Licensing Executives Society 2013 Annual Meeting: A Recap

Conversant at LES in PhiladelphiaToday’s post is from David Fraser, Manager, Patent Acquisitions, Conversant.

The LES (Licensing Executives Society) held its annual meeting in Philadelphia last week.  The annual meeting brings together approximately 1000 licensing professionals for the premiere licensing conference in North America.  Participants are from high tech, pharmaceutical,  technology transfer and other industries.

The conference kicked off on Sunday night with a reception sponsored by Conversant IP.  The event was extremely well attended and gave us the chance to introduce our new name and branding to licensing professionals.

The conference lasted three days with plenary addresses each morning, workshops on a variety of topics after lunch, and networking events each evening.  The workshops typically take the form of a panel discussion of experts discussing a topic of interest. Lots of interesting ideas and innovations were shared.

The keynote speaker to kick off the conference was Richard Marsh, General Counsel of Myriad Genetics who spoke about the genetics business and the recent United States Supreme Court ruling on the patenting of human genes.  Tuesday morning featured a panel discussing NPEs and patent licensing and featured speakers from a variety of practicing and non-practicing entities.  The topic has been thoroughly discussed in the press the last few years but several of the speakers emphasized the issue of the cost and uncertainty of litigation as well as anecdotal evidence that the fear of patent litigation from NPEs is having a chilling effect on innovation from small startups.  Since the patent system exists to promote innovation this is indeed a concern.  Other sessions dealt with RAND royalty rates, the top court decisions of the past year (an annual favorite), and patent valuation.

One of the key highlights of attending the LES Annual meeting are the new contacts you make outside your immediate field in a variety of licensing fields such as university technology transfer, health sciences, and the various service companies providing information on royalty rates and financial services.

This year’s meeting lived up to expectations and was a great event to introduce our new name and brand.  Feedback was uniformly positive and people were genuinely interested in hearing the Conversant story.

Next year’s meeting is in San Francisco, and I look forward to attending October 5th to 8th, 2014.

A New Vision for Patent Prosecution as Asset Managers

Today’s post is authored by Abdul Zindani, Deputy Assistant General Counsel, Patent Prosecution, Conversant Intellectual Property Management Inc.

Often, the Patent Prosecution department in many companies is seen primarily as a quiet backroom function.  Prosecution is necessary for filing and administering patents, but nonetheless it’s a cost-center – with a budget that’s a candidate for cutbacks in tough times.

At Conversant, we’re in the business of intellectual property asset management, and we have a completely different view of Prosecution.  We’ve transformed Patent Prosecution into a dynamic corporate team charged with implementing a Value Growth Strategy for our intellectual property assets. Our Patent Prosecution group successfully, substantially, and regularly increases the monetary value of our own patent portfolio, and the patents and applications we manage for our partners.  We think of it as “Patent Prosecution for 21st century information economy.”

A New Approach to Patent Prosecution

Ask an engineer in a technology company what they think of filing patent applications. “Necessary, tedious, a chore, time-consuming, boring,” are the polite words you’ll likely hear.  Engineers readily agree that patents are necessary to protect innovation, sure.  But products are successful because they win in the marketplace, not the government patent office. Stated another way, in many companies, Prosecution’s activities aren’t seen as aligned with the business strategy.

We think Prosecution’s activities must align with the company’s business strategy.  Conversant is a growth-oriented intellectual property asset management company.  Patents are intangible capital assets, and we’re in the business of maximizing the value of those assets.  We view a patent portfolio as a capital asset portfolio, and we see Prosecution functioning as an intellectual capital asset management department whose strategic role is to optimize the value of those intellectual assets.

To read more on Patent Prosecution, please click here to read the full whitepaper. 

Patent Licensing: Delivering Proven Value to the U.S. Economy

To read the press today, you would think patent owners who do not make or sell products—called “non-practicing entities” or NPEs—are all “patent trolls” who corrupt the innovation-promoting benefits of the patent system. This was unfortunately also the message from the White House on June 4, 2013 when it issued executive orders and legislative proposals targeting patent owners who, in the words of President Obama, “…don’t actually produce anything themselves.”

