Richard Lloyd

It was hard not to be struck by the optimism in the air at IPBC Asia 2016, which took place in Shanghai earlier this week. With well over 400 delegates from major IP owners across the region and beyond in attendance, as well as advisers and intermediaries, the panel sessions and networking breaks gave as good an indication as you could find of the state of IP value creation in some of the world’s major markets.

Perhaps the most striking thing was how quickly some of China’s major tech companies have become sophisticated IP players. Xiaomi's progress in particular has been remarkable and with former IV IP executive Paul Lin on board, the company has one of the most experienced operators in the local monetisation market.

Xiaomi’s deal with Microsoft, announced in May this year, was in the spotlight on day 1 as Lin joined the software giant’s Micky Minhas to dissect one of the leading IP-driven transactions of 2016. As part of that agreement Microsoft sold the Chinese company 1,500 patents, giving Xiaomi a much-needed boost to its portfolio as it weighs up expansion into the US. For all that conditions are widely seen to have deteriorated for many patent owners in the US, the deal shows that American assets will always remain a crucial part of any company’s IP strategy be it focused on freedom to operate or monetisation.

The greater sophistication of the Chinese market was also on display during day 2 of IPBC Asia as Baidu’s Wang Huaibin revealed details of a patent pool of more than 20 Chinese companies which have combined to pool their voice technology patents. Patent pools are well established in the US and are even going through something of a renaissance thanks to the likes of the new Internet of Things licensing platform Avanci. The new voice technology pool suggests they may start to find favour in China.

In the sessions and networking breaks there was also much discussion of WiLAN’s recent lawsuit against Sony filed in Nanjing with many pointing to it as evidence of growing NPE interest in the Chinese market.

What this all points to is that we are now seeing an acceleration of the move to a multi-polar world in IP value creation where Europe – thanks in part to the expected launch of the UPC - and China become relatively more important and the US’s overwhelming dominance is eroded. US courts and policymakers have certainly not helped the situation in what remains the world’s largest IP market, but many patent owners now argue that conditions are improving State-side thanks to recent decisions by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and the increased threat of willful infringement hanging over defendants following the Supreme Court’s decisions in Halo and Stryker.

In one of the afternoon sessions on Day Two, IBM’s Eric Damon indicated that the improving picture in the US could make those patent owners that had perhaps put monetisation plans on ice after the Alice decision, start to think again about asserting their assets. But what’s different now, compared with the pre-Alice and IPR days, is that monetisation strategies will increasingly have a European and Asian component. Given globalisation that was always going to happen, but developments in the US over the last five years have undoubtedly hastened the process.

Thanks to the creation of specialist IP courts, as well as preliminary and permanent injunctions, not to mention ongoing changes to the damages regime, China does look set to become an important assertion market. The German courts already ensure Europe's attractions, with the UPC likely to increase them substantially. In both China and Europe, eligibiloity now seems to be wider and more certain than is the case in the US. For the global IP market - if not for those whose only focus is American - this can only be good news.