Richard Lloyd

Avanci, the Internet of Things (IoT) licensing platform led by former Ericsson IP head Kasim Alfalahi, has formed a new company called the Marconi Group which will provide support services to Avanci and possible new licensing businesses. As part of a broader restructuring Avanci, Marconi and the NPE PanOptis have all been brought under the auspices of a new holding company called Inception Holdings.

Marconi will handle all of the back office tasks such as finance, HR and legal for Avanci, PanOptis and for any new licensing platforms that Alfalahi and his team form. The ex-Ericsson CIPO will combine his role as Avanci’s CEO with heading the new support business. To help launch prospective new platforms an impressive array of licensing talent has been brought on board including former Motorola and Google IP executive Kirk Dailey, Eric Reifschneider previously a senior licensing executive at Qualcomm, Fred Telecky who was previously at Texas Instruments and former Lenovo exec Thomas Miller. Although Alfalahi would not name principal shareholders in Inception he did disclose that they were comprised of private investors and an equity fund.

Plans for new launches are still under discussion but a partner to Avanci should be launched in a matter of months. “We’re in the process of evaluating different platforms for different technologies and product categories,” Alfalahi said. Those new businesses will run in parallel, but with a similar approach. “Different technologies may need a different model to Avanci’s but whatever we do we want it to be open, transparent and to integrate the needs of the market,” he stressed. 

Avanci was launched last September with Qualcomm, Ericsson, ZTE, KPN, InterDigital and Sony all agreeing to make their standard essential patents that read on 2G, 3G and 4G technology available for license across a range of IoT industry verticals. The first three sectors that Avanci has targeted are the auto industry, connected homes and smart meters. There’s no doubt that Avanci brings together some of the leading plays in wireless technology, but it also has some notable gaps such as Nokia and Huawei. Five months after it launched it is yet to conclude any licensing agreements, although Alfalahi insisted that feedback from the industry and from regulators has been positive and that his team continues to talk to a wide range of licensees and possible members. “We’re not saying that cross-licensing or one-on-one licensing doesn’t work, we just believe there is an alternative way and over the last year it has become clear there is a need in the market,” he said.

The restructuring also means that Avanci and PanOptis are now more clearly aligned. PanOptis is the Texas-based NPE headed by Les Ware that acquired Unwired Planet last year. Before that it had also picked up large portfolios of assets from Ericsson and Panasonic making it one of the largest patent-owning businesses in the NPE sector. Although it is by no means as litigious as some NPEs it has brought a number of infringement lawsuits in recent years including a spate of cases last year against BlackBerry, Kyocera and ZTE. That latter case was ultimately terminated in May, months before ZTE signed up with Avanci. Most recently PanOptis filed suit against Huawei in a dispute over patents formerly owned by Ericsson and Panasonic. 

Shortly before the Unwired deal was finalised Ware told this blog that they were “involved in some litigation which is necessary when people don’t respond”. He also provided some insight into PanOptis’s licensing approach: “We’re trying to bring efficiency to the market and combine areas of common technology. Portfolios need to be aggregated and if we can bring value of our customers then there won’t be as much need to litigate.”

Commenting on the overlap between Avanci and PanOptis, Alfalahi insisted that there was no conflict between the two affiliated businesses. Of course, if you’re Huawei you may be less inclined to sign up to a new licensing platform if another, related operation has filed a lawsuit against you. Alternatively a litigation settlementcould lead to the Chinese tech giant finally committing its patents to Avanci and any other relevant platforms Alfalahi and co launch. 

What today’s announcement shows perhaps more than anything is that there is a new and very powerful force on the licensor side of the patent equation. At a time when we’re again starting to see some high profile licensing disputes such as Apple versus Qualcomm, that coalescing of interests should become even more significant.