Joff Wild

The IPBC Global 2014 has now come to its end. It’s been another great event. IAM reporters Jack Ellis, Richard Lloyd and Joff Wild reflect on some of the issues to have emerged on the final day of discussion and debate.

NPEs Heart Germany - AIPLA Director Todd Dickinson led a lively opening plenary session on the new patent regime that Europe will be getting some time in the next few years. Dickinson asked for a show of hands from the audience to gauge enthusiasm for the unitary patent and unified patent court (UPC) system and was surprised by what was almost unanimous support. The four panellists – Donna Rankin-Parobek, IP director at Carestream Health; Ton van Hoef, VP of IP at SML; Luc Savage, director of IP and licensing at Orange; and Daniel Papst, MD of Papst Licensing – were all broadly in favour too. They agreed that under the new regime the value of IP is likely to increase – both from a strategic perspective and also financially. Managements would find it easier to grasp the importance of one-stop protection in a market of 500 million, they stated; while the size of the market will also boost the monetary value of quality patents covering it. There was some discussion of the potential for rogue divisional courts in far away places, presided over by inexperienced judges, becoming favoured venues from plaintiffs seeking to game things in certain ways, but such worries were largely dismissed - there are protections built into the system so that technical and judicial expertise will always be on call. Of more concern, claimed one member of the audience who used to manage HTC’s (defensive) litigation programme in Europe, is Germany. This is a country which is looking to create four divisions, each one of which will be home to German judges who are used to bifurcation and the virtually automatic issuance of injunctions to prevailing plaintiffs. In the future, though, instead of their decisions just covering Germany, they will cover the whole of Europe. NPEs - which are already beginning to explore the country's potential as a litigation venue - will flock there, the delegate predicted. JW

World Cup watch – While we would like to say that we had some influence on the Netherland’s excellent form in the World Cup to show our appreciation for Philips’ support of the IPBC and, in particular, for our opening keynote speaker, the company's CEO Frans van Houten, we should point out that we have not had a hand in the Oranje’s run. That continued last night as the Dutch won 2-0 against Chile to top their group. Ever prepared, we had a big screen set up for the IP Hall of Fame gala dinner opening drinks reception so that our Dutch delegates could keep track of the action. When the Netherlands scored the opening goal the roar told us that they had been watching. Talking IP and drinking champagne while keeping a crafty eye on the football is obviously a lesser-known, but much practised, Dutch skill.  RL

Generosity – There has been much talk of last night’s dinner today and, in particular, of the acceptance speeches made by the four IP Hall of Fame inductees who joined us at the Krasnopolsky Hotel – Daniel Bereskin, Heinz Goddar, Gary Griswold and Thierry Sueur (the fifth inductee, Mark Lemley, was not able to make it). Their generosity of spirit and clear passion for IP shone through in their words; perhaps revealing the characteristics which have allowed them to make the mark they have. Not everyone – even the most successful of people – possesses such personality traits. As each IP Hall of Fame Gala Dinner shows, perhaps IP has had more than its fair share of such individuals. JW

Love ‘em or hate ‘em? – The IPBC always brings together a wide array of characters from operating companies, NPEs and various service providers. As one person put it to me today, the IPBC can be something of a surreal experience: “I see my friends over here, my enemies over there, and someone trying to sell me something on the other side of the room standing next to someone we owe money to!” For a large number of operating companies throughout the world defending against NPE assertions is becoming a time consuming task. But despite the ire that the acronym arouses in some, it is increasingly clear with each passing year that for most operating companies which send representatives to the IPBC overall NPEs have a net positive impact on the IP marketplace. One chief IP officer at a large high-tech operating company told me that NPE litigation causes him no end of headaches; but on the other hand, he said: “These are the people that are creating a market in IP rights. They are buying, selling and licensing them, using them to secure finance and investing in them. All of these things put a monetary value on IP, which is something that many of us in the manufacturing world want to happen. NPEs are our enemies, but they are also helping us in the longer term.” JE

AK47s – That said … in what was, at times, one of the most provocative sessions of the conference this year, a panel of six corporate IP leaders - moderated by David Brown of Thomson Reuters - came together to provide some insight into the challenges that they face. By far the liveliest comment came from Craig Opperman, General Counsel (and the former CIPO) of media company Naspers. He took aim at the mass filing practices of many large companies leading to what he described as a ‘spray and play strategy’ in terms of portfolio construction – essentially companies stockpiling large numbers of patents without fully thought-through reasons for doing so. The problem, he claimed, is that the costs of building and managing this kind of portfolio can lead to pressure to sell IP further down the line. Given that some of the rights divested are likely to end up in the hands of litigious NPEs, he equated that scenario to making a lot of AK47s and putting them out on the street. “I hate mass filing programmes with a passion,” he said. Opperman’s fellow panellists did not take that lying down, with Brian Hinman of Philips pointing out that the size of a company’s patent holding often depends on how big a business it is and how many different sectors it is exposed to. It also enables a company to hedge its bets so that it has protection in industry sectors which may not be significant now, but which could be major business drivers in 10 years. RL

