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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

Expanded ‘IP CloseUp 30’ stock index features four new categories

Publicly traded patent licensing companies have significantly under-performed market indexes. Only a few of the original listed stocks remain. 

The IP CloseUp 30, a feature of this blog first published in 2013, was designed to provide IP investors a real-time snapshot of public patent licensing company performance and news.

Loss of patent certainty and value have made licensing less interesting to current equity investors. For that reason, the IP CloseUp 30 is evolving. It will be known as the IP CloseUp 50, and include several new categories of publicly traded, IP-focused businesses, including those that engage in brand and content licensing and defensive strategies.

The IP CloseUp 30 index is build on a Yahoo! Finance screen of earnings and other financial information —  stock price and market capitalization, as well as real-time news developments. It gives IP investors a efficient way to track relative performance of selected companies. For those observers more dubious about the sector, but who are interested in keeping tabs on certain patent holders, it provides a method of tracking potential threats.

Evolving Universe

When I coined the acronym, PIPCO, six years ago, it referred to an expanding sector of public companies whose primary source of revenue was patent licensing and, by default, litigation. At the time patent values and damages were much higher and many respectable non-practicing entities (NPEs) held promise. Yet to be felt were the full impact of the America Invents Act, passed in 2012, and the effects of several major court decisions affecting injunctive relief and patent eligibility.

Leading Brands Category

The IP CloseUp 50 is an alternative method for investors to track the influence if not impact of intellectual property. It introduces a larger context for considering IP performance. Patent monetization remains a viable business model for some owners, but perhaps for most businesses, less so as a public one with the pressure to provide investors with quarterly results.

The IPCU 50 is far from definitive and will require that companies be added and removed as market and IP conditions warrant. PIPCOs were never intended to be just about patent licensing. When damages awards for mobile telephony (Motorola, Nortel, et al.) and other technologies commanded hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars, it was only natural for licensing companies to become a source or investor fascination. But even at their most active these PIPCOs rarely generated much daily volume or market capitalization.

Enter PIPCO 2.0

If investors have learned one thing over the past decade about public IP companies it is that they are not synonymous with patent licensing. It is true that performance measures like licensing, settlements and public awards are easier to follow than return on risk mitigation or brand equity. Licensing and litigation are simply more graphic, especially if big tech companies are paying out.

Think of the IPCU 50 as IP CloseUp 2.0. It represents the next iteration of IP investment perspective – companies better equipped to adapt and survive because of their nature of their IP assets and their size. It includes patent, trademark and content-focused operating businesses where licensing may play a role in performance. The index will still consider leading patent licensing companies, but scale back the number. (For now, the index will not consider trade secrets directly.)

To be sure, the IPCU 50 is a work in progress, destined to be refined, but, nonetheless, provocative and worthy of periodic scrutiny.

The new IP CloseUp 50 categories:

  • Patents – Technology
  • Patents – Pharmaceuticals
  • Trademarks – Leading Brands
  • Media & Content Owners (Copyright)
  • Primarily Patent Licensing

Fuller Grasp

Using IP rights to mitigate risk and maintain market share is not new. Nor is brand or content licensing. In principle, using IP rights defensively does not necessarily diminish their significance. It is true that specific tech patents typically mean more to small businesses and individuals than to established players who can rely on other resources like brand equity and their ability to raise capital, and are unlikely to enforce infringed patents. A fuller grasp of what different types of IP mean to various businesses can quickly turn a seller into a buyer (and vice versa).

With some 85% or more of S&P 500 company value tied up in intangibles assets such as IP rights, shareholders need to be better informed about the use of and return on IP (call it, ROIP) and their role in performance. Questions investors should be asking, even if senior management and equity analysts are reluctant to:

  • Which are the most IP-rich businesses?
  • What rights do they own?
  • How are they being used?
  • What is the relationship of their IP to performance and shareholder value?

 

Work in Progress

To be meaningful the IP CloseUp 50 must change to reflect IP value and investor need. The businesses were initially selected by an informal panel of experts. We will do our best to accommodate requests to add or delete companies. The index is designed to render performance of IP-rich companies somewhat more transparent and easier to follow.

The IP CloseUp 50 looks at top public IP holders primarily by:

 

  • Size, type and quality of IP portfolio and assets
  • Enterprise market value (typically >$500M)
  • Innovation reputation

For further explanation of the five sections and criteria for inclusion, visit the IP CloseUp 50 landing page, here. Consider bookmarking it or placing it on your home screen or desktop.

 

Image source: yahoo! finance; ipcloseup.com

To encourage investors the IP system must provide stability and predictability, says USPTO head

IP is the engine that makes economic and cultural developments work and the USPTO keenly focused on facilitating this goal.

That was the message delivered by Undersecretary of Commerce and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Andrei Iancu, at the Second Annual Intellectual Property Awareness Summit in New York on November 29.

CIPU, CTV, Columbia University

IPAS was held by the Center for Intellectual Property Understanding (CIPU), an independent non-profit, in conjunction with the Columbia Technology Ventures, at the Columbia University’s School of Journalism.

