Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Beating NPE Patent Holders At Their Own Game

Electronics Design, Strategy, News (EDN) magazine published an article yesterday, titled "If You Can't Beat Patent Trolls, Join Them," which covers the latest in the manufacturers-vs.-NPE's battles:

Stuck in apparent stalemate on the legislative side, large companies have formed two new organizations—Allied Security Trust (AST) and PatentFreedom LLC—that use market forces rather than laws to ward off trolls. Both entities emerged from discussions among large companies and IP experts, particularly at ThinkFire, an intellectual property advisory firm that counts Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems among its clients. Those two companies as well as others formed AST last year.

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AST, a Delaware statutory trust, was launched in March 2007, but just came out of stealth mode in July . . . The trust buys patents on the open market, grants licenses to its members, and then sells the patents—with those licenses attached—back into the market.

* * *

PatentFreedom, a limited liability company, is a subscription service that provides detailed information on NPEs. As McCurdy sees it, operating companies are at a disadvantage because of the secretive nature of trolls. While NPEs can gather all sorts of information about the large well-known public companies that are their targets, the targets often have very little information on the NPEs

PatentFreedom’s goal is to correct this “asymmetry of information,” said McCurdy. The company had a dozen subscribers as of August and McCurdy expects that number to triple by the end of the year. Annual subscriptions range from $50,000 to $75,000 a year, a drop in the bucket for operating companies. The company also has a lower cost “pay-as-you-go” model for those companies that aren’t frequently targeted by NPEs.

PatentFreedom has identified more than 125 entities with some 800 subsidiaries holding more than 9,000 patents. “And we are confident that there are more than 20,000 US patent families now owned by trolls,” said McCurdy. “We just haven’t found them all yet.”

The article also included this little tidbit:
[N]ot all large companies think patent trolls are threats . . . It simply depends on a given company’s business strategy . . . In fact, some large operating companies even finance trolls and/or use trolls to their own advantage, according to Steve Hoffman, CEO of ThinkFire. Although he won’t name any names, he said he knows of some operating companies that sell their patents to trolls so the trolls can do the dirty work—asserting the patents against competitors without the operating company being involved.
Read the article here (link).

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