Double whammy – If you are looking to acquire patents there are still plenty of them out there for sale, according to general IPBC 2014 wisdom.  And the good news is that, by and large, the quality of what is on offer is inching upwards while prices remain below their peak (except at the very top end, where sellers are in a much stronger position). Because of the supply, those who are looking to divest need to work harder: this means compiling detailed claims charts, providing evidence of use and more besides. That’s a double whammy when you think about it - having to spend more in time and money to sell into what is largely a buyers’ market. And one more thing: the days when only US patents were of interest are ending. Worldwide packages - with coverage in Europe (Germany) and China – are of growing interest. That said, though, a package without a US element is unlikely to inspire a bidding war. Despite recent developments, there is still plenty of money to be made in – or to fear about – the American patent litigation system. JW

SCOTUS and software patents – Last Thursday’s decision of the US Supreme Court in Alice Corp v CLS Bank seems to be a favourite icebreaker during the networking breaks. Some say that the case moves the United States closer to the European line (where software patents are, of course, not allowed ‘as such’). Others disagree, arguing that SCOTUS’ judgment is far from being a game-changer and that it really doesn’t do that much at all in terms of changing the status quo. What most agree on is that we will have to wait for quite some time for lower US courts to begin to try to interpret what SCOTUS has said to see what the longer term effects on software patentability may be. JE

Making contact - One of the big attractions of the IPBC remains the excellent networking opportunities. The IAM blog never misses an opportunity to connect with senior members of the IP community, so on Tuesday morning I sat down for breakfast with Gerald Holtzman, president of Personalized Media Communications, a business which has generated $300 million in licensing revenues, with $225 million coming since 2011. Having joined PMC in the mid-90s (previously he was a lawyer in private practice), Holtzman has clear views on the state of the IP market. He rejects the most commonly accepted monikers such as NPE, PAE and troll – quite simply, he says, he’s a patent owner. Although he despairs of many of the challenges that rights holders face in trying to monetise their assets, he was supportive of the recent decisions handed down by the US Supreme Court and the rise of inter partes reviews. “I want the world to be rid of bad patents,” he insisted. As he then turned his attention to networking for the rest of the day, he would probably have found many who agree. Serious players of whatever kind hate bad patents. RL

Talent – There’s little doubt that slowly but surely IP is moving up the list of corporate priorities. Most companies do not have CEOs who can talk IP like Philips’ Frans van Houten, but there is still a realisation that it might be a pretty important subject and one that demands close attention. With that comes the need to recruit and retain the best IP talent. The panel in this afternoon’s session “Diving into the talent pool” – Robertha Hoglund of Elkem; Beatrix de Russe of Technicolor; Chris Adamson of Adamson & Partners; Bo Heiden of the Centre of IP; and IPXI’s Ian McClure – along with an engaged audience debated the best ways to do this. Money, it was agreed, is not the only motivator. The best people want recognition of the job they do, a clear career path and plenty of variety. Take your most talented staff out of their offices and put them on the road, said de Russe; they should be meeting people, getting involved in discussions and doing interesting things – no-one wants to be cooped up in a windowless room eight hours a day. To maximise the talent pool, Heiden noted, IP has to do a much better job of selling itself. How many people realise what variety it offers, or that you do not need to be a lawyer to get involved? And, he said, IP people also need to do a much better job of selling themselves. If they do not show the value they create for companies, those closer to the money – sales people, marketers and the like – will get all the credit (the recognition and the cash). Be bold IP professionals, for you are value-creating superstars. It’s time to tell the world. JW

They’re coming home – Whatever the outcome of tonight’s World Cup game against Costa Rica, the plain fact is that England’s footballers will be flying back to London over the coming days (French air traffic controllers permitting), having already been dumped out of the competition. The IAM team will also be landing back in London soon (French air traffic controllers permitting) – though we are likely to be in higher spirits than our tragic footballing heroes after what has been another enriching, insightful and successful IPBC Global. JE

Thank you – It’s the buzz the delegates create, the insights the speakers share, the support the sponsors provide that makes a successful IPBC. And Amsterdam 2014 has been one of those with bells on. Everyone at IAM is truly grateful to all of you who joined us in this beautiful city for a fantastic three days, as well as those who followed proceedings via this blog and Twitter (a special shout-out to all those who did send Tweets from the conference via #IPBC14 - you did a great job). We wish you a safe and uneventful journey home (French air traffic controllers permitting). We’ll see you in Shanghai in December for IPBC Asia 2014 and/or in San Francisco in June 2015 for next Global event. Now, it’s time for a cold beer … JW