The break is over and it’s time for us to reveal our IP personalities of 2013. As ever with this list, it’s important to understand that we have a very broad definition of what a “personality” can be. You don’t have to be a person, or even a single identifiable entity; instead, you can be whatever we want: an individual, a business, a country, a concept and so on. And we have no set criteria for those that are named – basically, it’s all about whom and what caught our eye during 2013. We actually had a long-list of 20, but have whittled that down to 10. It’s all in alphabetical order and today we reveal the first five names and why they were chosen. The other five will be named tomorrow. Happy New Year!
IP Personalities of 2013, part one …
Conversant (MOSAID) – It’s been a big two and a bit years for the Ottawa-based NPE formerly known as MOSAID. Towards the end of 2011 it fought off an attempted acquisition by WiLAN and then got bought by private equity firm Sterling Partners, while at the same negotiating a high-profile privateering-style deal with Nokia and Microsoft. After a relatively quiet 2012, things got very busy again in 2013. In September, the Conversant rebranding was announced, along with the news that the patent portfolio the firm manages had doubled in size as a result of agreements with unnamed tech companies based in Asia and the US. This was followed by in-depth discussions about a potential hook-up with Qimonda that could see Conversant take over the running of the German company’s portfolio. That’s all impressive stuff; but Conversant’s place in our list was confirmed following the publication of its guidelines for ethical patent licensing – a wholly constructive and potentially very important contribution to the on-going debate about PAEs/NPEs/trolls.
Bob Goodlatte – Although there have been any number of bills put before US lawmakers since January 2012 designed to deal with what are perceived to be the problems caused by so-called patent trolls, it was the Innovation Act 2013 – tabled by Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia – which won bipartisan approval from the House of Representatives and now looks set to become the foundation for a new statute. The proposed legislation is deeply flawed and will probably end up boosting many serious NPEs and PAEs, but whether you agree with him or not, Goodlatte did the business. Hopefully, the Senate will take its time in order to deal with some of the more dangerous aspects of what the House OKed.
Horacio Gutierrez – It’s hard to imagine that there is a company which runs a tighter, more effective IP operation than Microsoft. As the man in charge, Horacio Gutierrez deserves unstinting praise for the leadership he has shown – not only from all those in IP that believe in the importance of world class corporate IP departments, but also from his company’s C-suite. From working on a huge IP-based transaction, to showing leadership in patent ownership transparency – not to mention producing huge licensing revenues in part, at least, because of an on-going commitment to patent quality – Gutierrez and his team created real and lasting value for Microsoft and its shareholders throughout the whole of 2013. They will no doubt do the same in 2014.
Anthony Hayes – He began 2013 announcing that he would be managing a $30 million patent investment fund. But Anthony Hayes did not end 2013 doing that. Instead, he is now in charge of NPE Spherix which, on 31st December outlined the details of its purchase of 101 patents from another NPE, Rockstar, in a deal that involved the issuance of $60 million worth of Spherix securities (this is the second deal with Rockstar that Spherix did in 2013; the first took place in July and was almost immediately followed by assertions VTech and Uniden). Hayes took over as CEO and President of Spherix following the completion of its purchase of North South Holdings in September and has been kept very busy ever since. Away from deal-making and litigation – though not unconnected to them – Hayes oversaw the creation of a Technology Advisory Board “to help provide compensation to inventors of patent portfolios acquired by Spherix”. It was a very smart move.
Hon Hai – As Foxconn, Hon Hai is best known as the manufacturer of a number of high-end mobile communication devices for companies such as Apple and BlackBerry; but there is a lot more to its business than that. Over recent years, the Taiwanese company has been building a formidable patent portfolio of its own as it seeks to develop a wider range of original product offerings. In 2013, the positive benefits that this strategy is beginning to yield became apparent. In the US Patent 100 compiled by MDB Capital and published by IAM in February, Hon Hai was identified as one of 14 companies owning “the largest, fastest-growing and most industry-recognised patent portfolios in the US”; the only other Asian business in the list was Sony. Further validation of the strength of Hon Hai’s portfolio came in August 2013 with the announcement that it had sold a set of display patents to Google. It was the kind of deal to make anyone active in the IP market take notice: Asian companies, especially outside Japan, are not known for their patent sales; and Google, which these days has a pretty sophisticated acquisition programme, would not buy on a whim. Hon Hai has become a player.