Tag Archives: Apple

Patents’ early role in creating leading tech businesses eyed

Some information technology companies dubious about strong patents that can be used to restrict their activities or force them to pay licensing fees, appear to have benefitted from securing patents early in their life-cycle.

It’s doubtful whether their early patent success can be similarly reproduced today.

According to a post on the IPfolio blog, a diverse group of IT companies that drew early on patents includes Dropbox, FireEye, Zynga, Square, Facebook, Theranos, SolarCity, GoPro and Apple. 

“[Some] startups remain true to the original vision of the founders,” writes IPfolio. “By analyzing their first patent filings, it’s easy to see which ones have remained committed to plans likely first sketched on a whiteboard in a spare bedroom. In many cases, these ‘seminal patents’ closely describe what the company stands for today.”

“Here are the first patents granted to ten of Silicon Valley’s hottest companies. Fledgling startups when they first filed to protect their intellectual property, they’ve since created billion-dollar businesses around the seminal inventions.” For the full story, go here.

Apple: Microcomputer for use with video display (1977)

Decades before Apple expanded into mobile communication, music distribution and timepieces, it was synonymous with digital design. Steve Jobs’ less well-known co-founder Steve Wozniak invented a method for displaying color and high-resolution graphics using a standard cathode ray tube, which this April 1977 filing described. It was Apples’ first patent.

Google: Method for node ranking in a linked database (1998)

Above is Google’s famous PageRank patent, it’s first. Larry Page’s invention valued a webpage based on how many other pages linked to it. Filed in January 1998, the approach provided a significant improvement in the quality of search results, a key factor in Google’s rise as the dominant search engine. The original assignee was Stanford University, which received 1.8 million shares of Google stock in exchange for a long-term license.

Taken Seriously

For most of the ten tech high-fliers noted by IPfolio, strong patent protection helped them to be taken seriously. For others, like Theranos, the patents could not save a flawed business model and questionable leadership.

It is doubtful whether unicorns and other start-ups today can rely on patent protection to build their businesses in the way successful tech companies were able to in the recent past. There is too much uncertainty about what is patentable and what is a valid patent.

 

Image source: IPfolio.com

Financial Times article slams US patent syst for business model bias

An article that appeared last week in the Financial Times calling into question the effectiveness of a U.S.  patent system dangerously weakened by bad legislation and a false narrative about patent “trolls,” has won praise for its accuracy and honesty.

In a rare instance of serious business reporting on intellectual property rights, award-winning journalist, Rana Foroohar, slammed Silicon Valley companies that have endeavored to impede patent licensing and diminish innovation challenges from companies they cannot control.

“Indeed, the only ones that seem not to be complaining about the current system are a handful of the biggest Silicon Valley companies — including Google, Apple, Intel and Cisco.” While they all have their own patents to protect, their business models, which involve products that include hundreds or even thousands of bits of IP, tend to do better when there are fewer patents to deal with.

“But small and mid-sized software and hardware suppliers as well as life sciences companies have very different business models — ones that live or die on the ability to protect a handful of patents, and thus monetise their years of investment. For many of these companies, the shifts in the system that began a decade ago have gone too far.”

Several small and large patent holders told IP CloseUp that the FT deserves praise for finally getting the patent story right, one calling it a “breath of fresh air.”  Many believe that the business press has failed to report accurately about the patent system, and has served to blow the patent “troll” narrative way out of proportion, especially for those outside of the IP industry.

FT allows subscriber access to the Foroohar article, Big Tech vs Big Pharma: the battle over US patent protection,” here. [Oddly, the title does not reflect the depth of the piece. Perhaps a more explicit one may have been too much for some readers or editors?]

For a free version of the article that ran on CNBC, go here.

Tech Titans

Much of Ms. Forhooar’s recent reporting in the FT has dealt with the rise of what she calls tech titans, many of which are attempting to maintain their dominance by keeping the patent playing field uneven and potential competitors at bay.

She has served as correspondent and reporter for CNN and Time, and spent 13 years at Newsweek, as an economic and foreign affairs editor and a foreign correspondent covering Europe and the Middle East. For a list of her recent articles, go here.

Forhooar has won many awards for her reporting and has received several journalism fellowships. She is a life-member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has written a book, Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business.

“Big Tech vs. Pharma” sets a sorely needed benchmark for the business press for reporting accurately on the intellectual property. Covering the impact that changes in the patent system have wrought, and who are the real beneficiaries, is both a challenge and an opportunity.