The truth is, however, that even though startup companies, university researchers, and technology licensing firms don’t manufacture products themselves, they still produce enormous value for the U.S. economy. Companies such as Dolby in sound systems, Tessera and Qualcomm in semiconductors, for example, function as NPE technology developers that help the U.S. maintain its technology leadership in critical economic sectors.

Meanwhile, professional intellectual property management firms like Conversant—which licenses patents and is also an active developer of NAND Flash computer memory—act as intermediaries. They facilitate the transfer of new technologies to firms that are best equipped to develop them into new products, services and medical treatments and other inventions that benefit society. Patent licensing has proven to be especially valuable in today’s outsourcing-rich economy, where so many once-vertically integrated firms have spun off their product manufacturing operations to other firms and other countries. It enables these firms to focus on what they do best—invention in the case of R&D leaders, or manufacturing, marketing, and sales in the case of product companies.

Patent licensing, the value of which in the U.S. was estimated to be worth $150 billion annually in 2006 also provides greater liquidity to the market for new technological innovations and makes that market more efficient.

Yet still the myth persists that all NPEs are “patent trolls.” To be sure, there is a “patent troll” species of NPE that abuses the litigation process to extort nuisance settlements from small businesses unable to pay the huge costs of standing up to them in court. But these trolls—the patent law equivalent of “ambulance chasers” in personal injury law—should not be confused with legitimate NPEs whose primary business is invention and/or patent licensing, not litigation.

 Read more about patent licensing by downloading the Patent Licensing: The Founding Fathers’ Secret for Economic Success paper. 

A Patent Prosecution Success Story: Pirelli’s Optical Networking Patents

Today’s post is authored by Abdul Zindani, Deputy Assistant General Counsel, Patent Prosecution, Conversant Intellectual Property Management Inc.

Conversant’s success in increasing the worth of the PGT Photonics portfolio is a perfect example of our Value Growth Strategy in action.  We apply this strategy to our own IP assets – and those of our partners.

In late 2009, Conversant (then MOSAID), learned that Italy’s PGT Photonics S.p.A., a spinoff of tire manufacturer Pirelli & C. S.p.A., wanted to divest an international portfolio of more than 200 optical networking patents and patent applications.

The patent portfolio represented substantial R&D investment that had resulted in leading-edge innovation.  PGT Photonics was at the forefront of developing an array of optical communications products, including tunable lasers, transceivers and transponders, as well as early ‘silicon photonics’ manufacturing processes.  Silicon photonics is a method of manufacturing optical lasers and other components using CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) manufacturing techniques.

However, PGT Photonics was in financial distress.  When a company makes a decision to divest patents or find a licensing partner, too often, Prosecution budgets have already been cut and the patents are not being properly maintained.  That was true with PGT Photonics.  In fact, many of its patents had already been abandoned for lack of funding.  The situation was so serious that Conversant took the unusual step of assuming responsibility for strategically prosecuting the portfolio, even though due diligence was ongoing and the acquisition would not close until early 2011.

For two years, Conversant’s in-house team managed the portfolio of 200 patents and applications.  Many patents were narrowly saved from abandonment, and one U.S. case that had already been abandoned was actually revived.  Claims were amended as necessary, including significantly broadening the scope of key patents.  Approximately 50 patent applications were granted worldwide, and strategic patent families were preserved by filing continuations and divisionals.

The result was a healthy, strong portfolio of optical networking patents.  By exercising its skills and experience – and investing over US$1 million – Conversant Prosecution team had not only preserved the R&D heritage of the former PGT Photonics portfolio, but significantly improved its quality and thus, its intrinsic value.

Conversant management subsequently decided that the former PGT Photonics patents would have the greatest value in the hands of another owner, and sold the portfolio in early 2012 for significantly more than the purchase price.

The buyer? None other than Google Inc.

To read more on patent prosecution, please download our paper on a new vision for Patent Prosecution.

