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Intellectual property services firm Thinkfire, founded by former Lucent IP business chief Dan McCurdy (with the help of, among others, Marshall Phelps – before he went off to join Microsoft), has announced that it is establishing a new unit specifically designed to help inventors, universities and small businesses leverage their patent assets. To be known as the Leveraged Transactions Group, this new unit will seek to identify potentially valuable rights and then help owners extract maximum value from then through either licensing or sale.
This is an interesting departure for Thinkfire which, up to now, has tended to work with larger organisations. Undoubtedly, however, the idea is a good one. Most small businesses do not have time to think about commercialising their IP unless it is already an integral part of strategy – there are just too many other things to do. Alternatively, companies may realise they own something valuable, but do not have the wherewithal to do anything about it. Negotiating with big business can be a daunting, not to say time consuming and expensive, affair. For what I imagine would be a healthy cut of any final deal, Thinkfire certainly has the expertise and the contacts to make the process a whole lot easier.
What is also certain is that Thinkfire will choose the organisations it decides to work with very carefully. In a market where it has few competitors, the company has the luxury of knowing it does not have to take too many risks. No doubt, the criteria on which it bases decisions will not be that dissimilar to the credo McCurdy outlined when writing for IAM back in September 2003:
Licensing strength is derived from the finest inventions. Mediocre technology results in mediocre licensing programmes, at best. But when the formula is right, licensing royalties fuel a (hopefully) never-ending cycle of innovation whereby those who benefit from the best inventions help fund future invention. It is an honourable and socially admirable result. No clever licensing programme, no methodology and no team of experts can exploit a patent portfolio that does not make a fundamental contribution to the art at which it is directed.
As a patent attorney who deals with the business of innovation daily, I applaud Thinkfire's intelligent approach to monetizing patent property. There is way too much negative media towards companies who are sophisticated enough to understand the real issues in the patent marketplace and are able to provide a real benefit. Identifying and monetizing valuable IP in a patent portfolio is a skill that not even the largest technology companies with significant resources can do well. Smaller companies are further handicapped and lack the manpower and knowledge to perform the needed due diligence of their own patent portfolios to identify the gems. Without such a review, valuable patents simply sit and decay.
Thinkfire's proposal to provide such a service to small companies will enable those companies to reap earned rewards from their contribution to technology, and will result in the those same companies continuing to invent and benefit society - the way the patent system is supposed to work.
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www.wolfblock.comSteven Rubin, WolfBlock on 29 Mar 2007