Image source: twitter.com; lovespace.co.uk

Automakers and tech giants are locked in a strange patent race

At time when patent certainty and value are under attack, global automobile manufacturers are competing with major technology companies for IP rights to the future, especially driverless cars. 

The race is reminiscent of the competition between financial institutions, bigtech and fintech start-ups to control innovations in transactions, including those that relate to blockchain.

The automakers, like the banks, have traditionally cross-licensed each other in an effort to maintain patent peace and keep their franchise exclusive. It has yet to be determined if those participating in new technologies will wish to be similarly collaborative. Businesses like Google, Apple and Amazon certainly have the resources  and leverage to enforce inventions, if they choose to, or even buy a competitor.

The WSJ reports that a large part of filing in the auto industry has been with regard to self driving and connected cars, with 65% of GM’s filed patents in this area. Toyota, with more than 3,000 patents filed is by far the leader, but does not appear to figure into the self-driving patent race, choosing to focus on other areas of innovation, like efficiency (see graph below).

“Companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple, are pouring enormous resources into a vision of mobility that focuses on the driver experience,” writes Forbes“— so much so that they have the potential to take away some of the limelight — and profits — from the automakers many presumed would dominate car connectivity and driverless technology.”

Irony

There is some irony in the auto industry and financial patent races, since the Alice decision made software patents difficult to obtain and even harder to enforce. What are they thinking?

It remains to be seen how successful tech giants and disruptive banking and auto tech upstarts will be in competing with established players for innovation and rights – and if and how they will be able to deploy them. (With patents, sometimes leverage is more powerful than revenue.)

Two things are for certain: the source, ownership and importance of transportation inventions are changing; and the desire to secure meaningful patents that can be licensed will increase.

Image source: WIPO, Oliver Wyman; WSJ

Amazon’s controversial ‘1-Click’ patent will expire September 12

This year’s 9/11 remembrance will be followed but an anniversary of a different sort.

September 12 marks the day that Amazon’s controversial “1-Click” patent is set to expire and the invention placed in the public domain.

One-click has generated significant profits and market share for Amazon over the past eighteen years, but its expiration is expected to have minimal impact on the giant online retailer, whether or not other sites adopt similar transaction practices after the patent expires.

Amazon first applied for a patent on 1-Click in 1997, and it was granted in 1999 in the heart of the Christmas selling season. The core of the invention revolves around storing customers’ payment and address details, so only single click or tap on a smartphone in required to fulfill an order. This means that there are fewer steps to ordering, which is less time-consuming and more seamless.

In 2015, Amazon launched the “Dash” Button, a proprietary method for quick ordering. “Dash Button devices are WiFi-connected devices to place in your kitchen, pantry, or anywhere in your home you use your favorite Prime-eligible products,” says Amazon. “Simply press the button to reorder when you’re running low, and your products are on their way.”

Virtual Dash Buttons, introduced in 2017, are shortcuts to that make it easier to find and reorder favorite products on Amazon’s mobile app and website, and are available for free for millions of products that ship with Prime.

$2.4 Billion

The website Rejoiner says that the 1-Click patent has been worth as much at $2.4 billion to Amazon over the years. Amazon, which licensed the patent to Apple in 2000 for an undisclosed amount, has never been able to secure a patent for one-click for online retail in Europe.

 

Google is already working on a one-click payments system for its Chrome browser, and other browser companies are expected to follow.

Payments.com says that Google’s version of one-click payments will provide customers with a drop-down menu of stored shipping addresses and credit cards when shopping on a participating merchant’s website. The customer can click on the address and card to be used, enter the three-digit security code on the card and hit “pay now.” Other browser companies may choose to use a fingerprint instead of the security code.

Question: Would Amazon, or for that matter an independent inventor, be able to secure and defend a patent on one-click transactions today? It’s highly doubtful.

“Amazon may be prepared to lose its one-click payments advantage,” reports Business Insider, “as it looks to build an edge in other corners of the e-commerce market. For example, it has spent billions to strengthen its logistics and fulfillment operations to position itself as a leader in faster delivery.

“And as consumers increasingly demand speedier shipping, Amazon should benefit from its early investment in this area. Moves like this one indicate that the company is focused on carving out new advantages as the e-commerce space evolves.”

Brand Loyalty 

Amazon was recently issued a patent on a system for an “on demand apparel manufacturing system,” which can quickly fill online orders for made-to-order suits, dresses and other garments. Go here to see how it works. It’s clear that Amazon has not given up on trying to dominate the e-commerce space with inventions that are timely and which it can defend.

