Patents are one of the central topics at the spring meeting of the Licensing Executives Society of the U.S.A. and Canada, taking place in downtown Seattle this week. Many of the executives are heavily involved in patent licensing, acquisitions and sales. When you get them together, they talk about the patent market in much the same way that homeowners might discuss the latest trends in real estate.
So how is the market doing?
To the casual observer it might seem like things have cooled off since the frenzy of 2012, which was exemplified by deals such as Microsoft’s $1 billion purchase of AOL patents and subsequent resale of a portion of that portfolio to Facebook. Matt Penarczyk, who was involved in those high-profile transactions as Microsoft associate general counsel, acknowledged that it might seem like 2013 has been tame by comparison.
“One year ago today, we were unquestionably in a white hot market as it relates to patent acquisitions,” he said. “This was a time when we were seeing daily headlines of well-chronicled and highly visible deals. I remember last April, spending insane hours at the office, working on AOL, working on Facebook, seeing those projects through to completion, hearing about other teams and other colleagues at other firms in the industry working on similar matters. Fast forward a year … as we look at what’s happened in 2013, we are not seeing the headline-driven deals.”
But he also noted that headlines aren’t the only sign of activity in the market. Moderating a panel about the secondary patent market he asked the panelists for their perspective.
So has the market actually cooled off? Are people buying and selling fewer patents these days? Not really, according to executives with Intellectual Ventures and IBM who spoke at the event.
Jeremy Salesin, vice president of acquisitions at Intellectual Ventures, said he expects 2013 to be another “banner year.” He added later, I do think we’ll see acceleration and improving volume as we get later into 2013,” he said. “We’re seeing volumes increase.”
Michele Baumgartner-Bonanno, director of IP strategy at IBM, said she had a similar view from the “sell side” of the patent market.
“The state of the secondary market has been pretty consistent,” she said. “Some of the glitzy headlines that we’ve seen are very unique deals. They generate a lot of focus in the C-suite when you see them in the newspaper. We’re constantly doing deals from small to medium sized. A lot of consistent deals in the market.” Larger deals, she said, have a unique set of circumstances and take “an extraordinary amount of effort.”
Other highlights from the first day of the included former Microsoft executive Brian Arbogast talking about his perspective on intellectual property as an angel investor. One of his pieces of advice to startups: Don’t forget to focus on protecting trade secrets — the secret sauce that makes a product or service special — not just on filing for patents.
By the way, Arbogast started a new role this week as director of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Program for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Note: I’m speaking at the event today, offering GeekWire’s perspective on trends in the Pacific Northwest tech market.