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Posted by Henry Dewing on September 30, 2011
The tech industry has been percolating and I have noticed a few transactions based on intellectual property (IP) portfolios recently — most notably:
- Nortel sold about 6,000 patents to a consortium of Apple, RIM, Ericsson, EMC, Microsoft, and Sony for $4.5 billion (outbidding Google, the stalking horse bidder in the auction) in July.
- Google bought Motorola Mobility — with its 17,000-patent portfolio — for $12.5 billion in August.
- Google acquired 2,053 patents from IBM for an undisclosed amount in two separate transactions in July and August.
Two things strike me as I look this list and neither is that insightful — there’s a lot of money changing hands and Google seems to be VERY interested in acquiring IP. So what is a patent worth, and why is Google leading this charge? Even if you’ve been hiding in a cave in Tora Bora, you would likely know that Google is girding for a battle between Android and iOS. Apple (who was part of the consortium that outbid Google for Nortel’s IP portfolio) wants to enforce patent rights related to the iPhone, and Google wants Android phone makers to be able to build devices and sell them unfettered by legal entanglements.
Is that the value of an idea — to use the force of law to protect your ongoing business? Part of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act signed by President Obama on September 16 legislates that patents will be granted to inventors that file first, rather than the inventors that actually originated an idea first, which would seem to favor inventors with the wherewithal to quickly file patents . . . having a legal team on standby sounds like a large business protecting its revenue, not a start-up driving innovation.
I had always thought the purpose of a patent was to protect the inventor who built a better mouse trap and was injecting innovation into the economy. Patents can, and still will, serve that purpose, but the value of an idea is being legislated to be more about the patent on the idea than the products and business it spawns. After all, the $4.5 billion for which Nortel sold their patent portfolio exceeded the proceeds from selling their four major product groups by about $500 million.
So what’s the implication for Vendor Strategists reading this blog? Protect your intellectual property! The rules of the game are changing to favor those who file for patents swiftly, and the value of that intellectual property has never been higher in the market. Capture new ideas from your labs and move to file quickly. Small entrepreneurs who have great ideas need to be sure to file or engage the services of a patent attorney early — even using forms from services like www.legalZoom.com can get you into the US Patent Office quickly and cheaply.
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