Amazon is all about brand loyalty and delivering a wide range of goods, at the best price, quickly. Prime and other customers are unlikely to go elsewhere just because other online stores have the same single button to make purchases easier. With a growing patent portfolio, Amazon is likely thinking of new e-commerce solutions that generate more profits and command more customers.

A good question is would Amazon, or for that matter an independent inventor, be able to secure and defend a U.S. patent on one-click online retail transactions today? It’s highly doubtful.

“Amazon has many different ‘one-click’ patents,” write Rolf Claessen, German IP attorney on Quora. “Which one do you mean? Do you mean all of them? Many also have been invalidated or not even granted – at least in Europe.

“In other countries like Australia, Amazon also could not successfully enforce the patent(see ZDNet). It seems that since about 2011, Amazon no longer tries to enforce the patents to collect royalties. I am not aware of any court action, where Amazon was successful enforcing any of these patents.”

Amazon’s Custom Clothing Patent

 

Image source: forbes.com; nyt.com

Music royalties – a siren song for niche investors seeking higher yield

A small but growing number of investors are buying the rights to musician’s future earnings, hoping to beat the fixed income returns and other markets.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “Music Royalties Strike a Chord, these fixed income investors are lured by future returns of 8%-12% annually, when junk bonds are still hovering around 6%.

Private equity funds have raise or begun to raise $1 billion since 2013 when this sector appeared to be an alternative to low yields on fixed income.

There are a several types of royalties that can be sold, either for a specified period of time or until they expire. (For works created on or after January 1, 1978, it is life plus 70 years or 95 or 120 years, depending on the nature of authorship.)

David Bowie infamously sold his future copyright earnings for $55 million (“Bowie” Bonds), only to have new technology like Napster devalue them. [See, “The Bonds that Fell to Earth,” in the January 15, 2016 IP CloseUp.) The financing did wonders for Bowie balance sheet, although not all investors made out so well.

High Yield

Bowie Bonds paid 7.9% for ten years, at which time, I believe, they reverted back to the mercurial artist. He never lost ownership of all of his songs; he merely licensed the future earnings to some of them for a period of time.

Songs can also earn money when they are performed live, played in a restaurant or film, or streamed through a service like Spotify. They still do not make money from radio airplay (a legacy from old tech, when it was about selling records). Songwriters, music publishers, artists and labels own various rights, including performance rights.

WSJ reports that in the 2Q Denver-based website Royalty Exchange held music rights auctions valued at $2.5M, more than double the total from the 4Q 2016.  Royalty Exchange publishes a guide to music royalties, here.  It is a transaction site, so it is best to speak to a lawyer or experienced IP broker before buying.

Risk to music royalty streams includes timing, trends and technological threats. A song that generates a steady stream of income today is not necessarily going to in five or fifteen years. On the other hand, a small handful could actually generate more revenue than expected. Receivables, or royalty stream financing, takes place in many industries, including energy, real estate and sports.

Streaming Rises

The renewed interest in music royalties may due in part to increased royalty payments by services like Spotify, Pandora and Apple, which, similar to YouTube, have been notoriously reluctant to pay creatives fairly for content. But increases have been negligible for most performers and song writers, and top recording artists with leverage tend to cut their own distribution deals.

With disdain for IP rights on the rise, it is somewhat encouraging that niche investors still believe in the integrity of copyrights and the reliability of their income stream. For them to succeed they will need cooperation from streaming services, as well as songwriters and performers.

Image source: myradio360.com; entertainment.howstuffworks.com 

 

Qualcomm counter-offensive reminds NY Times readers who put the ‘smart’ in smartphone

Qualcomm is the first known patent licensor to tout its invention prowess in a New York Times ad directed at the business community. 

One of the world’s most successful licensing businesses reminded Times readers – in a sparsely worded, full-page ad that ran in the business section on July 17 – that it “invented the essential technologies that make your smartphone so indispensable.”

“”You know how you’re in love with your smartphone?,” ran the headline in big block letters. “That’s just the beginning.”

Fighting Back

The ad is a brilliant counter offensive move – one that has been much needed among patent licensors. It reminds diverse audiences, including the public, lawmakers and the courts, as well as its and other shareholders, that Qualcomm technology is ubiquitous.

Its inventions may currently appear most dramatically in smartphones but will soon be almost everywhere through IoT, as Qualcomm “leads the world to 5G [technology]”.

Qualcomm’s $23.5 billion in 2016 revenue was driven primarily by patent licensing.

