Tag Archives: Wall Street

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

In Memoriam: Dan Scotto, perennial “All-America” Wall Street Analyst and Research Director

Dan Scotto, a Wall Street research icon in the 1980s and 1990s died last week and with him an era of investment research that is not likely to return.

Dan’s understanding of assets, tangible and intangible, and how they could be monetized, was ahead of its time. He taught by example and showed a generation of debt investors the value of seeing beyond the financials and understanding people.

He taught me that every discrepancy between an S&P or Moody’s rating and a bond analyst’s is a potential news story or investor opportunity.

Dan spotted weaknesses in Enron early for BNP Paribas, and on August 23, 2001 changed his “buy” rating to “hold” and told clients that the bonds “should be sold at all costs and sold now.” He later told the Wall Street Journal that if he had gone with a “sell” rating instead, “I’d have been taken out to the guillotine that very day.” When he called out Enron, he had become an inadvertent “whistle-blower.” To Dan, he was simply doing his job with his trademark grace and humor.

Brooklyn-born

Dan grew up in Red Hook, which at the time was an unfashionable part of Brooklyn. He marveled at the transformation and split his time between Manhattan and Greenwich. Despite his impressive track record and trademark J. Press suits he was never fully comfortable in Greenwich or Manhattan, and seldom went out or traveled, except on business. He was married to the job.

Dan Scotto, circa 2000

Dan came up as a high-grade (corporate) bond analyst first at Standard & Poor’s and then at L.F. Rothschild, Unterberg, Tobin, the venerable high-tech underwriter, where he remained focused on corporate debt for institutional investors. His ascendance coincided with a time of declining interest rates, and a good place for a bond analyst not afraid to make buy-sell recommendation. His specialty was electric utilities, where he was revered, but he also managed other top analysts in telecommunications, banking and energy, among other industries.

Dan and his team were brilliant, but they were not the intimidating quants that some funds tout. That was not Dan’s style. He and his team trusted their ability to understand management and read between the lines – and they were almost always right. Dan did his homework, and worked closely with his friend and most trusted adviser, telecom analyst Marion Boucher (now Marion Holmes), leading a research team that won Institutional Investor “All-America” honors on a regular basis. The first year that bond analysts were included in the i.i. investor poll, Dan was number one in all categories.

Investors not Bankers

At a time when basic industry research and investment banking business mattered most, Dan focused on investors’ needs, and they loved him. After L.F. Rothschild (which Dan liked to call “the Brooklyn Rothschild”) he went to the venerable Donaldson, Lufkin & Jennette (DLJ), which eventually absorbed into Credit Suisse, and then to Bear Stearns, one of the fiercest firms on the Street, where he and his high-grade team achieved top research honors.

Dan could be a tortured soul – especially if things did not go right or when people disappointed him. He was proud of his unprecedented nine-year number one “All-American” ranking – something he knew that he had to earn annually. He was cynical about Wall Street, especially bankers, who used him as bait for deals, and traders, who saw him as overhead that took bonus money out of their pockets.

Dan will be remembered not only for his instincts and dedication, but also for his loyalty, good humor, incisive and and often playful written reports, and, most importantly, his generosity of spirit. He will be missed.

Rest in peace.

Image source: Whitehall Financial Advisors

Licensing deal with IP rights group ends YouTube blackout in Germany – “no more red faces”

Tens of thousands of recording artists and musicians in Germany will be receiving payment for their content under the terms of agreement struck last week between YouTube and GEMA, Germany’s leading royalty collection group.

The deal will end a seven-year YouTube ban in Germany, which had previously blocked access to the streaming site over non-payment of performance royalties. It is unclear if the pact is a harbinger of things to come in the ongoing battle between streaming sites, search engines and content providers, such as musicians, or if it includes published works, like books and photographs.

Resolution of the dispute, reports The New York Times, comes “with European officials revamping the region’s copyright rules to give more power to music labels, publishers and other content producers over the likes of Google, which owns YouTube, and Facebook.”

“We remained true to our position that authors should also get a fair remuneration in the digital age, despite the resistance we met,” Harald Heker, GEMA’s chief executive, said in a statement. He added that the agreement covered future royalties, as well as those accrued over the last seven years.

