Tag Archives: Intel

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

Drops (& gains) in patent grants to top holders reflect changing times

Every picture tells a story. So does each increase or decrease in the number of U.S. patents major businesses receive over the prior year.

The recently published IPO Top 300 patent recipients for 2016 encourages scrutiny. While overall grants were up 1.6% over 2015, there were several unexpected swings, and a number of notable gainers and losers.

Only four of the top ten U.S. patent recipients in 2016 were foreign-based companies, down from 2011, when eight out of the top ten recipients were non-U.S. It is difficult to tell if that change reflects more filing on the part of U.S. companies or less interest on the part of foreign filers. Probably, the latter.

Those receiving fewer patents in 2016 over 2015 include Toshiba, -33.3%, GM Global Technology, -14.8%, Johnson & Johnson, -14.1%. Broadcom, -24.3%, Blackberry, -28.1%, and DuPont, -35.5%. ABB Ltd., down 142%, was still granted 317 patents. NXP Semiconductor, which was acquired by Qualcomm in the fourth quarter, was down 70.3% in U.S. patents received.

Multiple Factors

Depending on the company and industry the grant losses can be attributed to several factors, including reduced R&D budgets; a lower regard for the value of patents due to changes in the law and decisions in the courts; reduced concern over patent counts; and the desire on the part of more companies to obtain fewer, better quality patents.

“It is difficult to attribute reasons or trends as to why a company may have had more or less patents issued from one year to the next,” Brian Hinman, Chief IP Officer for Philips told IP CloseUp. “Patents issuing in 2015 may still be reflecting the impact of the patent application filing surge just prior to enactment of the AIA hence the decline in 2016.  

“We also may be seeing the impact of more companies deciding to maintain their innovation as trade secrets especially in light of enactment of the DTSA [Defend Trade Secrets Act].”

It should be noted that some companies choose to spread their patent grants among multiple entities, obscuring the actual number received. Companies which had been actively filing software and business method patents in previous years, are likely to be doing less of that, now that those types of patents are more difficult to obtain and uphold.

Notable Increases

On the upside, among the top 21 recipients, Intel was up 30.1%, Taiwan Semiconductor & Manufacturing, 28.6% and Ford Global Technologies, 27.6%.  Amazon, 15th on the overall patent recipient list for 2016 with 1,662 grants, was up 46.3 % over 2015. This may reflect a new seriousness about entering or acquiring other businesses.

Other notable gainers include Nokia, up 73.8%, GlobalFoundries, up 136.5% and Hyundai Motor Co., up 39.1%. (GlobalFoundries acquired IBM Microelectronics in 2015.)

Among financial institutions, Bank of America was up 20.8%, having received 279 patents.  Perennial annual U.S. patent leader IBM, was up 7.8%, receiving 8,023 patents, the most of any company.

For the complete list of top 300 patent recipients, go here 

For an interactive list of top 50 assignees, go here.

Image source: statista.com; wikepedia.com; public.tableau.com

A record number of major holders were granted far fewer US patents

Many significant tech companies experienced dramatic declines in US patent grants, fueling speculation about the reasons why. 

While total patent grants were virtually flat, according to USPTO data, down just 53 patents from 326,032 to 325,979, and utility patent grants and applications were up, many top US holders received significantly fewer US patent grants in 2015. Patent reform and uncertainty are the most likely reasons why.

Notable declines in patents received include Microsoft, off 17.2%, Sony, down 23.8% and AT&T, which dropped 31.3% after increasing 14.4% in 2014. The immediate result has been a noticeable drop in US patent grants received in 2015 by information technology companies, both domestic and foreign based. Japanese companies led the foreign declines.

Businesses of foreign origin were issued a record of 52.8% in 2015 US patents. US company patent applications abroad was likely up.

Digesting the Declines

Fifteen of the top 26 US patent recipients (58%) were granted fewer patents by the USPTO in 2015 than in 2014.  Even IBM, a leading patent recipient for more than two decades, was down by 0.5%. (See IPO top 300.)