This exercise in self-promotion, sadly, is necessary to remind audiences that inventions matter, and that Apple, Samsung, et al. simply do not have all of the innovation they need to sell products.

If licensees are not going to pay fairly for inventions that make their products special, licensors, like Qualcomm, will remind audiences about the technology that does.

Qualcomm can use the positive visibility. In January, the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against Qualcomm, accusing the company of using anticompetitive tactics to maintain its monopoly on a key semiconductor used in mobile phones.

“We put the ‘smart’ in smartphones.”

Days later, Apple, Qualcomm’s longtime partner, sued the company over what it said was $1 billion in withheld rebates. In the lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court for the Southern District of California, in San Diego (where Qualcomm’s HQ is located), Apple said the money had been promised in conjunction with an agreement not to buy chips from other suppliers or to divulge Qualcomm’s intellectual property licensing practices.

Invention Credit

The Times ad concludes with the url: qualcomm.com/weinvent. It leads to a thoughtful one-minute video that essentially says: “We’re not the name you think of when you think of smart phones, but we put the ‘smart’ in them.”

The Qualcomm ad reminds the world that Apple and other handset makers would not be what they are without Qualcomm inventions – which is true enough.

“Qualcomm – Why you love your smart phone.”

Go here to see a web version of the print ad.

Image source: qualcomm.com; nytimes.com

 

Apple is seeking to cut license royalties paid to record labels

While the share of revenue from streaming paid to record labels and recording artists is rising, Apple Inc., among the fairest licensees in on-line music, is now seeking to reduce record labels’ share of revenue from streaming.

Bloomberg reports that the record labels’ deal with Apple were expected to expire at the end of June, though they are likely to be extended if the parties can’t agree on new terms, according to the people who asked not to be identified.

“Part of negotiations is to revise the iPhone maker’s overall relationship with the music industry.”

The negotiations would bring number two Apple closer to the rate industry streaming leader Spotify Ltd. pays labels, and allow both sides to adjust to the new realities of the music industry. Streaming services have been a source of renewed hope following a decade of decline in the digital age.

Patent holders may believe there is an element of deja vu taking place in music content. Once rock solid copyrights are now subject to renegotiation and diminished revenue because of lost leverage due to lower valuations and easier access. A key will be finding what will make copyrights more relevant again, and creating more competition among streaming services for content.

More Optimistic

Record labels are now more optimistic about the future health of their industry, which grew 5.9 percent last year worldwide thanks to paid streaming services Spotify and Apple Music. They recently negotiated a new deal with Spotify further lowering their take from the service, provided Spotify’s growth continues.

“Apple initially overpaid to placate the labels,” says Bloomberg, “who were concerned Apple Music would cripple or cannibalize iTunes, a major source of revenue.”

For the full Bloomberg article, go here.

Sales vs. Streams 

Though online sales of music have plummeted over the past few years, they still account for 24 percent of sales in the U.S., according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Vinyl record sales also are up but they are still limited to a specialty audience, while CD sale are way down.

According to Billboard, streaming led the U.S. music industry to its first back-to-back yearly growth this millennium and in the first half of 2016 was the single ­highest source of revenue in the U.S. recorded-music industry, ­bringing in $1.61 billion. All three major labels — Universal, Sony and Warner — posted streaming-driven double-digit percent boosts in earnings throughout the year.

The Trichordist, a publication devoted to “Artists for an Ethical and Sustainable Internet,” reports that Spotify was paying .00521 back in 2014, two years later the aggregate net average per play has dropped to .00437 a reduction of 16%.

                     Apple Music generates 7% of all streams and 13% of revenue

YouTube now has their licensed, subscription service (formerly YouTube Red) represented in these numbers as opposed to the Artist Channel and Content ID numbers we used last time. Just looking at the new YouTube subscription service numbers isolated here, they generate over 21% of all licensed audio streams, but less than 4% of revenue! By comparison Apple Music generates 7% of all streams and 13% of revenue.

Apple sits in the sweet spot, generating the second largest amount of streaming revenue with a per stream rate .00735, nearly double what Spotify is paying. But, Spotify has a near monopoly on streaming market share dominating 63% of all streams and 69% of all streaming revenue.

The top 10 streamers account for 99% of all streaming revenue.

New Technology, New Values

IP rights holders, including those with patents and trademarks, need to think through where they fit in the current digital scheme of things, and how much should be expected in a world that finds not paying for others’ intellectual property increasingly acceptable.

