Tag Archives: Apple

Apple conspired to discredit Qualcomm’s inventions even though it believed they were “the best”

Nothing gives a Silicon Valley tech giant, once, known for quality and integrity, a bad name like greed and deception. In pursuit of even greater profit, Apple’s actions cost more than 1,000 people their jobs and almost brought down a $100 billion supplier. 

A long-time licensee of Qualcomm’s high-quality modems, Apple came to dislike the terms of the deal it had signed.

The settlement of the recent high-profile patent dispute between the companies appears have been motivated primarily by two things:

  • potential loss of future 5G revenue once it was revealed that Intel could not provide the modems it needs and
  • fear of public embarrassment and legal retribution for having revealed that Apple lied to break the contract with Qualcomm and cheat it out of licensing royalties.

This is an incredibly sad story for anyone who believes that unfair competition is a threat to free enterprise or that Apple represents the American technology leadership.

A Plan to Discredit

According to the Washington Post and other news sources, Apple entered into a systematic plan to discredit Qualcomm inventions and patents in a bid to reduce the cost of licensing them. This occurred while apple was generating between $40 billion and $160 billion in annual iPhone revenues (see graph).

Apple is among the wealthiest companies. Despite the potential legal risk in launching its shady “royalty reduction plan,” it apparently believed the plan represented little real legal threat to the company. Apple could lie about the patents because it could afford to lose – if it was caught. This is known as “efficient” patent infringement, i.e. it pays for some businesses to forgo a license to inventions it needs because today infringers are rarely caught or sufficiently punished.

Last year Apple became the first company to reach a market capitalization of more than $1 trillion and has $245 billion of cash on hand. It could well-afford to pay Qualcomm what it had agreed to, even thought it was a significant sum. The risks were larger for Qualcomm. The San Diego company’s stock price plummeted and it was forced to lay off 1,500 employees.

With the recent legal settlement, 2020 iPhones will support 5G networks with Qualcomm chips the primary of two 5G modem suppliers for the devices, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. Samsung will be another supplier.

VentureBeat ran an excellent piece summarizing Apple’s dubious behavior. It and the Washington Post piece (linked above) are essential reading for anyone interested in technology, intellectual property or business. Read it here.

Private Memos

It has been reported that Qualcomm stands to generate from the settlement $9 per handset, which is as much as $6 billion in revenues or, $2 per share in earnings from the litigation settlement. It stock has risen some 30%. Apple was able to threaten the very existence of a $100 billion U.S. company, whose products it loved but did not want to pay for.

In private memos and other documents that came out after the settlement was reached it was revealed that Apple colluded to “plot and pressure” Qualcomm, a long-time Apple licensor, to reduce the cost of its licenses. Apple went so far as to put pressure on its suppliers to lie about the Qualcomm modem quality and pricing.

Poor Character

While Apple was paying Qualcomm to license its inventions, iPhone sales were breaking records (see graph above). It could well afford to pay the agreed upon price that for the best modems — it simply did not want to and believed it could force Qualcomm to “renegotiate” by discrediting its quality and lying about what others were paying.

Take five minutes to read the Washington Post and VentureBeat articles. You will not see Apple or its products the same way again.

 

Image source: VentureBeat, Qualcomm

 

 

Taking PIPCOs private – rethinking public IP (patent licensing) companies

The shares of most publicly traded companies that rely primarily on patent licensing, litigation settlements or damages awards for revenue have fared poorly compared to key market indexes, like the S&P 500. 

Whether or the not the market is valuing these companies’ shares and their complex assets fairly is less the issue than the viability of patent licensing as a public company business model. Remember, PIPCOs are not synonymous with patent licensing — a PIPCO (public intellectual property company), a term this reporter coined in 2013, can be brand-based, content-focused or not even license its IP rights.

PIPCOs are nothing more than IP-centric companies that trade publicly and that investors need to appreciate for their intangible assets.

PIPCOs, as we know them, are in need of a reboot – call it PICPO 2.0.  In the March-April IAM magazine the Intangible Investor looks at “IP Investing Today – What you need to know.”

IP CloseUp recently updated and expanded the IP CloseUp 30 to the IP CloseUp 50, a more diverse range of IP-centric companies. The best-of-the-best performing patent licensing companies, typically non-practicing entities, are still included, but so are brands like Nike and content providers like News Corporation and tech stalwarts like Apple.

Check out the IP CloseUp 50 here. Bookmark it if you want a real-time snap-shot of these IP players on your phone or computer.

Changing Perspective

When inventors and NPEs were grabbing headlines with damages awards – some in the hundreds of millions of dollars – it was easy for some investors to believe patent infringement would translate into PIPCO performance. It was not so easy.

