14.30, up slightly from $13.80. However, Xperi, the former Tessera (XPER), saw its shares drop from $44.95 to $24.70, down 44%.

Some attribute the poor PIPCO performance to the passage of the America Invents Act, adverse decisions by the courts and weak demand for patent licensing because of diminished litigation threat. There were, however, momentary bright spots throughout the year for some of these companies’ shares, but, on the whole, 2017 was not a good year, even for larger and historically better performing PIPCOs. With a new Director of the USPTO and fairer PTAB 2018 will hopefully be better.

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IP CloseUp visits up 26% in 2017; page views up 31%; readers drawn from 134 nations and territories

IP CloseUp, the blog of IP perspective, research, and people, grew in 2017 to more than 56,000 views and 44,000 visits, up 26% and 31% respectively from 2016.

Now in its seventh year, IPCU was read in 134 nations and territories in 2017. The top ten readers were the U.S., Canada, India, UK, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, and France.  They were followed by the Netherlands, Japan, and China.

The most active month in 2017 was January, with 20,357 views. IPCU averaged a post a week and generated 52 posts for the year. Posts typically include links that make further research and exploration easier.

Since its inception in 2011, there have been more than 120,000 visits to IP CloseUp and 176,000 page views.

The most read post this year was about Robert Kearns, inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper, who was forced to sue U.S. and other automobile companies in the 1980s for patent infringement. The Kearns post generated 17,548 visits in January. A subsequent Kearns post published in 2016 can be found here.

IP CloseUp coverage includes patents, as well as copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets. Subscriptions are free. IPCU can also be followed on Twitter @ipcloseup.

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2018 in focus: Videos from IP Awareness Summit explore better IP understanding

The IP Awareness Summit 2017 was the first IP event to focus on perception and awareness of intellectual rights and their impact.

Videos of panel discussions, held at Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology on November 6, have been posted to YouTube and the IPAS event website.

More than a record of the Summit, these videos move the IP awareness discussion to a new level, and are worth perusing whether or not you attended IPAS. (Some observers choose to view/listen while multi-tasking.)

IP Erosion

The presentations include economist and entrepreneur David Teece’s keynote, “IP Erosion: A Growing Threat to U.S. Economic Leadership.”

To access the IP Awareness YouTube channel, please enter “IP Awareness” on YouTube, or go here.

Panelists and their current or prior affiliations are identified on YouTube, beneath the videos.

All eight videos are centralized and can be accessed from the IPAS 2017 website, here. 

For specific IPAS panels, click or tap below.

IP Education Today

Identifying Good and Bad IP Behavior (intro)

Identifying Good and Bad IP Behavior (panel)

IP and Theft: The High Cost of Confusion

Keynote – David Teece, The Tusher Center, UC Berkeley-Haas School of Business
“IP Rights Erosion: A Growing Threat to U.S. Economic Leadership”

Media Coverage and IP

Making IP Awareness a Higher Priority

Breakouts: Impediments to IP Understanding


Feel free to tweet, post or otherwise share the IPAS YouTube videos with others. You can also send your thoughts and comments to


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