For patent holders, the streaming/copyright battle could be the proverbial canary in the mine.

Image source: fortune.com

New book: tech elites’ disregard for privacy & IP must be managed

Can Internet monopolies – adept at providing at providing information – be prevented from violating the rights of individuals, businesses and IP holders, and impeding innovation?

They can if they are regulated like utilities, says Jonathan Taplin in his new book, Move Fast and Break Things.

In 2009, Mark Zuckerberg told Business Insider publisher and former Wall Street analyst Henry Bloget, “Move fast and break things is Facebook’s prime directive to developers. Unless you are breaking stuff,” Zuckerberg said, “you are not moving fast enough.”

Eight years later, this Facebook mantra has taken on a darker meaning. A new book by Hollywood producer and former USC Annenberg Innovation Lab director, Taplin (Mean Streets, The Last Waltz), offers a portrait of technology giants without restraints, routinely violating the rights of creatives, consumers and innovators, and propping up their own shares at the expense of investing in the future.

Subtitled How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Under-mined Democracy, Move Fast and Break Things dissects the inordinate power of a handful of the popular companies and their founders, and what it means for culture, innovation, and personal freedom.

What Taplin does best is connect the dots by distinguishing between true break-through ideas and the ability to provide and mine data, especially personal information, for profit and dominate markets. The confluence of vision, ego, and wealth is for Taplin a dangerous mix that needs to be carefully watched if not closely monitored. Copyright and patent holders need to be especially wary.

Don’t Ask Permission

“The co-founder of YouTube, Chad Hurley, was a PayPal alumnus, schooled in Peter Thiel’s philosophy,” writes Taplin. “He built his company on the same ‘don’t ask permission’ ethic the Larry Page had embraced… ‘Who will stop me?’ [A phrase which can be found in Ayn Rand’s controversial novel, The Fountainhead.] This became the center tenet of Internet disrupters, from Thiel’s PayPal right up to Travis Kalanick’s Uber.”

Taplin writes that Google, who championed the tagline for its corporate code of conduct, “Do no evil,” controls 88% of online searches and search advertising, while Facebook has 77% market share in social media and Amazon a 70% share of e-book sales. He does not consider Apple a monopoly because its main hardware business has many competitors.

“The tech elites jealous guarding of its own monopoly platforms,” says Taplin, “is built upon a blatant disregard for the artist’s intellectual property.”

“More people than ever are listening to music, reading books, and watching movies, but the revenue flowing to the creators of that content is decreasing while the revenue flowing to the big four platforms is increasing. Each of these platforms presents a different challenge for creators. Google and YouTube are ad-supported ‘free-riders’ driven by a permission-less philosophy.”

Permission-less free-riding, or “efficient infringement” in has also come to dominate other parts of the IP workplace, rendering simple patent licenses more arduous than ever.

Consent Decree

How does Taplin propose we prevent Internet monopolies from violating the rights of individuals, businesses and IP holders, and impeding innovation? You regulate them like utilities.

It would be very difficult for many people and businesses to live without Amazon, Google, YouTube and Facebook, but it is becoming impossible for many who produce intellectual property to live with them.

This is not something that their founders and shareholders want to hear, but it may be inevitable. Europe is more apt to regulate BigTech than the U.S. – and it is not mere jealousy. If Google, for example, is indeed a monopoly, Taplin, a former tour manager for Bob Dylan, asks, would a consent decree like the one that the government made Bell Labs enter into in 1956 work? He believes it would.

Easy Ride is Over

The Guardian, the British daily, said “Move Fast and Break Things is a timely and useful book because it provides an antidote to the self-serving narrative energetically cultivated by the digital monopolies. They have had an easy ride for too long and democracies will, sooner or later, have to rein them in.”

It would be very difficult for many people and businesses to live without Amazon, Google, YouTube and Facebook, but it is becoming virtually impossible for many who produce intellectual property to live with them.

My full review of Jonathan Taplin’s new book can be found here, on IP Watchdog.

For more information or to buy Move Fast and Break Things, go here.

For a free preview chapter (via Google), go here.

Image source: jontaplin.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

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.”

oj-am734_cpaten_9u_20160720061809

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

Tech cos use patents to turn up the volume on smarter hearing devices

Aging baby boomers, exposed to a lifetime of loud music, are more demanding than past generations about the quality of what and how they hear.

Don’t expect them to sit by idly watching Mick Jagger mouth the words to Satisfaction.