Blocking alert that German YouTube users will no longer see

untitled-9

“This is a win for music artists around the world, enabling them to reach new and existing fans in Germany, while also earning money from the advertising on their videos,” YouTube’s Christophe Muller told TorrentFreak, a publication dedicated to bringing the latest news about copyright, privacy, and everything related to filesharing.

TorrentFreak also reports that “Increasingly, music groups are criticizing YouTube for ‘profiting’ from the hard work of artists without paying proper compensations, so it’s not unlikely that similar deals will follow in other countries.”

A prominent L.A.-based producer told IP CloseUp that the deal (which deal? The deals in other countries? “that such deals in other countries”) “appears to be progress,” but Google (which owns YouTube) is too big for the little record companies to fight. “Whenever they try collective action, Google runs to the anti trust authorities.”

Agreement that the Internet has been bad for the music business is not universal. Factors that influence “free” distribution depend on a label’s size, the popularity of its artists and their point-of-view about how best to generate income. Sony has said that impeding YouTube costs the music industry millions of dollars.

One of the people who embraces this positive view of streaming is Edgar Berger, Sony Music’s CEO of international business. In a recent interview he stressed the importance of the Internet, while noting that the increase in Internet sales almost makes up for the decline in physical sales. See a summary of the interview, here.

“There is absolutely nothing to complain about. The Internet is a great stroke of luck for the music industry, or better: the Internet is a blessing for us,” Berger said.

No More Red Faces

“The [GEMA] deal means YouTube will unblock thousands of clips in Germany for the first time in seven years,” wrote Bloomberg News. “When German music fans in the past tried to watch videos of their favorite songs they only got an youtube-sad-face-300x159error message showing a red YouTube sad face with a line saying the content was banned from the portal for copyright reasons.”

The parties did not disclose financial details of the agreement. YouTube has, in the past, struck similar deals with dozens of groups around the world, including one in 2009 with the U.K.’s PRS for Music.

The groups also did not say if YouTube’s familiar sad red face would be replaced with a happy green one.

Image source: theheureka.com

Patent quality puzzle is dissected in new WIP0 magazine article

A good patent is becoming increasingly harder to find.

In the current issue of WIPO Magazine my article, “The puzzle that is patent quality,” looks at how the importance, market value and reliability of a patent can vary with perspective, as well as its right to exist.

Patent quality may start with validity but it does not end there.

“[With patents] the discussion is typically about validity, not the quality of an invention or its market value,” I write. “When someone speaks of a ‘good’ patent they could be referring to one or more characteristics: the patent’s likelihood of being upheld if enforced (litigated), the importance of coverthe invention it excludes others from practicing; or its relative value (in terms of protecting profit margins or generating direct licensing revenue) to a particular holder at a given time.”

Defining a patent that is worthy of scrutiny, and provides a degree of certainty, is no easy feat.

More work is needed on the legal and market implications of patent quality, as is a better system for determining patent quality and value earlier and more efficiently for a broader range of technologies. The uncertainty associated with patents costs companies billions and dissuades innovation and investment.

The August issue of WIPO Magazine is available here. My piece begins on p. 16.

For the slightly shorter web version go here.

Image source: iplawleaders.com; wipo.int.

Liquidation Value of Alcatel IP Rights is said to be $3.9B to $5.9B

Bernstein Research and WSJ say that the company’s patent value is up to three times greater than its current market cap

A credible news source is reporting that the liquidation value of the patent portfolio and other IP rights of beleaguered telecommunication equipment company, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), is worth as much as $6B.

Alcatel-Lucent, which current is trading at $1.12 per share at the close on Friday, has about 28,000 patents, many the best of which according to IP CloseUp sources have already been licensed. Back in February it also tried to license patents through defensive patent aggregator RPX (NASDAQ: RPXC).

alcatel-lucentAccording to a chart that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on December 7 attributed to FactSet and Bernstein Research , the intellectual property liquidation value of Paris-based Alcatel-Lucent is 3B to 4.5B euros or, at $.131 USD per euro, about $3.9B to $5.9B USD. It is not clear if this figure includes equity associated with the Alcatel-Lucent brand or trade secrets.