“For the IP system to work as intended,” Director Iancu told the audience of IP owners, creators, executives and educators, “we must make sure future IP laws are predictable, reliable and carefully balanced.”

Director Iancu, who holds degrees in aerospace and mechanical engineering and who has taught at UCLA, said he believes that it is really important for new members of congress coming into office in January, as well as existing ones, be informed about the importance of intellectual property.

“They should be aware why IP is important to the economy and to America’s standing in the world and competitive position.”

“I would urge folks in this room,” he said referring to the IP professionals and educators present, “to talk about these issues with members [of Congress] in ways that relate to their priorities and constituents.”

A Different World

The Director told the audience that the battle for 5G is not likely to be limited to giant American companies but is international and being waged by the smallest and biggest countries; from Singapore, for example, to China.

“We live in a different world,” he concluded. “For the United States to maintain its competitive leadership it is critically important that we have an IP system and innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem that encourages innovation; that provides stability and predictability, so folks can invest here in the U.S. confidently.”

The audio file of Director Iancu’s remarks and q&a is available at www.ipawarenesssummit.com.

IBM, Priceline, George Mason University

Other featured speakers at IPAS 2018 included Manny Schecter, Chief Patent Counsel of IBM and a member of the board of directors of the Center for Intellectual Property Understanding (CIPU); Jay Walker, inventor, entrepreneur, TEDMED curator and founder of Priceline.com; and Adam Mossoff, Director of the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP) at George Mason University College of Law.

IPAS also included 17 other speakers, four panels and three workshops focused on the IP literacy requirements of IP owners, creators, educators, investors and the public. For the full IPAS 2018 program, presenters and partners go here.

Image source: Russell Cusick Studio 

Rich values for IP services providers defy investor expectations

Prices for companies that support and sell IP services and analytical software remain surprisingly strong, even as patent licensing and sales continue to decline.

Their success appears to be fueled by the very problems facing patents: lower values and lack of certainty.

IP tools providers are the proverbial sellers of picks and shovels; the “miners” take the primary risk. Most are satisfied with the steady cash flow, while their clients make the big bets in R&D and litigation. Uncertainty makes investing even more dangerous and the information premium more valuable.

                                    __________________________________________

For the full IP services deal story, “Defying the monestisation market” in the September IAM magazinego here. In this issue the Intangible Investor explores recent IP service firms transactions and their prices.
                                         ______________________________________

Examples of IP services successes include CPA Global’s 2017 acquisition by private equity firm Leonard Green & Partner’s for 2.4 billion pounds ($3.1B USD). Cinven had acquired the firm in 2012 from Intermediate Capital Group for around £950 million ($1.3 billion), backed
by $555 million of debt financing.

In 2015, CPA Global – with approximately $12 million in revenues and no profit – acquired Innography for an undisclosed amount. An industry-insider told IP CloseUp it was likely between $80 and $90 million, or about seven times revenue. Innography, with a strong reputation, had raised $14 million in venture capital.

AI Driven

Thomson Reuters sold its IP and Science business in 2016 to Onex and Baring and Private Equity Asia for $3.55 billion. The company is now Clarivate Analytics.

Among the newer and more interesting entries in the IP services space is ClearAccessIP, a Palo Alto, CA-based firm “that indexes patents, looks for vulnerabilities in a corporation’s patent strategy, and finds opportunities in a patent collection for further value.”

Founded by Nicole Shanahan, a young patent attorney who served as a researcher for IP scholar Colleen Chien at Santa Clara University College of Law. Professor Chien is a member of the Clear Access IP Advisory Board, along with former AIPLA president Wayne Sobon.

“I am essentially trying to build and democratize a marketplace platform because not all patent holders and sellers can afford the large transaction firms,” she says. “I’m also solving a very old problem and putting docket management in the cloud.”

An extensive interview with Shanahan appears in Software Engineering Daily. The audio can be found here; the written transcript, here.

Ms. Shanahan, it seems fair to inform readers, has been living with Sergey Brin, founder of Google and President of its parent company, Alphabet, Inc., which, historically, has been dubious about strong patents.

New Wave

IP services and software providers, especially those using the latest algorithms, may represent a new wave for beleaguered IP holders and their law firms seeking to manage patent risk. The computing strength and analytics capability they offer may be just what some IP holders and margin-conscious law firms need to compete, or these companies may simply be repackaging the outsourcing mantra for the AI age.

These relationship-driven, technology-focused service providers are likely to grow in value as global patent applications and portfolios increase and uncertainty lingers. An improved outlook for patent licensing will make them even more attractive.

Image source: softwareengineeringdaily.com; clarivate.com; cpaglobal.com 

Responsible Patent Licensing is focus of Wall Street event

Not all patent licensing businesses are alike.

“NPE 2016: The Business of Responsible Licensing,” scheduled for March 22 at the Convene conference in New York, will differentiate patent monetization companies by examining their business models, strategies and the managers who run them.

