Friday, 31 July 2015

MIT's 50 Smartest Companies: is "smartest" the same as "most innovative"?


The figure above depicts the "50 Smartest Companies 2015", as selected by the MIT Technology Review, which recently published its observations on the subject via a piece by Nanette Byrnes here. Says Nanette:
" ...  To make the list, a company must have truly innovative technology and a business model that is both practical and ambitious, with the result that it has set the agenda in its field over the past 12 months.

No. 1, Tesla Motors, has added another audacious idea to go with its electric cars. In April, it announced it would be spinning off a line of batteries in service of a big goal: remaking the energy grid for industry, utilities, and residences.

Of all the sectors we cover, biomedicine has had the biggest year. Companies have turned research breakthroughs, many powered by genomic analysis, into products that treat challenging diseases. Gilead Sciences, No. 15, sells the first pill that can cure most cases of hepatitis C. Bristol-Myers Squibb, No. 26, is selling an immunotherapy drug that is saving the lives of people with skin and lung cancer.

By contrast, energy companies have been far less innovative, it seems to us, so that sector plays a smaller role on this list. One highlight is No. 6, SunEdison, which is electrifying developing countries. ...".
The big year for biomedicine must be a tonic for businesses in that sector, since the death of pharmaceutical patents and the spectre of expiring patents leaping off the Patent Cliff like a pack of demented lemmings is an image that has become increasingly ingrained in many people's minds.  

But has the energy sector been less innovative? It works in very different ways from biomedicine and can't truly be compared. Medicine has something of a binary nature: either you have a cure or you don't, and the market for cures is statistically easier to address thanks to decades of public sector data collection.  However, both at domestic and industrial level energy is a market in which the introduction and adoption of any new system or device depends upon so many more variables: to name but one, plant and hardware may require large-scale capital outlay which is unattractive or non-viable before the costs of recovering outlay on existing equipment and systems have been recouped.  The innovative side of the energy sector also appears to the outsider to be far more diverse than the biomedicine sector -- and the energy sector, despite many attempts to make it more competitive, has not been able to develop the equivalent of the pharma sector's generic product manufacturers.

It would be good to compare the patterns of innovation in patenting in the energy and biomedicinal sectors, something that a tool such as Cipher would be well equipped to handle.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

ORoPO in San Francisco: some plaudits and a cautious welcome

As reported on today's IP Finance blogpost, Aistemos's friends at Intellectual Asset Management  magazine (IAM) have compiled a short, well-presented video with the title "Transparency in Patent Ownership".

... and ORoPO later?
Shot during this year's IPBC 2015 conference in San Francisco, it succinctly summarises the virtues of signing up for the ORoPO Open Register of Patent Ownership (for example, you can more easily check who owns a patent and therefore whether you've already been paid the right business for a licence to use it; it can also lead to the making of major savings).

The hesitancy felt by at least one major patent owner -- Philips -- about making its verified patent ownership data available is also expressed (basically, ORoPO is a good idea in principle but the "pool's a bit cold so let's all jump in together" -- in other words, the decision is easier if one's competitors are doing the same thing at the same time).

The video also discussed the efficiencies that can be achieved by approaching other businesses working in a field of mutual interest, if only one can identify the right people to approach.

You can view the video, all 4  minutes and 27 seconds of it, by clicking here.

Monday, 27 July 2015

The Economist Guide to Intellectual Property: a review

The Economist Guide to Intellectual Property: What it is, How to protect it, How to exploit it, by Stephen Johnson, is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill IP textbook. The title itself gives a clue: with the imprimatur of The Economist comes the promise of a book that guides thought rather than bombard it with legal detail, and of content that is directed to the sentient business community -- people who need to know about IP and to speak to IP specialists without having to master the technical details themselves. Other clues include the absence of tables of statutes and cases and the affordable price. As the publishers state in their web-blurb:
Intellectual Property (IP) is worth an estimated $5trn in the US alone. It covers patents, trademarks, domain names, copyrights, trade secrets and know-how. The IP of a big brand can be worth tens of billions of dollars. And yet IP is hard to value; accountants struggle with it, and banks treat it cautiously as loan collateral.

Unsurprisingly, companies zealously guard their own ideas and fight to acquire those of others. Damages arising from infringements have fostered a sizeable claims industry. But IP law is complex. Protections deemed excessive to one party are seen as inadequate to another. Court decisions and interpretation of IP laws can be unpredictable, and can dramatically change the fortunes of businesses that rely on their IP - as demonstrated in the pharmaceutical industry's battle with generic drugs.

