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Nortel sale is biggest in booming intellectual property market
|28 июня 2011|
Technology heavyweights will throw down Monday for the formidable patent portfolio of Nortel Networks Corp., vying to stock up their arsenals for raging legal battles over smartphones, Web advertising and whatever comes next in the multitrillion-dollar technology wars.Stuffed with 6,000 patents and patent applications, the intellectual property treasure chest of the liquidating telecommunications company could ward off hundreds of millions of dollars worth of patent infringement lawsuits and open the doors to billions of dollars worth of sales of devices and technology. Creditors, needless to say, are looking for much more than the $900 million opening offer that Google Inc. threw on the table.
Remarkable for its size and notoriety, the Nortel patent auction is part of a steady and growing stream of patent sales in a market that has been flooded with activity in recent years, one that has billions of dollars of capital ready to do deals.
"Since the market took off in the last eight years or so, intellectual property went from being an unused asset in the corner to a prime financial asset that can be traded," said Feisal Mosleh, vice president for acquisitions at Intellectual Ventures.
Founded by former Microsoft Corp. chief strategist Nathan Myhrvold, Intellectual Ventures is believed to be the biggest buyer of patents in a field that includes RPX Corp., Acacia Research Corp. and Allied Security Trust, a private company owned by members including Hewlett-Packard Co., Ericsson and Intel Corp.
At a recent conference, a company representative said Intellectual Ventures had $5 billion in deals and funding commitments in what Mosleh called the "invention capital market."
It's a market that barely existed a decade ago, but one that is growing at the rate of about 25% each year, Mosleh estimates."There is no shortage of capital for the right invention. It's one of the most differentiating aspects of business today."
Known for its aggressive pursuit of technology patents, Intellectual Ventures is "the number one acquisition group in the world," working through a network of contacts, he said."We will go after any good invention right," Mosleh said."We move quickly and we have a powerful valuation methodology."
ICAP Plc, an interdealer broker in the wholesale markets in interest rates, credit, commodities, foreign exchange, emerging markets, equities and equity derivatives, launched a brokerage just for patents. It's booming, handling hundreds of deals each year and fielding offers to handle thousands, said Dean Becker, chief executive of ICAP Patent Brokerage.
"There is a very active and thriving market among companies that desire to raise money in a non-dilutive fashion for an off-balance-sheet asset," Becker said.
Sometimes sellers are distressed, sometimes they're just changing strategic direction. If lack of money or lack of interest means a company has no use for a patent, a sale means cash. If the seller needs patent rights to continue producing a product, it can get a license back as part of the deal, he said.
"We've gotten companies tens of millions of dollars in the last few months alone," Becker said.
The recovery of the U.S. economy over the last 24 months, coupled with the wariness of traditional lenders about any asset other than cash, has pushed technology companies to start treating their patent portfolios as financial assets, as well as strategic assets, he said.
"People were and are looking for alternative sources of financing. Your bank will not lend money on your IP, so a lot of companies have come to the realization that it's an opportune time to sell," Becker said.
"Our transaction costs are nominal compared to getting a bank loan that doesn't exist," he said.
Word of Nortel's patent auction started the phones ringing at Lazard Ltd., the company's investment bank. Businesses all over are looking for advice on how to get money out of their intellectual property, said Lazard managing director David Descoteaux.
Big operating companies with lots of intellectual property and "patent-lite" newcomers to the technology industry are looking to buy and sell, along with the nonoperating players, he said.
"Companies can now think about getting value for their IP in ways that they hadn't thought about before," Descoteaux said.
Before the market for patents opened up, the only way to get money out of a patent was to make a product and sell it, license it to someone else who would make the product and sell it, or sue someone who was making and selling an infringing product.
When infringement lawsuit targets are suppliers, customers or venture partners, that gets awkward, Descoteaux said. Then it may be time to sell.
Another Nortel adviser, Global IP Law Group, is building its practice around "people who want to explore patent monetization with litigation as an option, but not necessarily the first option," said David Berten, a former litigator and one of the firm's founders.
For many reasons, companies can find themselves with patents they're not using,"like an empty plant," Berten said. Convincing another company to take a license and pay royalties is a long and expensive proposition."Litigating takes even longer and is more expensive," he said.
A sale is a faster path, but not always an easy one for an asset that has been considered a daunting value proposition, according to Berten.
“Anyone can get comps for real estate. Everyone can calculate what accounts receivable are worth," Berten said."The asset class that may have the most value is the patents, but that's the toughest to understand."
Источник: Total Telecom