September 20, 2018
IP Recap Archive
News came out recently that Google has conducted their first ever sale of patents on the brokered patent market. This was the sale of some 207 assets in total, which also includes the huge sum of 138 US patents in a single transaction, giving Google the crown as the biggest seller of US patents this year. The patents sold were lithium-ion related, originating from the Motorola Mobility portfolio and were bought by China-based battery company Amperex Technology.
Why it Matters
Google going down the traditional route for patent sales and using the brokered patent market does come as a surprise as they have a record of trying to be innovative in patent transactions. They did the innovative Patent Purchase Program (PPP) in 2015, where prospective patent sellers had to tell Google the patent and the price expectation with no negotiation given on price, meaning that sellers had to be realistic. They were also part of the consortium looking to acquire via the IP3 Purchase Program, similar to PPP only the patents go to a group of companies. They also have portfolios up for sale on IAM Market, which is why it comes as such a surprise to see them going down the traditional route of selling patents via brokers.
AI systems are gradually becoming more commonplace, with AI-powered virtual assistants coming into homes, cars and more, as well as less consumer-facing applications such as Deepmind beating the “go” champion. The recent rapid development of AI has resulted in something of an arms race in patent filings. Visual Capitalist recently published a visualisation of patent activity and acquisitions in AI, in which Google and Microsoft are very far ahead of their peers on patent count. Of particular interest is the acquisition timeline, which shows just how busy Google and Apple have been in buying up AI-tech-rich companies.
Why It Matters
AI startup acquisitions are happening at a rapidly increasing rate, which goes hand-in-hand with the complexity of AI systems (we touched on this in our 2017 report on AI patent trends). Clearly, developing these takes a long time and there is a talent gap, so taking AI tech onboard via an acquisition allows the tech giants to adopt the tech and bring in the talent without developing it itself, and is proving to be a strong tool for growth. Indeed, Siri can be traced back to SRI International, who were acquired by Apple in 2010, and Alexa’s origins are linked to Amazon’s acquisition of Evi Technologies in 2012. This acquisition trend means that now could be the best time to be an AI startup.
Recently, the industry trend for cars has shown an increase in connectivity. As we move from fully user-operated, traditional cars, to those with assisted driving features, and gradually shift to fully autonomous vehicles, M2M/V2X messaging and communications will become increasingly important. However, much of the connectivity tech needed to facilitate this lies in the realm of cellular technology, which is unlikely to be owned by players in the Automotive industry. Using existing communications standards seems like the obvious port of call, but with that comes navigating the world of Standard Essential Patents, and the all-important question of who judges whether a patent is standards essential? Volvo VP and global chief IP Counsel and U-Blox General counsel and head of IP propose in IAM that the EPO is the ideal body to rule on this.
Why it Matters
The authors outline many benefits, with the EPO’s neutrality, non-litigious nature, and applicability of decisions to courts making it a very attractive proposition. There are hurdles to be cleared for this to become practice though, such as amending the European Patent Convention and Standard Setting Organisations needing to opt in. However, given the recent report showing how Auto firms are subject to a lot of NPE litigation at present, which we discussed in the last IP Recap, there should be some appetite for any measure that could simplify SEPs for automotive players and reduce the litigation risk from the patent owners.