IPBC 2014: Unitary Patent, NPEs & IP Market Dynamics

June 25, 2014
IPBC Amsterdam
IPBC 2014 This week marked the annual gathering of some of the greatest minds in intellectual property. The IP Business Congress (IPBC) is a staple in the calendar of many in-house counsel, patent attorneys and IP strategists worldwide. Managing Director, Jon Calvert is a regular face at the event. Recognised as one of the leading international IP strategists by his appointment to the IAM300 for the fourth consecutive year, Jon is always keen to join in the latest key IP debates and network with his peers at this annual event. This year, IPBC took place in Amsterdam; fitting, given that Holland is the home to many leading, innovative technology companies such as TomTom, ASML, NXP Semiconductors and Philips. In fact,Philips’ CEO, Frans Van Houten, was the first CEO of a technology company to have addressed an IPBC audience! Frans emphasised the positive changing dynamics of IP and its importance as a business asset. Most memorably, Van Houten was quoted as saying ‘business strategy without an IP strategy is no strategy’ and this remained a key theme of the event. With Philips the 3rdrd largest patent filer internationally, having filed their first patent in 1905, Van Houten clearly recognises how pivotal IP is to a technology company. He did, however, make it clear that despite his own familiarity and engagement with IP, he did not believe it was sensible to extend visibility into IP matters as far as investors and further that IPshould not be held as an asset on the balance sheet of companies. As the Unitary Patent System edges ever closer to reality, with initial integration currently predicted for the end of 2015, it is no wonder that this was a key topic of IPBC 2014. Although an audience poll suggested that the majority were in favour of the system, a discussion panel raised some concerns: Luc Savage, VP IP & Licensing at Orange, although in favour of the system, raised doubts as to whether using this channel would create the 80% savings that are currently being predicted; whilst Ton Van Hoef, VP & Chief IP Counsel for ASML, suggested there could be conflicts between competition law and IP law, as well as potential language barriers. Non-practicing entities (NPEs) remained a hot topic of debate this year, although panel discussions seemed to reflect a change in attitude in relation to the usual negative connotations: Brian Hinman, CIPO at Philips, put forward the view that without NPEs, the entire IP ecosystem would be significantly impacted; whilst Peter Toto, Senior VP IP at Sony, supported the idea that NPEs have created a secondary market that has allowed improved movement of patent assets between companies. The CIPO panel discussion also raised a ‘Quality vs. Quantity’ debate in regards to a company’s patent portfolio, with some conflicting ideas: Craig Opperman, GC at Naspers, championed ‘Quality’, with the resounding argument that having patents related to your own products is beneficial, but having patents related to your competitors is better. Opperman also believed that some CEOs focus on quantity without foreseeing future costs, whilst Brian Hinman’s rebuttal concluded that while quality matters, it can be equally important to combine this with sufficient quantity, as you cannot with certainty predict which patents will truly be valuable in the future. Separate discussions emerged relating to patent value with differing opinions generated from a US and European perspective: Anthony Hayes, CEO at US-based Spherix, believed that market uncertainty is driving down patent value and that US licensing is becoming more challenging; whilst Wolfgang Maennel, Senior Partner at Munich Innovation Group, believed prices in Europe have not changed in the last 18 months and that Asian entities are maintaining dynamics in the IP marketplace. This view was echoed by Dan McCurdy (now at RPX, formerly of Allied Security Trust) and Micky Minhas from Microsoft who confirmed patent prices in the transactions market for good quality patents have not really changed in recent times. With a wealth of expertise attending IPBC each year, it is no wonder that it is the source of such intense debate, providing an array of informed opinions on some of the key topics affecting the world of IP today. Outside of the panels, peer discussions and networking sessions provided much more colour and insight, highlighting that the need to obtain independent commercial advice on IP matters has never been more critical.  

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