This guide to intellectual property will help companies, investors, and creative thinkers understand the scope and nature of IP issues, and maximize the value from this crucial intangible asset.
Readers of this blog, and members of the intangible asset community, may well know the author: Stephen was named this year as one of the world's leading IP strategists in Intellectual Asset Management's IAM Strategy 300 survey. After a long and successful spell in private practice with leading law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP he migrated his talents to the charity sector, where he is now CIPO with US charity One Mind.

Any book on IP that doesn't go much beyond 300 pages is bound to be written in generalised terms, particularly when those pages are small, the print is decent-sized and there are plenty of bullet-points. This book is no exception: it spans many different IP rights and markets in which they are relevant, as well as taking account of the sometimes quite different way in which IP is protected and used on both sides of the Atlantic. However, it's a lot harder to write a short book than a long one and, in this case, the Guide's relative brevity is actually its strength: it provides clarity and a sense of direction that decision-makers and investors will appreciate.

You can check out this book for yourself here.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Finjan signs up with ORoPO: who next will wake up and smell the coffee?

The internet has been awash over the past couple of days with news snippets and Tweets about web security company Finjan signing up to commit its verified patent ownership records to the ORoPO Foundation, the not-for-profit organisation that gives an accessible point of access to accurate patent ownership data.


The addition of Finjan brings to 10 the number of patent-owning entities that have taken this step, following in the footsteps of ARM, BAE Systems, IBM, Microsoft and the rest.  To have achieved this level of support just one month after its launch is testimony to the importance given to need to make accurate data available.


On a totally irrelevant note, the name Finjan is not without meaning. A finjan was originally a small porcelain handle-less coffee cup, of the sort that you might well come across in the Middle East. According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary the word, which is Arabic, is derived from the Persian. Nowadays the word is used to indicate not so much the cup itself as the pot in which the coffee is prepared.  The symbolism of coffee is that it is both a stimulant (just like patents) and an embodiment of the notion of waking up and smelling the coffee as a metaphor for heightened awareness of the situation in which one finds oneself. Is this not an appropriate imagery for any company joining ORoPO?

Thursday, 23 July 2015

All is sunny in Florida, as Helios rises for ORoPO

"Industry's First Turnkey Service for IP Owners to Audit, Record and Register with the Open Register of Patent Ownership Database" is the title of a media release issued today by Helios Intellectual Property. For those readers of this blog who are not Greek scholars, Helios was the personification of the Sun in Greek mythology, and indeed the Greek word for the Sun today is helios (ήλιος, to the cognoscenti). The Sun shines in quantity in Tampa, Fla., where Helios Intellectual Property is based, which might explain the choice of name.  Be that as it may, the media release reads, in relevant part, as follows:
Helios Intellectual Property today announced its new service to support the Open Register of Patent Ownership (www.oropo.net), to assist IP owners audit, record and register their patent assignment and ownership formalities to optimize their participation in the ORoPO initiative. With founding members including IBM, Microsoft, ARM, BAE Systems, Shazam, Patent Properties, Conversant, and Finjan, ORoPO’s mission is to address the critical need for a comprehensive public database of patent ownership information. In launching this new service, Helios Intellectual Property will help drive adoption of ORoPO as an important international resource. 
Said Ralph Schroeder, CEO of Helios Intellectual Property.
“When we were introduced to ORoPO, we instantly saw its value and importance, and the opportunity for our clients to become part of the movement to address the IP community’s need for open information about patent ownership.  We are excited to join the community, and provide an enabling service for our clients to participate in the ORoPO initiative.”
Recognizing Helios’ announcement, Nigel Swycher, ORoPO director, said, 
“Gaining broad adoption of the ORoPO Register is critical to fulfilling our mission to create an authoritative source of patent ownership information. We welcome Helios’ role in helping its clients participate in ORoPO.”
At the same time as Helios Intellectual Property committed itself to ORoPO, the company also announced a new service package that will enable its clients to both submit to the Register, and audit their ownership status across over 180 worldwide patent offices. The service will compare a company’s internal registration information against official patent office ownership data, and file the documentation required to make necessary corrections. Helios Intellectual Property will also process the client’s submission to ORoPO.

All of this is encouraging news for ORoPO which, while still in its relative infancy, is continuing to gain momentum as its potential value is increasingly recognised.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Apple, Microsoft shares tumble -- but did they need to?