Bucking the trend with net increases among top ten patent recipients include Qualcomm, Google GE , Intel and Samsung Display. Biggest percent increases among the top 300 were from NXP Semiconductor (147.9%), Amazon Technologies (53.3%) and Ford Global Technologies (49.1%).

These are in contrast to 2014, when top US-based patent recipients were all up (see 2014-2013 chart below).

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Litigation Down, Too

It is too early to be certain about why the issuance declines among major IT holders are occurring, but if it is in keeping with the recently announced 30.7% drop in patent litigation for the first half of 2016 (see IAM story), a pattern may be emerging.

What this means for some major technology companies is that patent quantity is no longer king. The arms race may be abating, somewhat. It also indicates that US patents mean less today to many companies than in the past, and paying to secure and enforce all but the best few may no longer makes sense. (I will try to cross-check this with US company foreign filing in a future IP CloseUp.)

Decreases in IT company patent filings can be interpreted in several ways.

The Intellectual Property Owners Association (ipo.org) list of top 300 US patent recipients for 2015, published recently, illustrates a downward trend, with some exceptions noted above. It is difficult to tell whether NXP, Amazon and Ford are playing catch up or see an opportunity that others do not. Also, is it that semiconductors, e-commerce and financial transactions, and automotive are inherently more innovative and potentially combative.

“A combination of factors”

Clearly there are many IP rights in portfolios that should never have been issued, and would be invalidated under further review. Also, patents are less reliable than ever, so why bother? It may be that some companies want to rely on fewer, better quality patents, for freedom of action, but it also may be that they see less value in obtaining them or in identifying new inventions.

“It is a combination of factors,” one veteran patent attorney and analyst told IP CloseUp. “Businesses are seeking better patent quality, and chartoftheday_4260_top_10_patent_recipients_n
USPTO examinations are getting somewhat tougher. Also, there is 
pressure on software patents from the courts, frequent PTAB invalidity rulings, and a general anti-patent environment. Weaker corporate balance sheets also have led to cost cutting.”

The America Invents Act and PTAB reviews have made it much more difficult to license patents, and have diminished their defensive value, too. Patents role in some businesses’ corporate strategy and ROI is under scrutiny.

Interestingly, despite the 2015 drop in patents to top holders, corporate patent buying activity was relatively high. Rock bottom prices may have made portfolio purchases attractive to some.

Patent-dubious Google, which has been an active buyer through various programs (e.g. experimental Patent Purchase Program), as well as a more active filer, experienced a 10.9% increase in patents received in 2015. In 2014, it was up by 31.6%.

Image source: patentdocs.com; aulainip.com; statista.com

 

 

 

Patent Quality Commissioner will provide performance update at Corporate IP Counsel Forum

Valencia Martin Wallace, Deputy Commissioner for Patent Quality at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, will deliver the keynote address at the USPTO’s Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative at the 8Valencia_Wallace-Martinth annual Corporate IP Counsel Forum in New York, March 23-24.

Chief IP and In-House Counsel from a broad cross-section of industries and companies will be speaking at the two-day event. Topics include “Navigate the PTAB Process” and “Evaluate Patent Damages Reform Measures to Improve Risk Management.”

Readers of IP CloseUp who are in-house attorneys are invited to attend IP Counsel Forum at an 80% discount. By using the promo code BBIPCU when reserving they can attend for $195.

“Exploring the IP Issues of Open Source Software” will be the topic of a round-table discussion led by Red Hat’s Robert H. Tiller at the end of the first day.

Industries and companies represented include:

IT/Electronics:

  • Vringo
  • Entegris
  • Broadcom, Ltd.
  • IBM Research
  • NCR Corporation
  • Red Hat

Insurance/Finance:

  • MasterCard
  • The Hartford Financial Services Group
  • Aetna

Pharmaceutical:

  • HR Pharmaceuticals
  • MedImmune
  • Merck
  • Alexion Pharmaceuticals

Consumer Products:

  • Colgate-Palmolive
  • Avon Products
  • PepsiCo
  • Conair Corporation
  • FormLabs
  • Monsanto
  • Robert Bosch
  • Luxottica Group
Higher Education:

  • Columbia University
  • UVA Licensing and Ventures Group

Entertainment/Hospitality:

  • CBS Law Department
  • Fuse Media
  • Marvel Entertainment
  • Starwood Hotels & Resorts

Chemicals/Biotech:

  • Heraeus Incorporated
  • Advaxis
  • Chemtura
  • Rambus
  • Thermo Fisher Scientific

Corporate IP Counsel Forum is produced by the World Congress and sponsored by Intel among others. The event is being held at the Marriott Eastside at 525 Lexington Avenue at 48th Street. For the agenda and speakers go here. For pricing and registration information here or call +1 800-767-9499.