Alcatel-Lucent still hold some patents based on research conducted at famed AT&T Bell Labs. Lucent was established in 1996 and sold to Alcatel in 2006.

According to patent valuation experts the estimated value of the ALU IP rights could be even further afield than the $2.4B-$2.6B estimate for bankrupt Kodak’s patents. (It was announced last week that the Kodak portfolio is about to be sold for $500M to a “consortium of bidders” as part of a refinancing deal by a group led by JP Morgan Chase and UBS.) The heavily encumbered and much shopped Kodak portfolio could not generate auction bids of much higher than $150M.

*     *     *

Inflated values for patents of public companies in search of a higher stock price help no one.

Do analysts and the media really believe they can throw around valuation numbers without consequence or support? The sale of Nortel’s uniquely overpriced portfolio for $4.5B in 2011 to a group led by Apple, Microsoft, Ericsson, Sony and RIM was an anomoly. It has skewed expectations about the real world value of patents.

For analysts to suggest that patent may be worth several or more times than they can reasonably generate is arguably irresponsible and a disservice to shareholders and innovators alike.

It could hurt more than help these companies and their investors in the long run, as attempts are made to establish more accurate prices and efficient markets for intangible assets worldwide.

Illustration source: mobile-web.me

Disclosure: Neither Brody Berman Associates nor Bruce Berman owns shares of Alcatel-Lucent or holds a position, long or short.

IBM’s Huge Lead in Patents: Under the Microscope

Big Blue may be caught in its image as the perennial patents-received leader, for better or worse.

Obtaining large numbers of patents is often more effective for large companies than securing a handful of really good ones.

U.S. patent count leader IBM, which has boldly dominated patents-received for two decades, has made something of an art in the science of securing IP rights. It has obtained 46,000 U.S. patents since 2000, and more than 6,000 in 2011 alone. Of those, it has allowed about two-thirds to lapse.

aggregate-patents

Until recently, companies like Google and Apple had chosen not to compete in this costly and somewhat cynical numbers game. Winning the patent count race means more to large IT businesses than others. However, the patents a business receives should not be confused with those it holds or is able capitalize on because of the inventions they read on.

Does IBM know something about IP management that other companies do not? Or are cash-rich Google and Apple simply prepared to make bold purchases or settlements when necessary for defensive purposes? Some think that IBM is caught in its own IP image, believing to appear innovative more patents are inevitably better.

When Narcissus fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water, he got soaked. If I recall my Greek Mythology correctly it was Nemesis that attracted Narcissus to the pool in the first place.

*     *     *

The value of IBM’s volume strategy, which is generally more meaningful to large consumer products companies, such as smart phone makers, may be less readily cost-justified than it once was. Many companies like H-P and AT&T are filing about the same number of patents or even fewer than in the past, concentrating on balancing patent counts, quality and current needs.

IBM vs Key Competitors

In the January IAM magazine (number 57), which will be published next week, the Intangible Investor is devoted to IBM’s out-sized lead in obtaining patents. (They allow most to lapse within about 24 months, suggesting that for some holders it is as important to keep patents out of the hands of the wrong parties as it is to maintain them.) Emphasizing their patent-securing prowess has until now has worked for Big Blue, an IP licensing powerhouse that is seldom sued for infringement.

With its business model now focused on services, and the public smarter about IP rights, IBM is not in need of more patents, but better ones. Of course it depends on how they intend to use them and on how they choose to measure performance.

In “The need to lead: IBM under the microscope,” out next week in IAM, Brody Berman Associates compiled “aggregate totals” for US patents granted to leading IT companies from 2000 to 2011. Over this period IBM (46,292) was granted, 2.5 to four times as many patents as Microsoft (18,120), HP (17,699) and Intel (17,484).”

*     *     *

IBM is unabashedly proud of its out-sized dominance in  patent counts, besting some innovative competitors by 20-fold. (See the graphic from IFI Claims, above.)

Is Big Blue’s volume approach — which it shares with Intellectual Ventures and several defensive-mined Japanese companies like NEC, Hitachi, Sony and Canon — a relic of patent wars past?

Patent portfolios are a means to support innovation and and facilitate performance, not an end to qualify them.

