Richard Lloyd

The news this week that Lycos is looking to dispose of some of its patents afforded tech bloggers the opportunity to remind their readers that yes, one of the iconic internet search brands of the before-Google era still exits. For those in the patent community the reaction may have been equally mystified – something along the lines of, they still have anything worth selling? And, have they seen the market out there, particularly for software patents?

Lycos has been here before – a few years ago it sold off eight patents to the NPE Innovate/Protect which then merged in 2012 with Vringo. Some of those patents have been the subject of litigation against Google which Vringo won in district court but then lost on appeal (the NPE recently asked the Supreme Court to take the case). As we reported late last year, that dispute has added further weight to the claims that the litigation climate has clearly moved against patent owners.  

The difference with the earlier Lycos deal is that it happened at a time when the new re-exam procedures at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) were yet to take effect and the Alice v CLS Bank case was still a couple of years from making it to the Supreme Court. Now the company, which was bought in 2010 by the Indian digital marketing business Ybrant Digital, faces the prospect of trying to sell assets in a climate when tech patents are routinely challenged in inter partes review or are invalidated in court on Alice grounds. Even if your patents are good enough to survive those challenges, the uncertainty in the market caused by the new re-exam procedures, the Alice decision and the ongoing debate around patent reform has had a depressing effect on the whole deals market.  We have seen some evidence that activity is picking up but it’s hard not to think that Lycos’s timing sucks.

Perhaps one bright spot is that with Lycos’s history in search and Google’s determination through its Patent Purchase Promotion and the License on Transfer Network to stop patents owned by operating companies from falling into the hands of NPEs, then Google might make a natural buyer for the assets.

According to Stayko Staykov of The Propeller(y) who is handling the sale there are 23 assets up for grabs in the areas of keyword searching and ranking, online searching and database searching; online advertising, content filtering and online gaming. In terms of the type of deal that Lycos is looking to do he added that the company is, “open and flexible to the type and structure of a transaction and/or partnership with longer term value as this is seen as a strategic opportunity to continue its growth, leadership and collaboration in the market.”

Staykov pointed out that several of the patents have hundreds of forward citations which gives some indication that they are good quality. According to Maulin Shah of EnvisionIP who has published a quick analysis of the portfolio, one of the patents related to relevance ranking in internet search has a “staggering” 566 citations. So  maybe there will be some buyers even in a post-Alice world. The patent deals market could certainly do with a shot in the arm.