Image source: uspto.gov; worldcongress.com

 

Higher R&D does not necessarily result in more or better patents

It is unclear that companies with the most significant increases in R&D spending are securing more, better quality or valuable patents. 

A random study of the R&D spending and U.S. patent granted three years following of 12 leading technology companies conducted by Brody Berman Associates shows that costly corporate research spending does not necessarily result in more patents or those with greater impact.

Cisco’s annual R&D spend, for example, increased 11.3% from 2010 to 2013, to just under $6 billion, yet the number of patents granted to it over that period was down 21% to about 900.

Google’s R&D increased 110% to $8B annually over that same period, but its patents granted were up 573%. According to Envision IP the majority were in US classes 455, 709, 370, 715 and the much observed 705. (See chart below.)

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Granted there are many reasons why one company receives more patents than another: Is the business building its portfolio or merely maintaining it?  Does it do business in a mature or maturing sector? Is it planning to use the patents defensively or to monetize them through out-licensing?

2010 2013 R&D JPEG 1

2010 2013 Patents Granted JPEG 2

 

Microsoft’s R&D was up to about $10.5B in 2013 from 2010, but its patents received were down 14%. Is MSFT investing in fewer, better quality patents, or was the decrease merely the luck of the draw? Everyone except Cisco spent more on R&D, but not everyone necessarily received more patents for doing so. Qualcomm’s R&D was up 96% and its patent grants were up 220%. IBM’s $6B+ R&D, a 3% increase, resulted in 16% more patents. Were these of lesser quality than Microsoft’s. It would be interesting to compare.

Intel conducted the most expensive R&D of the group, nosing out MSFT for the spending lead. For its some $10.6B in 2013, a 60% increase over its 2010 budget, it received 12% fewer U.S. patents, or about 1,700. One would hope they are better patents. “The number of reverse citations for Intel increased from an average of 25 in 2010 to 30 in 2013,” says Maulin Shah of Envision IP.

“A higher number of reverse citations may indicate the relative validity of a patent – the more art that is cited on the patent and during prosecution lessens the pool of available prior art that may be used to challenge the validity of the patent based on prior art grounds later.

The trend suggests that a business, no matter how solvent, cannot necessarily “buy” valuable patents or generate meaningful innovation by spending more on R&D. A lower yield per R&D dollar spent may mean better quality patents, but, then again, it may not. More research needs to be done on R&D and how best to measure return on it.

Patents remain a “numbers” game, more focused on quantity than quality, but these R&D/delayed grant figures indicate that the trend is far from universal among large technology companies.

*****

“The cost for IP varies per industry sector,” a revered former head of IP business and strategy told me recently, “but also within a sector it depends on whether a company is a technology leader, fast-follower or in catch-up mode.

“Cost is further determined by the patent efficiency (number of patents filed per million dollar investment in R&D), which relates also to patent quality. If you analyze this you will see some significant differences in numbers (and patent quality), and also in patent cost. Some followers or late entrants have a high patent efficiency (high number of patent filings per million investment in R&D) just to create large numbers (quantity over quality).”

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“With technology leaders there is mostly a kind of non-linear relationship between the number of patent filings and R&D budget (decrease in patent efficiency with increasing R&D budget).

“It generally also holds that companies with less than average R&D budgets in their sector of industry (followers, new entrants) will have higher third-party IP costs, whereas companies with higher than average R&D budgets (technology leaders)  will generally have higher benefits from their own IP.”

Image source: Brody Berman Associates, Inc.; Envision IP, LLC


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