Settle a dispute or close a deal and the impact could be readily discerned on small company’s balance sheet and in its share price. If a company’s market capitalization was under $100M dollars the results would be magnified. Twists and turns in the course of litigation were trading opportunities, so thought many investors.

Larger PIPCOs Have Fared Better (see 2014 Graph Below)

For large IP-rich businesses – those with patent portfolios like pharmaceutical and tech companies, brands and content providers – it is more difficult to measure the impact of their IP rights and specific IP-related transactions on performance and shareholder value. Their complexity made them less interesting to short-term IP investors until the results were observed over time.

RPX Turnaround

Dan McCurdy, RPX’s current president, told IAM recently about the benefits that de-listing the company’s shares had brought.

“We have done more transactions than in any other six months in the company’s history,” McCurdy said. “We have syndicated more dollars than in any other six-month period; and we have concluded approximately 40 transactions across all eight of our market sectors.” The momentum said the former ThinkFire CEO and AST Chairman, was the result of the increased focus and flexibility that being a private company had allowed.

“There is a level of creativity that has been unleashed thanks to our new status,” he concluded.

Some six years ago, in the patent licensing company heyday, RPX’s share price was over $40, after going public in 2011 at $19 per share, and its market cap was around $1 billion.

Time and Money

Finjan is among the more successful PIPCOs, with products in the cybersecurity. The Silicon Valley company’s President Phil Hartstein said at a conference that it was considering going private.

He explained that “despite our repeated success at the PTAB, several valuable settlements and licenses over the past five years, and the growth of our operating business, our stock price has remained essentially unchanged in what had been a bull market for technology.”

With approximately half of Hartstein’s time consumed with shareholders and public ownership, he says, it may be time to reassess priorities.

Companies like Marathon, CopyTele/ITUS, Inventergy, Sepheris, DSS, Single Touch, CopyTele (ITUS), MGT Capital and Prism Technologies Group have either engaged in reverse-splits, merged or been de-listed. Several, like Tessera (Xperi) and Quarterhill (WiLAN) have changed their name and are hanging tough.

Some of the larger players, such as InterDigital and Universal Display Corporation have performed reasonably well in what until recently had been a bull market. It remains to be seen how they will perform in a less kindly environment, but their size and success can help them surmount obstacles the smaller players cannot.

Image source: gilmartinir.com; lake street capital

FAANGs dominate value and valuation says a new book by an intellectual property expert

Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google, referred to at the Big Four, plus Netflix, “dominate society, technology and IP value and valuation,” according to a new book by a well-known expert in the field.

In the concluding chapter of his recently published IP Valuation for the Future (ABA Books), Wes Anson suggests that several large tech companies, for better or worse, wield a disproportionate amount of influence over IP rights.

“These numbers tell you about the social impact and control that the Big Four [FAAGs] have over not only the stock market and technology, but over the development of IP, social media, new apps, and new forms of (online and offline) technology, in turn, exerting IP domination and concentration.”

The numbers Anson is referring to include Facebook’s monthly users, 2.1 billion; the 65 million households served by Amazon every month; the five top social media apps owned by Facebook; and the 92% of Internet search controlled by Google.

Anson, who is the author of several books on IP value, says that the size of the FAAGs, plus Netflix, make it virtually impossible to accurately calculate all of their IP as a whole. Moreover, the long shadow cast by these businesses also makes it more difficult to value IP owned by others, as well.

Where IP is Headed

“This is where the ‘smallest unit of value’ comes into play and where, I believe, the valuation exercise for IP, particularly when it is held by [businesses the size of] Apple or Google/Alphabet or Facebook, is being challenged. It’s the concept of SVU.”

Anson concludes with “we find ourselves with an increase in value of almost all IP groups, with the possible exception of patents. We also find ourselves under the Cloud with the Big Four Companies, plus Netflix, increasing their dominance in content, media, connectivity and communications…

“I hope that this book conveys that this is a time of great change in the world of IP and a time in even greater change of IP evaluation and valuation.”

IP Valuation for the Future can be obtained through the American Bar Association.

For the Table of Contents, go here.  

Image source: IP Valuation for the Future (ABA Books)

Taylor Swift relies on clout and class to secure a unique streaming deal for fellow musicians

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Whether it was Voltaire or Peter Parker (Spiderman’s Uncle Ben) who said it does not much matter. The important thing is the those responsible for generating and using intellectual property – the coin of the realm –  believe it.

Taylor Swift is one of the best-selling music artists of all time. She has already generated more than 130 million streams. But her pop-star status belies her intelligence and vision.

Swift has famously blacklisted Apple for not paying musicians and removed her content from Spotify because of their paltry pay-outs until she got a better deal for musicians. Recently, Swift locked down a highly lucrative record contract with Universal Music Group’s Republic Records, while securing an unprecedented streaming deal for thousands fellow singer-songwriters on the UMG label.

