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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


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