Illustration sources: Brody Berman Associates; IBM Annual Report

Digital Downloading Embodies a Growing Culture of IP Piracy

Attitude Toward Content Theft Fuels Free-Riding on Others’ Inventions & Counterfeits of Branded Products

The ease of downloading copyrighted content on a computer or smart phone is at the core of an explosion of IP abuse that also impacts branded goods and patented inventions.

Record labels, film studios and publishing houses are among those most directly affected by copyright infringement on the Internet. But musicians, authors, luxury brands and inventors, and thousands of industry jobs and businesses, also are among those feeling the impact of a rapidly growing culture of free-riders. More than 50 pirate political parties and groups in the U.S. and Europe are a symptom of a much greater disease.

Theft of IP rights has not only become acceptable in some circles, it has become fashionable. It feeds off of the ease of digital file sharing and knock-offs, and affects struggling artists and inventors, as well as businesses of all sizes.

The Court of Public Opinion

In the court of public opinion copyrights and brands have fared poorly. Theft of digitally rendered content and counterfeits is easily achieved and difficult to stop. Patents have not done much better. A cultural disdain for IP rights has emerged, facilitated in part by businesses that stand to profit from free content, look-alike goods and others’ inventions, and end users who don’t give a damn.

“He’s No Robin Hood,” my Intangible Investor column appearing in the current (November) IAM, looks at the broader implications of the acceptance of file sharing. Some excerpts from the article:

“File sharing promotes a culture of piracy that makes it more acceptable to steal branded goods and inventions, as well as content. Big daddy Kim Dotcom is sticking it to all IP holders.    

“Exhibit A for the legitimization of IP theft is Kim Dotcom Schmitz. Dotcom has slyly built himself into a modern folk hero, replete with a mellow “gangsta” style and outsider reputation. (He is a champion gamer and car racer.)

“This larger-than-life, medallion-wearing bad boy looks like he is deserving of a modest scolding and a heath club membership, not 20 years behind bars. That’s what he and his supporters would like you to believe. In fact, his illegal businesses has generated more than 66 million illegal subscribers and has helped to make file sharing acceptable and dismantle the recording industry.”

“Megaupload and the twilight of copyright” by Roger Parloff in Fortune is an extremely timely article that helps to put file sharing into criminal perspective. It illustrates how in the space of twenty years we went from a society where copyright served the needs of emerging artists and authors, as well as businesses, to one where IP is perceived to impede technological innovation and freedom of expression.

This article truly is a must read for anyone interested new ideas or IP rights. It also serves as a wake-up call for patent holders who expect their rights to be upheld.  

Illustration source: techwireasia.com; fortune.com 

Wall Street Discovers Patents

Experts Gather in SF for IP-Finance Forum

Patents, abstract and esoteric, remain largely a mystery to those on Wall Street. At the same time, the financial community’s perspective on IP value, grounded in the capital markets, is not something that patent holders and professionals readily understand.

To bridge the information gap the Licensing Executives Society (LES) San Francisco chapter will host, “Wall Street Discovers Patents: What IP Holders & Investors Need to Know About Each Other.”

The March 28 luncheon gathering, open to the public, will examine “the sharp incline of highly valued patent and IP asset transactions and their appeal to Wall Street financiers.”

The discussion is expected to delve into what drives the valuations and purchases, and the frenzy of competitive bidding that can take place. In addition to analyzing significant IP deals both past and potentially in the future, this meeting will serve as a “how-to” guide for Wall Street in navigating these patent markets.

Moderating “Wall Street Discovers”  is Robert Aronoff, Managing Partner of Pluritas.

The panel will feature IP and financial experts Sandeep Agarwal, VP and Portfolio Developer for Tessera; Erin-Michael Gill, Managing Director and CIPO of MDP Capital; Gaurav Kittur, Senior VP of Jefferies and Company; and Vincent Pluvinage, CEO of Invention Capital Partners.

“Wall Street Discovers” will be held at noon at PricewaterhouseCoopers conference center at 3 Embarcadero Center, 20th Floor. LES members and non-members are welcome. For more information click here

Image source: Hansafx.net


%d bloggers like this: