Jack Ellis

Acacia Research appears to have significantly restructured its Asia-Pacific business, with the departure of its most senior executive in the region and the possible closure of its Tokyo office. However, recent activity indicates that the US-based NPE is by no means exiting the Asian market, having made a couple of big acquisitions from Japanese corporates of late.

Hiro Seki – who had been senior vice president and general manager of Acacia’s Tokyo-headquartered Asia operation since 2013 – left the company last month, according to his LinkedIn profile. At some point since late March, Acacia has also removed the details of its Tokyo office from the ‘Contact’ section of its website (current version here, 24th March version here), probably indicating that it has been mothballed. Seki declined to comment when contacted by IAM. Acacia did not respond to IAM’s request for comment.

Acacia made its first major foray into the Asian patent market back in August 2010, when it entered into a “strategic patent licensing alliance” with Japanese chipmaker Renesas Electronics. This ‘privateering’ relationship gradually expanded over time, with Renesas granting “broad and lengthy” access to its portfolio and transferring several tranches of patents to the US firm. In July 2013, Seki – who had been chief IP officer at Renesas since 2008 and had previously served as IP manager at Hitachi – moved across to Acacia to head up its new and promising Asia-Pacific unit.

However, since these early successes rumours began to swirl about the uncertain long-term prospects for the NPE’s regional operation. The aversion to litigation embedded in the Japanese corporate mindset – coupled with Acacia’s reputation, gained in its halcyon days, as an especially aggressive enforcer of patents – will have made the task of doing deals in the country and the wider region particularly difficult. Furthermore, the increasingly tough conditions in the US patent market in recent years, and the mixed results of Acacia’s attempts to respond to these, would only have served to compound the issues facing the Tokyo office. Other North American NPEs with an on-the-ground presence in Japan have not been immune from this tumult, either; Conversant’s Tokyo office shut up shop at some point in 2015, while Intellectual Ventures’ base in the city reportedly has been given over completely to Xinova, the new firm that resulted from the spin-out of its Invention Development Fund last year.

But despite the departure of Seki and the apparent shuttering of its local base of operations, Acacia is not leaving the Asian market. Its relationship with Renesas is still in place, and was reinforced with another assignment of patents from the chipmaker in September last year. Even more intriguing was a new partnership with a “major Japanese semiconductor manufacturer”, subsequently identified as Lapis Semiconductor - a subsidiary of Rohm, which has previously partnered with NPEs - involving patents relating to direct random-access memory and flash memory technologies. The signing of these deals indicates that there are still opportunities for Acacia in the Asia-Pacific – and the second one, in particular, suggests that there are operating companies that still have an interest in working with the NPE.