By Dennis Crouch
The world of patent deals and monetization schemes are difficult to report on because the details of most deals (and often all aspects of the deals) are kept secretly buried under binding confidentiality clauses. Patrick Anderson recently wrote about US Patent 6,081,835 and its unique ownership setup. The information on the patent ownership is now public through an interesting decision by Judge Ellis. Download SuffolkTech.EllisDecision. The patent is being asserted by Suffolk Tech against Google, and Google challenged Suffolk's standing to sue - claiming that the company did not hold complete rights to the patent. With that defense in mind, Judge Ellis explored the ownership structure.
It turns out that the patent was originally owned by British Telecom based upon an underlying UK invention. BT transferred its ownership interest to IPValue who immediately transferred rights to Suffolk Tech as part of the deal. It was already known that IPValue is a joint venture of Goldman Sachs, General Atlantic Partners and Boston Consulting Group.
In the invest-to-sue market, patent buyers rarely pay cash. Rather, in these deals the majority of compensation to the seller is at the back-end -- after the purchaser has successfully licensed the patent rights. In this case, BT sold the patent (transferring title), but and received as compensation a contract right to "50% of the Adjusted Gross Proceeds derived from exploitation of the '835 Patent" with the additional caveat that IPValue's sale of the patent (other than to Suffolk) within one-year of the BT-IPValue deal would result in 90% of the proceeds going to BT. The contract also includes restrictions on fees to contingency counsel; a $10 buy-back clause if IPValue fails to bring in sufficient revenue; and a non-exclusive license-back to BT.
On the standing point, Judge Ellis found that the deal left Suffolk Tech with title, core rights to practice and enforce the patent, and "all other substantial rights" in the patent. "As a result of the assignments, BT retained only a non-exclusive license to practice the patent and the right to share in revenue from the exploitation of the patent." As such, Suffolk Tech can properly assert the patent without joining BT or IPValue as co-plaintiffs.
Joff Wild at iam has some interesting thoughts on the case as well:
It turns out that BT has decided that it does not want to get its hands dirty directly, so like countless others before it (including [Intellectual Ventures]) it has turned to a third party to do the heavy lifting. That is what the privateer model is all about. It is being used, in one way or another, increasingly frequently by operating companies in the US, which for whatever reason decide they would prefer not to become involved in patent monetisation programmes that may involve aggressive assertion. NPEs that I can think of off the top of my head which have had close relationships with operating companies at some time or another include: Rockstar, RoundRock, Acacia, MOSAID, Intellectual Ventures, Sisvel and IPCom. No doubt readers of this blog can think of many more. From where I sit it is a perfectly legitimate activity, aimed as it is at maximising the value of key corporate assets – which is exactly what companies are supposed to do. At least some, however, are a little coy about their arrangements; while it is becoming increasingly clear that US antitrust authorities, and perhaps those in Europe too, are going to take a much closer look at the whole privateer model.
The last line of Joff's statement will continue to raise interest in upcoming years.