How and Why the Founding Fathers Created Non-Practicing Entities

Legitimate NPEs are not anything new in our economy. In fact, NPEs and patent licensing were actually authorized by the U.S. Founding Fathers 233 years ago as a way to kick-start the development of the new American economy.

Remember, at the time of its founding, America had a backward agrarian economy, almost wholly-dependent on imports, and lacking in any significant domestic industry. The U.S. at the time had a standard of living lower than that of many South American countries.

In addition to creating lasting democratic institutions of governance, the Founders also faced the critical task of finding some way to unleash the latent creative and productive potential of the American citizenry. As Thomas Jefferson wrote to his daughter Martha in 1787, precisely because America was deprived of British imports and left to its own devices, “we are obliged to invent and execute; to find means within ourselves, and not to lean on others.”

But how, exactly, could they do that?

The Founders had studied the elitist British patent system, and they knew that patent fees there were 11 times the per capita income of the average citizen and that patent holders were required to practice or “work” their patents—i.e., manufacture products from their inventions. According to Bowdoin College historian Zorina Khan—her book “The Democratization of Invention: Patents and Copyrights in American Economic Development, 1790-1920” earned the Alice Hanson Jones prize in 2005 for outstanding work in economic history—the Founders also knew that these high fees and “working requirements” restricted innovation activity to a tiny handful of wealthy individuals with the factories (or the capital to build factories) needed to manufacture products. (In fact, says professor Khan, the exclusion of the “working classes” was regarded by British parliamentarians as one of the chief virtues of their patent system.) These high fees and working requirements also skewed invention towards incumbent capital-intensive industries, rather than the disruptive new industries that usually spark great economic advances.

Clearly, the British patent model would not work for the United States, whose only asset (other than natural resources) was a population widely-considered to be especially enterprising. Unlike the tenant farmers and laborers that made up the bulk of England’s rigid class society, most Americans were free-holding small farmers, merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and mechanics—the forerunners of what we today call the middle class—who were possessed of what 18th century publisher Hezekiah Niles called “a universal ambition to go forward.”

A Patent System for the Common Man

In order to rapidly develop the U.S. economy, then, the Founders “quite self-consciously” (to quote economic historians Naomi Lamoreaux at Yale and the late Kenneth Sokoloff of UCLA) designed a patent system that could do what no other had ever done before—stimulate the inventive genius and entrepreneurial energy of the common man. Simply put, they needed to expand the pool of productive inventors in our new nation to include as many people as possible, even those without the wealth or resources to commercialize their own inventions.

They did this by first of all setting patent fees to a level any ordinary citizen could afford—less than five percent of the rate in Britain. Second, they decided not to impose “working requirements” on patentees. During the debate over HR-41 (the bill that became the first patent law in 1790), says professor Khan, “the Senate suggested requiring patentees to make products based on the patent or license others to do so, but the House rejected this as an infringement of patentee rights.” And third, they wrote the patent law expressly to facilitate the licensing and sale of patent rights, thereby creating the world’s first patent licensing industry.

The results, as Jefferson would write 13 years later, have “given a spring to invention beyond my conception.” Indeed, the low patent fees, lack of working requirements, and ability to license patent rights turned inventing into a new income-earning career path for thousands of poor but technically-creative citizens. Whereas most of Britain’s few hundred inventors came from wealth and privilege, the vast majority of America’s many thousands of inventors came from humble beginnings. They were farmers, workers, merchants, mechanics, and artisans.

The end result of the patent system was to fuel innovation in the U.S. as citizens saw that they could make a living by applying a little “Yankee ingenuity” to the problems of agriculture and industry, the U.S. per capita patenting rate, defined as the percentage of citizens who became inventors, soared.

By 1885, the U.S. per capita patenting rate was more than quadruple the rate in Britain, and 85 percent of U.S. patents were licensed. A nation of inventors was born, and patent licensing quickly became the primary means by which inventions were turned into new products in the decades before in-house corporate R&D departments arose in the early 20th century.

Read more about patent licensing by downloading the Patent Licensing: The Founding Fathers’ Secret for Economic Success paper.