Yesterday we revealed the first five of our IP personalities of 2013: Conversant, Bob Goodlatte, Horacio Gutierrez, Anthony Hayes and Hon Hai. Today, we name the final five, again in alphabetical order:
Intellectual Ventures – They are no doubt reconciled in Bellevue to the fact that IV is never going to be universally loved: and it would also be wrong to proclaim 2013 as a year in which the firm experienced unbridled success: the returns being enjoyed (if that is the right word) by investors in some funds and the challenges encountered in raising the money to create a new fund bear testament to that. But although its critics will never admit it, IV is doing some very interesting and positive things right now which others in the IP market – NPE and operating company alike – would do well to look at very carefully. Its partnership with Finnish company Riasio is an example of the way in which IP expertise can be married to technical skill to create something that is not only good business, but is also of benefit to the wider world; and we can expect IV to announce further partnerships along similar lines in 2014. Meanwhile, the firm’s decision in December to open up over 80% of its entire patent portfolio to detailed inspection was a red-letter day for transparency and set an example that can and should be emulated by all large IP holders –whatever line of business they are in. As it has done for a decade now, IV is beating a path for others to follow.
Michelle Lee – Throughout 2013 ex-Google patent chief Michelle Lee was among the favourites to succeed David Kappos as Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office. But that did not happen. Instead, just a few weeks after Teresa Stanek Rea left the post of deputy Director, it was announced that Lee would be taking over from her. Because there is currenty no Director of the office that means she will be running it when she formally takes the reins in January. There is no doubt that Lee is eminently qualified to do the job, but the appointment has raised many hackles. Some claim that it is unconstitutional, but more to the point is why she was not handed the Director’s brief. Nobody in the Obama administration has explained this; but one thing we do know is that as deputy Lee will not have to be confirmed by the Senate. To many, it looks horribly like things have been set up so that Lee can be put in charge of the USPTO without having to go through a process of legislative scrutiny. The suspicion is that her links to Google – a company that has invested a great deal of time and money in heavy lobbying for changes both to the way patents are litigated in the US and to the patentability criteria for certain types of invention - may have seen a few awkward questions raised by some senators; questions that the Obama administration, which has many close links to Google, would prefer were not asked.
Sovereign patent funds – Funds that invest in IP in one way or another, or in multiple ways, are nothing new; but a more recent development has been the emergence of funds that are either wholly or partly supported by national governments. Most of these are in Asia and, as revealed at the IPBC Asia in Singapore in November, they are generally not finding the going easy. However, there are two stand-outs that to an extent at least seem to be bucking the trend. Korea’s Intellectual Discovery, which enjoys backing from private industry and the country’s government, is busy building a portfolio which currently boasts around 4,000 domestic and foreign patents. With a war chest of $250 million, which is set to get bigger, the firm is already offering defensive aggregation and licensing services. In Europe, the €100 million France Brevets is a smaller, tighter operation that in 2013 began to assert some of the patents it manages. Many are watching how these funds progress; some in order to emulate them, but others for what could turn out to be less benign reasons.
Erich Spangenberg – It has been a red letter year for the owner and CEO of IP Navigation Group. Data released by RPX Corp in 2013 indicated that the NPE Erich Spangenberg founded in the early 2000s is the most litigious in the United States; but more than that it was the year in which he clearly decided he was going to go out and talk to the world about the IPNav business model, why he supports at least some reform of the US patent litigation system, the reasons he likes asserting patents in Europe so much and a whole lot more besides. He also revealed himself to be a highly creative thinker and someone who can go to court and win. Those operating in the IP market all too often fail to engage with the wider world and are reluctant to explain how and why everything functions as it does. You may not agree with him – or like what he does – but there is no doubting that Spangenberg talks his mind. Oh, and IPNav is extremely good at what it does and will continue to be so whatever Congress ends up deciding to do about “trolls”.
John Veschi – Named as one of our IP personalities of the year for 2011 because of the work he did in the run-up to the Nortel auction, Veschi is back again for 2013 as a result of the activities of Rockstar, the NPE he runs that was created by five of the six successful bidders in that sale. This year, Veschi and his team began to generate revenue from some of the 4,000 patents they are responsible for monetising, when two deals with Spherix – one in the summer and one right at the end of the year - were finalised. But the really big news came in the autumn when Rockstar launched infringement actions against Google and a number of prominent Android manufacturers. Accused in many quarters of effectively running a front operation for the five companies that own shares in Rockstar – Apple, BlackBerry, Ericsson, Microsoft and Sony – those who know Veschi will confirm he is anything but a Yes man. He told IAM that not only are claims that he is at the beck and call of the owners wide of the mark, they are also “slightly insulting”. But, no doubt, he will live with them if Rockstar begins to make the big licensing money that Veschi believes is due to it from a whole host of infringing entities.
Finally, it would be remiss of this blog not to mention one other event that took place in 2013: the untimely death of Paul Ryan, the former CEO of Acacia, just a few short months after he retired from the firm he had helped to build into one of the world’s biggest and most successful NPEs. A man of true foresight and no little determination, Ryan was a pioneer whose faith in the potential of IP as an asset class was finally and deservedly rewarded. There are many operating in today’s IP marketplace who owe much to Ryan’s tenacity and wisdom. At the beginning of a new year, we on IAM raise a glass to a great man who will be sorely missed by colleagues, friends and, most of all, by his family. We know that there are many others across the world that will join us. Cheers Paul; and thank-you!