The conference will focus on the non-practicing entity (NPE) industry, including both public and private companies. In 2015, the NPE 2016 brought together leaders from the licensing company sector and the wider corporate IP and investment communities to discuss the challenges and opportunities of running a patent licensing business, especially in today’s challenging climate.

NPE 2016 is the only gathering that examines how NPEs operate and contribute to the innovation and the economy.

3J6A3349Moderator-led panel discussions with audience Q&A at the end of each will be featured. Sessions are designed to focus on the specifics of building and running successful NPE, as well as on the opportunities available to investors.

Beyond Monetization

This year’s sessions will consider licensing best practices, building and managing a patent portfolio, licensing dos and don’ts, litigating in Europe once the Unified Patent Court has been launched, licensing opportunities in new sectors and moving IP commercialization beyond monetization.

Last year’s attendees included:

• NPE executives
• In-house counsel and legal directors
• Private practice lawyers
• Licensing executives
• Patent brokers
• IP policy professionals
• Investment professionals

IP CloseUp readers who use the promo code IPCLOSEUP before February 19 are eligible for a $150 discount off of the full $895 registration.

For more information about NPE 2016 or to register, go here.

For he full program, go here.

 

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Image source: convene.com; iam.com

 

Unwired Planet: Can Cash Position Cushion Long Sales Cycle?

With three recent Markman hearings and more than $100M in cash UPIP trading currently at $1.46 could be a good buy for those with patience and a strong stomach.

At an earnings call last Thursday Unwired Planet, Inc. (NASDAQ: UPIP)  CEO Philip Vachon reiterated his confidence in the future, and announced a renegotiated deal with Ericsson that will provide the company more flexibility going forward regarding patent transactions.

“With the modification of the Ericsson agreement during the [past] quarter, the company now has the option to acquire assets that are not subject to the Ericsson revenue share agreement,” Vachon told investors,”but that are subject to the $1.7 million of our NOL.”

Lake Street Capital senior equity analyst Mark Argento who has a “Buy” recommendation on UPIP, suggests that investors proceed with caution, but sees a $5.00 price target.logo

Sum of Parts Valuation – “Given the nature of its business model and the lack of revenue and operating profit predictability from a modeling perspective,” says Argento,” “we believe valuing UPIP on a project/IP portfolio sum of parts valuation basis is most appropriate. We take various scenarios: Low, Mid, and High range of outcomes for monetizing both its core UPIP portfolio and the wireless infrastructure portfolio acquired from Ericsson.”

Argento’s list of “Valuation” challenges and “Risks” in his report (linked above) provide useful guidance for anyone interested in public IP licensing sector.

Spend and Wait

Unwired Planet is typical of the frustrations faced by many PIPCOs that own good patents but have to spend time and money, and encounter risk, to monetize them.

Spending on legal fees and acquisition costs, without generating significant income, requires a strong constitution, even when there is cash on the balance sheet and burn rate that can be contained. Not every PIPCO is so lucky.

Image source: unwiredplanet.com; lakestreetcapital.com

New Wealth of Nations is Focus of Int’l IP Gathering

550+ to Participate in 2011 CIP Forum –

The New Wealth of Nations is the focus of a gathering to be hosted May 29-June by the Center for Intellectual Property Studies in Sweden.

It’s the tenth anniversary of the bi-annual event. If past experience is any indication, CIP Forum will be one of the more outstanding IP gatherings to be held in Europe or the U.S.

Co-organizers Ulf Petrusson and Bo Heidenhave their collective finger on the IP pulse. They know how to create a unique chemistry that attracts impassioned iPeople from far and wide. This year they are inviting executives and investors to talk about capturing and managing innovation and the role of open innovation. Among the goals is to help nations understand the impact of their new intangible wealth.

At CIP Forum it is not uncommon to hear conversations among international IP holders, valuation experts, patent brokers, investors, academics, business executives, entrepreneurs, advisors, NPEs, inventors and students. [Click here for more information about the 2011 CIP Forum.]

Seldom do (V)IP figures like this year’s chair, Ruud Peters of CEO of Philips IP and Standards, and Marshall Phelps, former Microsoft and IBM head of IP business and strategy, mix with business, engineering and IP management students, government policy makers and private equity investors in an unabashedly international setting.

Discussion and feisty debate at CIP Forum often carry over to the festivities and private dinners around Gothenburg. It starts with a welcome cocktail reception on Sunday evening, May 29, just after the my workshop.

Yes, your intrepid IP Insider has been asked to chair the 2011 Valuation & Finance Mini-Track on Sunday afternoon. I look forward to seeing some of my loyal readers there as well as a few who would rather throw tomatoes. Bring your difficult questions to The New Wealth of Nations CIP FORUM 2011- ENG in Gothenburg in May, and don’t be afraid to challenge current IP practices.

After all , IP management has a short history — a few decades, at most — and, more than anything, CIP Forum is about breaking new ground for innovation and IP capital everywhere.

Illustration source: cipforum.org

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