Tag Archives: IAM magaizne

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

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.

Image source: equality-of-opportunity.org

More patent holders (and buyers) are valuing perception over reality

Lack of certainty and the high cost of monetizing patents are motivating some businesses to acquire impressive looking patents, not necessarily valid or essential ones.  

A reputation for innovation or R&D prowess has become a far more valuable asset since the American Invents Act was passed a few years ago.

IBM, among others, has sold unproven patents for tens of millions of dollars to the likes of Alibaba, Twitter, Facebook and Google, attesting to the power of source brand when it comes to invention rights.

In all but a handful of instances, no one gives a hoot about what an IT patent is really worth in the marketplace or even whether it is valid. There Perception-Realityis nothing new about securing batches of patents for affect, especially if it is unlikely that they will be enforced and subject to the scrutiny of litigation.

With licensing revenue down and patent sale prices 30% or more lower, there is little motivation for an alleged infringer to take a licence or settle a dispute.  The search is on to identify alternative methods of profiting from IP. Drawing upon a portfolio or family’s implied value can have more meaning than its actual worth — which is becoming increasingly more difficult to establish.

As Good as Gold

In the current (November) IAM The Intangible Investor looks at “Perception is reality for some patent holders.”

A golden reputation for innovation is easier to establish than value for most individual rights. Thus, a patent portfolio or family in conjunction with a recognizable brand can constitute a formidable pairing. “Perceived patent value” holders, those with a
reputation for innovation, may be in a better position to profit today than business that actually hold valid and infringed patents. Proven patents need to survive the PTAB and perform in court, and require capital to monetize; a reputation for IP can be built over time and managed.

We may recall the Intel Inside® advertising campaign of a decade or more ago that touted the branded processor inside the PC. It not only encouraged product sales but provided the company with the ability to license at a premium the patents covering the component.

There was less a qualitative difference in the microprocessor (vs. say AMD’s) than an implied one based on Intel’s consciously cultivated, and largely deserved, reputation for innovation. 4If issued patents are even less reliable than in the past, then invention rights that appear to be good are the biggest winners. It is no coincidence that the most significant R&D spenders also happen to be among the world’s most valuable brands and significant patent holders. The top ones exceed or are just under $10 billion in annual R&D spend.

Reputation, whether it is deserved or not, makes buying decisions easier — a welcome relief to at least some cash-rich buyers in the market for coverage who cannot wait for patents to issue.

The full IAM piece, “Perception is reality for some patent holders,” can be found here.

Image source: askskipper.com; wparesearch.com

U.S. IP Commission Explores Foreign Theft; Ignores Domestic

The pain inflicted by U.S. companies on other American businesses and the economy from domestic IP theft receives scant attention in a timely recent study.

The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property (the IP Commission), an independent, bi-partisan initiative of leading Americans from the private sector, public service in national security and foreign affairs, academe, and politics, has issued a report and recommendations on IP theft that attempts to address a global problem while ignoring its deep local roots.

A beam of much needed light on a sea of anti-patent, anti-IP monetization proposals circulating in Washington, the IP Commission’s findings are too important not to take seriously and its recommendations too brave to ignore. However, the Commission cannot be let off for what it fails to consider: The damage that domestic IP theft inflicts on the US economy.

In DC Watchdog Gets Serious About Foreign Theft of U.S. IP, in the September Intangible Investor in IAM, out next week, I look at aspects of the IP Commission report which is long on vision but short on how IP crimes originate and what can be done to stem their tide at home. (The IAM Blog had strong reservations about the report, suggesting in a post that it confused IP theft with a lack of strategy.)   

Co-Chaired by Gov. Jon Huntsman (Utah, former Ambassador to China) and Hon. Dennis Blair (Admiral, US Navy, retired; former Director of National Intelligence), the IP Commission concludes that U.S. IP, including content, branded goods and inventions, are under siege by foreign businesses and governments, and dramatic measures need to1-7f58ea3fa3 be implemented now or halt the loss of valuable ground in the innovation battle.

In late May the IP Commission released its findings, which include losses of hundreds of billions of dollars per year in revenue and millions of jobs, as well as a drag on US GDP growth and innovation incentive.

The report states that international IP theft is not just a problem in China, where it is rampant, but Russia, India, and other countries constitute important actors in this worldwide challenge as well. Many issues are the same: poor legal environments for IPR, protectionist industrial policies, and a sense that IP theft is justified by a playing field that benefits developed countries.

*****

IP theft is not only a problem emanating from foreign businesses and governments, like China. It is domestic threat that the courts and the patent system seem ill-equipped to address.

Let’s hope that the U.S. can rise to the challenge and recognize that systematic IP theft is an economic catastrophe in the making, and that it needs to be taken as seriously whether it originates abroad or at home.

Illustration source: http://www.ipcommission.org


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