A group of leading technology companies familiar with consumer lifestyle preferences are helping to reshape the emerging hearables industry. A cross between a tiny wearable and smart prosthetic, it would be unfair to call these devices hearing aids. They are tiny, but powerful, information processors which, 13892-32c56cdb6fd37fccfbd10d1ffb425f54if properly programmed to individual users’ needs, can do far more than merely amplify speech.

Some will be able to offer simultaneous foreign language translations and are fully customizable with a phone app.

360 Million Hearing-Impaired 

Companies vying for leadership in the field include Samsung, Apple, Qualcomm and Google, as well as those already in the business – the so-called ‘big six’, each with decades of practical experience.

For the whole story see “Turning up the volume on hearables,” in the Intangible Investor in IAM magazine’s November issue. Subscribers can find my fully linked report here.

A Google search for hearing-aid–related patents by Apple, Samsung, and Qualcomm showed zero patents 20 years ago but 816 in 2015— slightly more than half of the total patent activities by the Big Six in the same period.

For the “Complete Guide to Hearing Technology in 2016” go here.  For “New Patent Applications: The Sound of Hearables to Come,” go here.

Sound Play

Apple has teamed up with Starkey Hearing Technologies to provide support for the company’s advanced Halo 2 smart device; Daymond John – founder and CEO of fashion brand FUBU, star of reality TV series screen-shot-2016-02-12-at-9-29-50-pm-e1455334928779Shark Tank.”  He told CNN that the technology has changed his life (see video here.)

Google is working on commercializing a high-end in-ear computer, according to press reports based on patent filings. The technology is reportedly part of its secretive new wearable tech initiative, known as Project Aura.

If hearables reach their market potential, vision, memory and other human-assist devices will not be far behind. Forgot what you stated for entertainment on last year’s tax returns? An assistant far smarter than today’s Alexa, Siri or Cortana (Microsoft), and swifter than Google, will be able to find what you need.

Yesterday’s iPod is looking like today’s iHear and tomorrow’s iKnow.

Image source: wearable.com; anewdomain.net

Symantec acquires Blue Coat, a leading IPR filer with a $289M loss

Cybersecurity firm Blue Coat Systems has decided to opt-out of an initial public offering and sell itself to software security leader Symantec for $4.65 billion. 

What has not been widely reported in the press is that Blue Coat, a relatively small cybersecurity company with a loss of $289 million in 2015, is a leading filer of United States Patent and Trademark Office Inter Partes Reviews (IPRs) that are designed to invalidate patents that are being asserted by Non-Practicing Entities (NPEs) and others.

According to patent research firm Patexia, Blue Coat is a top-ten IPR filer for 2016, along with Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and GE. The firm filed ten IPRs, a higher numbers than H-P for the period.

*****

“Blue Coat has been at war with Finjan,” Gaston Kroub of Markman Advisors, LLC told IP CloseUp.  “Like Blue Coat, Symantec has been fighting with Finjan too, so these IPR’s may be of value to Symantec as well.”

Top 10 IPR Petitioners_2

Finjan (FNJN) is among the leading targets for IPRs. It could be that Symantec finds Blue Coat attractive not only for its cybersecurity products, but also for its adversarial position with regard to Finjan and others which could assert their patents against it or Blue Coat.

In a 2015 verdict in Finjan Inc. v Blue Coat Systems, a jury awarded Finjan more than $39.5 million in damages, reports IP Watchdog. The lawsuit alleged that claims from a series of Finjan patents were infringed by several Blue Coat products, including Malware Analysis Appliance (MAA), Content Analysis System (CAS), and WebPulse.

*****

To help finance the transaction, Blue Coat’s existing majority investor, Bain Capital, will invest an additional $750 million in the deal. The private equity firm Silver Lake, which invested $500 million in Symantec in February, will invest an additional $500 million.

Bain had acquired the company for $2.4B in 2015.

According to The New York Times, “The deal will create a big provider of security products, both the traditional antivirus kind that has long been Symantec’s focus and the newer online protection services in which Blue Coat has specialized. Executives see little overlap between the two businesses.”

“With this transaction, we will have the scale, portfolio and resources necessary to usher in a new era of innovation designed to help protect large customers and individual consumers against insider threats and sophisticated cybercriminals,” Dan Schulman, Symantec’s chairman stated.

In its I.P.O. prospectus, Blue Coat said that it lost $289 million on top of the $598 million in sales for the 12-month-period that ended on April 30. That compares to a $271 million loss on top of nearly $569 million in sales for the same period a year before.

Image source: twitter.com/symantec; patexia.com

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