Jack Ellis

IP Bridge (IPB) – the company that operates Japan’s sovereign patent fund (SPF) – announced last week that it has signed a drug discovery deal with Kyushu University, indicating that it is aiming beyond straight monetisation activities to fulfil its originally stated objectives of facilitating open innovation and putting Japan’s vast stockpile of dormant intellectual property to work.

Fukuoka-based Kyushu University and IPB will join forces to conduct R&D around “microcapsule technology consisting of silica porous materials” with the aim of developing new drug delivery systems. Notably, the collaboration involves IPB’s SPF subsidiary ‘Godo Kaisha IP Bridge 1 (IP Fund)’. This entity appears to hold all of IPB’s patents, most of which have been acquired from Japanese operating companies in a number of transactions since IPB launched in 2013. Presumably, some of these patents have relevance to the drug discovery technology being developed in tandem with Kyushu University.

As with fellow SPFs Intellectual Discovery and France Brevets, IPB has been broadly perceived as primarily being a patent aggregation and assertion entity. It does appear that all three are linked to patent litigation in the United States; and IPB in particular is currently suing Broadcom, OmniVision and TCL for alleged infringement. But of late the Japanese firm has also been keen to highlight its non-contentious activities.

In one example from early last month, IPB announced that it had struck a deal with Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), an agency under Malaysia’s media and communications ministry that is tasked with promoting the development of the middle-income country’s ICT industry. The memorandum of understanding signed by the two parties will see MDEC and IPB collaborate on IP creation and enable Malaysian high-tech businesses “to leverage… Japan’s vast research and development field for creating innovations in technology as well as entering the Japanese market”.

Another example is IPB’s expansion into adjacent service areas, such as risk management and IP-backed finance. Speaking to IAM for a feature on SPFs in the current issue of the magazine, IPB CEO Shigeharu Yoshii was upbeat on these new offerings, saying: “Our strategies are not only focused on licensing, but also on creating and expanding IP-based businesses by connecting technical seeds with business needs, as well as supporting IP owners with the development of our IP finance business. Recently, we have experienced strong demand for these services, including our new IP financing business.”

The link-up with Kyushu University is another restatement of IPB’s initial founding principle, which was to exploit under-utilised corporate and academic IP assets to boost Japanese industry and derive a better return on the country’s longstanding R&D investments. Broadly speaking, this ‘national economic interest’ element was a driver behind the establishment of IPB’s peers in France and South Korea too, though their progress in this regard is less clear at this stage.

After a number of positive outcomes on the licensing and litigation fronts, France Brevets has seen an overhaul of its executive team, with some suggestion that it may be headed in a different strategic direction focused more closely on out-licensing and sales. Though Intellectual Discovery has been engaged in industry-academic collaborations, IP-backed financings and tech-driven venturing alongside its patent acquisition and monetisation activities for a while longer than its Japanese counterpart, the level of success it has met with in these enterprises largely remains a mystery. And just last week, CEO Kwang-Jun Kim resigned in the face of an apparent budget crisis, hinting at more deep-set problems within the Korean outfit.

Speaking to IAM recently, Kim had indicated that Intellectual Discovery would be losing its state funding to become a fully privately-held business in the near future. Yoshii suggested that IPB would eventually be taking the same route. Transforming into private sector entities could lead to concerns that the original reasons for establishing the SPFs – to support domestic economy through the strategic deployment of patents – might fall by the wayside in the pursuit of licensing and sales returns. But IPB’s recent deals seem to suggest otherwise, in its case at least.