A sign of things to come? Surely not ...
Today's news is full of share price falls for leading technology companies Apple and Microsoft. With sales somewhat down on experts' expectations Apple had US$ 62 bn wiped off its value in just eight minutes' trading (more than the market value of Colgate-Palmolive or Blackrock -- though still only around one-sixth of the national indebtedness of Greece at the time of composing this blogpost: you can check the current Greek debt figure here).  Microsoft's share price fall is much less spectacular, though it comes in the wake of reported earnings that came in slightly ahead of analysts' predictions.

While the two sets of expert analyses are different, as are the circumstances of the two tech giants, there is one thing about yesterday's news that is the same for each of them: assessment of a company's value has been placed on something as short-term as the most recent sales figures and none of the news items on the popular websites makes any reference whatever to the sets of patent portfolios, the markets in which those patents generate income or will do so, their likely duration and the extent to which their value is enhanced or leveraged by their use in conjunction with their own and third party trade marks. 

Anyone who has read Economics Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow and who has absorbed his powerfully-made points about statistics, regression to the mean and the deficiencies of expert reasoning would be forgiven for thinking that the mass sell-off of Apple shares in response to a one-off dip in sales was a loser's strategy. And if it's logical to sell a successful, intangible asset-rich company's shares when a sales dip is announced, the decision to sell Microsoft shares when expectations are exceeded is even more baffling.  

Fortunately, in the real world we can come back to Apple and Microsoft in the future and measure yesterday's sell-off values against the companies' future performance. Then we will have some solid evidence as to whether the sale decisions were right or wrong.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

IPBC 2015 – Two days and one evening in San Francisco

The past two weeks have been a particularly busy time for Aistemos with much activity in the US. Two days and one evening in San Francisco at the IP Business Congress 2015 preceded meetings in LA, Washington, Boston and New York – here are a few reflections on the global event that attracted 675 delegates from 34 countries.

The congress started in earnest on Monday 15th at the amazing Palace Hotel following a reception that the IP twittersphere, and the less connected, roundly agreed was a great networking event.

Here are our top observations from the event:

  1. It’s a buyer’s market for patents. There are not many high quality patents for sale, even though companies that previously only considered selling non-core patents are now offering up entire portfolios. This may well be driven by C-suite executives’ increasing push to “do something with patents”.
  2. Patent valuation is still a challenge. Valuations on either side of a transaction can still be “poles apart” – our own Nigel Swycher, speaking in the ‘Value Conundrums’ plenary session, argued that objective data will make IP transactions more transparent and therefore more efficient, effectively rendering the NPE largely irrelevant within five years.
  3. We can stop talking about smartphones. For some, it was a relief to move on from smartphones – the major patent growth areas are in energy, automotive, med-tech, wearables and smart home/internet of things.
  4. The unitary patent will drive up the value of European patents. That view that seems to hold in the US, but not so much amongst European commentators. Either way things won’t change overnight, but when it does so will a lot more litigation.
  5. Less change in the US. In the US any more tinkering with legislation beyond the current round is going to exhaust participants to the point of despair – are we at the end of an era?
  6. Patent perceptions are poor. Outsiders and newcomers to patents will probably agree with the view expressed by inventors; that it’s sad to see patents most often associated with litigation and legal expense, rather than innovation.
  7. China’s emergence as a major patent force continues. The Chinese State IP Office received praise for its achievements in terms of the quality of assets, albeit tempered by the observation that Chinese residents make up a conspicuously small proportion of applicants in non-Chinese jurisdictions. This may well lead to large-scale acquisition of foreign patents by Chinese entities.
  8. Busy times ahead for patent authorities. Patent offices will become busier and busier as technology continues to proliferate – this will create challenges as they try to manage workloads and changes in IP whilst maintaining a stable and predictable legal base for innovators. The US is a prime example in the light of the Alice case and the uncertain interpretation of S.101.
  9. Openness is good. Readers of this blog, and other IP and technology publications, will be aware that the Open Register of Patent Ownership (ORoPO) was launched at IPBC this year – as Sir Nigel Shadbolt, the co-founder of the Open Data Institute, told ZDNet “Nobody is even close to having a good, robust way to deal with patents.” ORoPO aims to address that and we are delighted to be part of the effort.
  10. Well-deserved recognition. We also mentioned in a previous blog that IPKat’s Jeremy Phillips was inducted in to the IP Hall of Fame and, at a gala dinner at IPBC 2015, his official induction took place. Jeremy Phillips called for the IP community to listen to inventors and innovators, stressing that IP professionals are here to serve those developing technologies that will have a profound impact on our world.
While this round up only scratches the surface, we hope it gives you a flavour of some of the discussions to emerge from a fascinating event. Overall, IPBC illustrated once again that IP is now a mainstream consideration in the boardroom, and that patents are shaping up as a serious asset class.