Of the products presented at Demo 2013 this week, one in particular hit a nerve for me. Our intellectual property system (IP) is broken; people who need access to patents often can't get to them, and the market is awash with patent trolls stealing from legitimate companies that struggle for success. While there's a lot of pressure to fix the systems that make this kind of banditry legal, it will likely have to wait for an administration that actually understands the issue.
So it was with some interest that I watched a presentation by a small company called idealAsset. Its product, idealAsset Match, is basically a dating service for folks who want to sell, buy or license intellectual property. As patent trolls figure out that their business model will eventually implode, they are looking at tools such as idealAsset Match to help them transition from being a hated troll to a beloved white knight.
Looking for IP in All the Right Places
IdealAsset scans internal (with permission) and external databases for intellectual property (mostly patents) available for sale or license and uses a semantic engine to index and organize the IP. Then — much like a dating site — it captures the interests of those looking for patents and creates a match. IdealAsset then provides contact information for firms looking to buy a particularly type of asset to those who are selling it, and vice versa, under a granular scale organized by closeness of match. This lets both sides focus their sales and purchase efforts more on the acquisition process and less on the location process.
The simple user interface not only provides information on the asset and who to talk to on both sides of the potential acquisition but also captures and reports related information on the companies involved. This information may include recent similar acquisitions, related mergers or news about the firm's products, services or executive changes. This way, both parties enter the transaction process with a deep knowledge of the asset and the kind of firm they are doing business with. This could be of interest if, for instance, two firm are about to become competitors — which might reflect on the contract or whether the transaction should be undertaken in the first place.
Turning Trolls Into Legitimate Patent Brokers
The fascinating back story here is the interest by existing patent trolls, who apparently are using this tool to identify areas where development is happening (think schools), then offer to pay for and execute the patent process in exchange for a license that lets them sell or license, taking a share of the revenue that results. If they can't find a market in an agreed time, the license expires, leaving the originating organization with a wholly owned patent.
This changes patent trolls into proactive patent brokers. Rather than hiding, they now become a valuable asset in the effort to monetize intellectual property to those who create it. This could help turn patent trolls into potential white knights. Their past experiences make them ideal partners when it comes to protecting IP — and, given these firms' tendency to be heavily staffed with very specialized IP attorneys, they can be a huge defensive resource, too.
Asset Matchmaking a Transformational Use of Analytics
Matchmaking is an obvious use of data analytics, and using analytics to match buyers with sellers isn't at all uncommon. However, using it to match IP sellers and buyers, and also to provide a tool that could remake patent trolls into white knights is a unique application that a large number of firms could find very lucrative.
Commentary: Forget Big Data, the Value Is in 'Big Answers'
Until we can sort what is clearly a horrid IP environment, a product such as IdealAsset Match could provide some intermediate relief and turn underutilized IP assets into much-needed cash.
Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security. Currently, Enderle writes on emerging technology, security and Linux for a variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.