Joff Wild

With the Christmas and New Year festivities now done and dusted, it’s time to crank up the juice and to get the IAM blog fully rocking and rolling once more. And what better way to do it than by revealing our IP personalities of 2014?

As always, it’s important to understand that we define a “personality” in very broad terms. You don’t have to be a human being or even a single identifiable entity to qualify - basically it encompasses whatever we want it to encompass and it’s all about whom and what caught our eye during the year.

For the 2014 list, myself and Richard Lloyd, our North America editor, have identified 12 personalities – most real people, but not all. We’ll be naming them in alphabetical order: the first six today, the others tomorrow. So with all of that out of the way, here goes with Part One:

Erich Andersen, Microsoft

He began the year as leader of the business development & evangelism team inside Microsoft’s legal and corporate affairs department, but Erich Andersen ended 2014 as global head of the company’s global IP group having taken over from Horacio Gutierrez at the start of July. That’s quite a gig to inherit – high-profile and profoundly important to Microsoft’s future in so many ways.

Under Gutierrez Microsoft had developed an Android-based licensing programme that now contributes billions of dollars annually to the company’s bottom line. However, with at least 27 companies already signed up to deals and the smartphone wars coming to an end, it may be that part of Andersen’s brief  is to begin to recalibrate the company’s IP operations, perhaps giving greater emphasis to areas away from monetisation. The sale of 4,000 Rockstar patents to RPX just before Christmas – in which Andersen was one of the main protagonists – may indicate that this process is already beginning. One thing is sure, though: with a high-quality portfolio at his disposal and a world class team of operatives, Andersen has plenty of options. (JW)

Ira Blumberg, Lenovo

In what often seemed a moribund patent deals market in 2014 at times it felt like the only buyer in town was Chinese tech giant Lenovo. During the course of the year it announced deals for a 3,800 portfolio from NEC, a portfolio of 21 patent portfolios from Unwired Planet and acquired Motorola Mobility from Google (the search giant retained control of most of the Motorola patents) and IBM’s server business.

The deals were a key part of Lenovo’s push into the smartphone markets in the US and Europe, as the company diversified beyond its core PC and laptop businesses. Ira Blumberg, vice president of IP, played a key role in convincing senior leadership that a strong and large patent portfolio was a crucial part of any expansion of Lenovo’s smartphone business. Combining its deals with a focus on its own internal patenting means that the Chinese company, and Blumberg in particular, should be prominent fixtures in the patent market for some years to come. (RL)      

Doug Croxall, Marathon Patent Group

There are several strong candidates for the title of PIPCO of the year in 2014 – Acacia, InterDigital and Tessera could all make convincing cases. But there’s no doubt that Marathon was the breakout performer. In 12 months the firm’s share price went from around $3 to just under $9; it joined NASDAQ; took control of a number of portfolios from IPNav’s Erich Spangenberg, and started to commercialise a new patent analytics tool developed in-house by IPNav. On top of all that, it acquired a large portfolio of medtech patents, which quickly led to litigation success in Germany, among other places.

Driving these developments was Marathon chairman and CEO Doug Croxall who, through the course of the year, preached a mantra of bringing a balanced, portfolio management approach to the monetisation of patent assets. In the process he steered Marathon away from the kind of binary, typically litigation driven events that have come to define some PIPCOs. A close relationship with IPNav, which became the largest shareholder in Marathon in May, has undoubtedly been one of the key factors behind the firm’s success, but much of the credit must go to Croxall. (RL)

Google

It’s possible that there was some seriously bad patent news for Google during 2014, but it is hard to think what it might have been. True, the failure to get patent reform legislation approved by Congress was a setback – but it was a minor one and, in any case, it is back on the cards for 2015. Elsewhere, things were just dandy. The RPX $900 million Nortel patent purchase at the end of the year – following on from Google’s settlement with the NPE – signalled  the end of the patent smartphone wars the launch of the Android platform had started.  Back in January, of course, Google had sold Motorola to Lenovo while retaining the vast majority of the patents it acquired from the company back in 2011 – all for a net spend that could have been less than $1 billion. Elsewhere, the company killed off its dispute with Apple and signed major cross-licensing deals with Cisco, LG and Samsung; while it was also behind the launch of the License on Transfer (LOT) Network and continued to make patents available via the Open Patent Non-Assertion Pledge. On top of all this, the company received a record number of US patent grants and continued to develop what has become a world class patent function, led by Allen Lo. As its piece de resistance, Google was also one of the defendants in what has been described as the most worrying patent case in the US in 2014. Love or loathe the company – and it does inspire those extremes of emotion – there is no doubt Google left a huge footprint on the global patent landscape in 2014. (JW)

Michelle Lee, USPTO

After a year or so auditioning for the role, in October Michelle Lee was finally nominated by the Obama administration to be the next permanent director of the US Patent and Trademark Office.  She had previously been named deputy director in December 2013 and in the absence of a director has been running the agency ever since. Given that, it remains a mystery why she was not nominated for the top job at that time, though the suspicion is that because of Lee’s links to Google the White House wanted to buy itself some time before putting her in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee for a confirmation hearing. That finally happened in December, but another grilling will be necessary some time early this year before she takes her oath of office.

When she does finally get the top job, Lee will become the first woman and the first Asian-American to have the role. She will also have a lot of work to do. There will be big calls to make on the extent to which the executive will support renewed reform moves in Congress, while she will have to convince many within the US patent community that significant change is required. If that were not enough, there are also on-going issues to deal with around the quality of the USPTO’s output, as well as connected controversies relating to the agency’s teleworking programme. With the next presidential elections to be held in 2016, it’s likely that Lee will only be in her job for two years or so, but nevertheless she has the opportunity to leave a significant legacy. (JW)

William Merritt, InterDigital

In early 2012 things looked very difficult for InterDigital and CEO William Merritt. After scouting around for six months, a buyer for the company had failed to emerge and it stated that it would now refocus on licensing the 20,000 patents that it had been trying to divest. Fast forward a couple of years and the turnaround has been remarkable. In June, the company announced that it was doubling its quarterly dividend, embarking on a $300 million share buyback and that it had entered into a licensing agreement with Samsung, ending a long running dispute with the Korean company. That news sent InterDigitial’s stock price on an upward trajectory, so that by the end of 2014 it was hovering around a market capitalisation of just below $2 billion. Under Merritt’s steady leadership the company has shown that a large PIPCO backed by its own R&D can not only survive but also thrive in this market. (RL)