January 26, 2017
When reading the news after the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), it is clear that AI is coming to the mainstream in a big way, with Microsoft buying up an AI startup, Baidu hiring an AI expert as their COO and Amazon’s Alexa seeming to win the battle of the AI voice control platforms. As a result, artificial intelligence seems to be springing up in an increasing number of places, and if Ford’s example is anything to go by then Alexa could be set loose into a vast array of new places, with the US automaker planning to put Alexa in cars this year.
Ford has proven to be a major innovator in recent years and has recorded a record number of patent filings in 2016 to go with their increased R&D expenditure. Other manufacturers will likely follow suit as they won’t want to get left behind, meaning that we could end up with Siri, Alexa, Cortana or google assistant riding with us in our cars.
Why it Matters
AI has been a staple of science fiction, but it looks like 2017 could be the year it really breaks through into the mainstream. Cars make a lot of sense as a place to put an AI-powered virtual assistant (as was demonstrated to us via KITT in Night Rider) as users want to minimize usage of their hands and minds. Could cars be where AI really begins to go places?
Reports from numerous sources all point at the same thing for 2016, and that is that litigation in the US is on the decline. Lex Machina reported a 22% drop, and Unified Patents found a 25% decline on 2015’s levels. As we reported at the time, the end of 2015 saw a flurry of case filings prior to the removal of “Form 18”, which was used to account for the slow start to 2016, but it would appear that the year as a whole was somewhat slow. Interestingly, RPX found that while NPEs still dominate the patent litigation landscape (they were responsible for over 55% of new case filings), there was a sharp decline in the number of cases they filed against companies with revenues in excess of $50B, which could be a sign that veterans of NPE infringement accusations have successfully deterred future approaches, and that NPEs are seeking smaller, less experienced targets instead.
Why it matters
As patent litigation sees a decline in the US, we also see many companies branching out and enforcing their patents in other major jurisdictions, as well as new changes on the horizon such as the Unitary Patent in Europe. Additionally, seeing NPEs seeking out smaller targets could mean that all companies that have avoided NPE issues to date could have demand letters from NPEs in their letterbox soon and will need to ensure they are prepared.
Fortress Investments is a giant in the financial world, with £70B worth of assets under their management. They have a background of investing in IP companies via their “Drawbridge Real Assets Fund”, and aren’t afraid of dealing with NPEs. In 2007, IPCom was formed using funding from Fortress, who then bought a set of patents from Bosch and successfully brought claims against Nokia. Fortress also funded Marathon patent group in 2015, and loaned $10M to Inventergy in 2014 as well as an additional $1M via stock sales, meaning that Fortress owned a portion of the company. It would seem that Inventergy struggled to get the necessary levels of monetisation revenues though, with the two companies restructuring their agreement many times since their initial starting point. Recently, the restructuring reached a significant point, with Fortress taking the reins for patent monetisation. This effectively means that Fortress is the new NPE on the block, with plans for aggressive monetisation.
Why it Matters
The press release claims that the patents are relevant to markets worth over $200B a year. An aggressive monetisation strategy could see them close many deals, as was the case for IPCom and their immediate successes with Fortress’ backing, and companies in the telco space will need to watch out for imminent moves from this well-funded NPE threat.