One stipulation of Swift’s new contract states that if UMG sells any of its shares in Spotify, which went public in April, that money must be redistributed to the label’s artists and cannot be recouped. UMG’s 3.5% stake in Spotify has been valued at as high as $1 billion.

Historic Tumblr Post

Swift reportedly prioritized that artists rights over negotiating for ownership of her highly valuable old masters and a bigger cash advance. Largesse of this kind is unprecedented. Swift stated in Tumblr post:

I [also] feel strongly that streaming was founded on and continues to thrive based on the magic created by artists, writers, and producers. 

There was one condition that meant more to me than any other deal point. As part of my new contract with Universal Music Group, I asked that any sale of their Spotify shares result in a distribution of money to their artists, non-recoupable.

‘Non-recoupable’ means that if a recording artist owes UMB money as a result of a cash advance from the label (often the case with younger artists) the proceeds from the sale of Spotify stock cannot be used to pay down the debt. That cash (Swift’s contract states) is to be used expressly for the musicians, many of whom have been paid almost nothing for their Spotify streams while helping build the company’s market value, which has been as high as $35 billion.

Spotify executives have been cashing in some of their valuable shares – why not the musicians who helped to build that value?

She demanded that Apple make sure artists were
compensated 
during Apple Music’s free trials in 2015; and went on a
three-year boycott of Spotify over royalty payouts

IP behavior matters 

“Taylor Swift has been consistent her whole career about protecting the value of music copyrights not just her own,” said David Lowery, lead singer of Cracker and publisher of the Trichordist in the January IAM magazine, here. “IP holders and users both can learn something from her: protecting IP as a matter of principle lifts all boats.”

Swift’s strategy with UMG and Spotify, as well as Apple, is not for effect – it is genuine. Her vision of the future reflects a keen sense of history and an uncanny instinct for survival. Without a truly viable music industry, she suggests, everyone will suffer, even if a handful of top artists may prosper for a while.

For Swift, IP behavior matters. It begins by creating an environment conducive to quality and success.

Let us hope that her bold moves will not go unnoticed by those who generate and own inventions, authored works and other types of creative output. It’s a big IP world and we all have to live in it.

Image source: Irish Times; http://fr.fanpop.com

How Spotify can survive the size of Apple, Amazon, Google & YouTube

The streaming genie is out of the bottle. There is no going to back to CD sales or downloading as the primary model for music revenue. For industry leader Spotify, whose stock has dropped from a high of $196 in July to $120, more challenges lay ahead. 

Streaming may be acceptable to celebrity artists with CD sales and negotiating leverage, and who play concerts, but not for more mainstream musicians who have difficulty securing a record deal and receive pennies per stream.

With more than 87 million current subscribers and 191 million active users, Spotify appears to be well-positioned for success. Whether or not you believe that Spotify has gone from music industry slayer to savior depends on you ask and when you look.

The service survived the wrath of Taylor Swift and has settled a class action suit brought by musicians, including Cracker frontman David Lowery, publisher of The Trichordist, for $41 million. (More on how Swift is improving fellow artists streaming compensation in a future IP CloseUp.)

But if Spotify is going to bring the music industry forward it will need to show more than the ability to add subscribers. It must be able to work collaboratively with all recording artists, despite the adverse economics of the music business, and to become profitable in the not too distant future. 

Cash Out

Spotify (NYSE: SPOT) went public in March 2018 with a much-publicized offering that did not raise capital, but enabled some insiders, including investors like Sony Music and Warner Music Group, to take cash out and for the market to broadly value its model. The company’s offering price was $132 and had traded as high as $196.28 in July, but Spotify shares are down to about $120 (as of December 17), below its IPO price, an indication that its shares may not have been as accurately priced as initially believed, or that they can expect to struggle in a bear market.

To go public, Spotify executed an unusual move called a direct listing, forgoing investment-banking underwriters and opting not to raise any money for itself at this time. In the process, Spotify showed confidence in its future and saved tens of millions of dollars in fees while still giving its employees and early investors the chance to cash out at least some of their holdings without diluting the share price.

It’s not clear that streaming – and Spotify agreeing to pay higher royalties to some for their content – will save the music industry or earn the company a profit.

The Main Stream

Spotify was the first company to make streaming mainstream, a simple alternative to both the murky Torrent digital music piracy sites and the more expensive downloads model popularized by Apple’s iTunes.

The brainchild of Swedes Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, Spotify launched as a desktop application in October 2008 and quickly gained millions of users across Europe before spreading to the US.

Spotify represents hope for the patent community, where serial infringers use others’ inventions with much the same impunity that streaming services employ content

“A good example of a tech B-lister is Spotify, which appears to be winning its battle with its biggest suppliers but lives in perpetual danger of being steamrolled by a tech giant,” reported The New York Times.

