Friday 4 September 2015

Intellectual Ventures: out of sight, out of mind, and maybe that is a good thing for the company

This blogger has begun to wonder whether the onset of late middle age carries with it a bit of clairvoyance. On several occasions over the past several months, he has recalled a person or entity, with whom he has had no contact or information for an extended period of time, only to be reconnected very soon thereafter. And so it was, once again yesterday evening. The object of his thoughts was Intellectual Ventures (IV). It seemed to him that the goings-on of IV were barely in the headlines (or even buried in an inside hard-copy page or on-line sub-link). “What is happening with the company?”, he thought, as he dozed off for the evening.

Lo and behold, he woke up to a brief item that appeared on, under the caption, “Capital One wins again against Intellectual Ventures patents”. And so it was reported:
“The increasingly aggressive litigation strategy of Intellectual Ventures, one of the world's biggest patent owners, took another hit on Wednesday as a U.S. court canceled two of its patents in a dispute with Capital One Financial Corp.

U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm in Greenbelt, Maryland, agreed with Capital One's attorneys from Latham & Watkins that the two patents related to business data processing were merely abstract ideas and could not be patented. He overturned the findings of a special master, who had previously recommended that the patents be found valid.”
Let’s try to put this into context. IV is well known for its strategy of purchasing tens of thousands of patents, partnering with various entities to obtain access to further patents, and maintaining an R&D staff whose goal is to generate further patents. In doing so, IV became the owners of the one of the largest portfolios of patents in the world. The primary aim in accumulating these points was to enter into licensing arrangements. At the outset, the company maintained a public position that litigation was not a preferred means of exploiting its patents. IV was either reviled or admired, depending upon whom you asked, in seeking to monetize knowledge in this manner. What was unconvertible was that IP was the subject of extensive media coverage.

And then—certain developments took hold. Outside observers began to question whether IV’s licensing model made business sense; perhaps as a hedge, the company has increasingly “ventured” into exploring how its patent knowledge can be used as basis for product development and creating new companies; the company announced substantial lay-offs about a year ago while in parallel establishing a network of approximately 25,000 independent inventors who submit proposals based on their idea with the goal that IV will monetize these ideas and pay the inventor a royalty, and the company has become more active in litigating its patents (as seen from yesterday’s report, not always successfully). Thus IV has seemingly become an object of less immediate media interest while it takes steps to become a slightly more conventional IP-based company.

The compelling question is whether all of this portends a brighter future or rather a grab-bag of measures adopted when the company’s original business model failed to pan out as intended. Ask Edward Jung, IV’s chief technology officer and co-founder stated, “We have built an engine that can solve big problems.” As such, the company is simply proceeding with its long-term plans. Under this view, whether or not the next phases of the company’s activities are as compelling, media-wise, would seem to be irrelevant. In the absence of any dramatic IV-based headlines in the near future, this blogger will likely call on his imagined powers of clairvoyance to revisit the issue.

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