Perhaps the clearest indication of the Spotify’s awkward status came from Randall Stephenson, the chief executive of AT&T. “Mr. Stephenson has been fighting to acquire Time Warner since November 2016 in an attempt to cobble together some combination of content libraries, mobile networks and advertising tech that is big enough to survive a battle with the Googles and Amazons of the world.”

This is a defining moment for Spotify and big tech. If content it to survive meaningfully, IP rights need businesses, executives and shareholders to step up and look beyond quarterly earnings.

When a $200 billion business like AT&T is jockeying for leverage against Netflix, Google, Apple, and others, how is a university start-up, independent inventor or musician going to compete?
Not easily. 

Yet to be Determined

Despite its subscriber base and public offering, Spotify is far from a financial success. Some believe that to do so it must turn against artists and song writers. That will do little more than make its competitors, especially Apple, look good. Microsoft is among the few players who are big and smart enough to acquire the streaming giant at the right price.

Like AT&T, Spotify’s ability to compete depends on how it fares against much larger, more powerful companies, some with only a passing regard for IP rights.

Leading technology businesses set the tone for how licensing is conducted and how creators are treated, and so far – as far as copyrights and patents are concerned – it has not been a very harmonious one.

Image source: spotify.com; statista.com; economist.com

“What kind of man owns his own computer?” Ben Franklin knows

Invention is about the future. Looking back at the technology and images that defined us, however, can provide an idea of where we are headed.  

A case in point is the Apple II personal computer. The ad below appeared in the venerable Scientific American magazine in May 1980. It seems almost laughable in its blatant appeal to the ego, although it was on the certainly on track about the PC’s ability to empower individuals and encourage creativity.

Ben Franklin designing the kite that helped to discover electricity (below) is a provocative image. Franklin was the original “scientific” American – statesman, inventor, writer. The Apple II, introduced in 1977, came with 4K of memory, expandable to 48K.  Its CPU speed was rated at 1 MHz. It was the kind of tool that could make genius even better.

Below is the original ad for the Apple II (full text is below the ad for easy reading).

What kind of man owns his own computer?

Rather revolutionary, the whole idea of owning your own computer? Not if you’re a diplomat, printer, scientist, inventor… or a kite designer, too. Today there’s Apple Computer. It’s designed to be a personal computer. To uncomplicate your life. And make you more effective.

It’s a wise man who owns an Apple.

If your time means money, Apple can help you make more of it. In an age of specialists, the most successful specialists stay away from uncreative drudgery. That’s where Apple comes in.

Apple is a real computer, right to the core. So just like big computers, it manages data, crunches numbers, keeps records, processes your information and prints reports. You concentrate on what you do best. And let Apple do the rest. Apple makes that easy with three programming languages— including Pascal—that let you be your own software expert.

Apple, the computer worth not waiting for.

Time waiting for access to your company’s big mainframe is time wasted. What you need in your department on your desk is a computer that answers only to you…

Apple Computer. It’s less expensive than timesharing. More dependable than distributed processing. Far more flexible than centralized EDP. And, at less than $2500 (as shown), downright affordable.

Visit your local computer store.

You can join the personal computer revolution by visiting the Apple dealer in your neighborhood. We’ll give you his name when you call our toll-free number (800) 538-9696. In California, (800) 662-9238. Apple Computer, 10260 Bandley Drive, Cupertino, CA 95014.

________________

A Manly Man

Note the ad’s manly images. (I guess 1980s women didn’t need a computer.) Ben Franklin was never a pinup for machismo, although he was said to be quite the lady’s man… $2,500 in 1980 is equivalent to about $8,000 today – a price almost no individual would be willing to pay for a personal computer. Computers have gotten smarter and smaller; people, not so much.

In 1980:

  • U.S. President Jimmy Carter proclaims a grain embargo against the USSR with the support of the European Commission
  • The Rubik’s Cube makes its international debut at The British Toy and Hobby Fair, Earl’s Court, London
  • The 1980 Winter Olympics took place in Lake Placid, New York
  • The United States boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
  • Pac-Man, the best-selling arcade game of all time, is released in Japan

Another print ad introduced the Apple II in September 1977. It included a $598 board-only version for “do-it-yourself hobbyists.”

And while we are on the subject, Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, available for free, here, is an unusually timely and readable work, especially for anyone interested in invention and the creative process.

Frank Woodworth Pine wrote that it was “the most remarkable of all the remarkable histories of our self-made men.” with Franklin as the greatest exemplar of the “self-made man”.

Image source: http://blog.modernmechanix.com; technobezz.com

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.

Image source: thetrichordist.com

 

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 

 

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