Jacob Schindler

Transactions recorded in recent weeks show Seiko Epson picking up its divestment activity again, sending portfolios in the direction of Microsoft, IP Bridge and an unknown holding company. But despite the summer spurt of activity, the deals we know about this year look smaller in size than transfers the printer giant has made in years past.

The most recent assignment, recorded one week ago, is Seiko Epson’s biggest of 2017 so far. Microsoft looks to be getting 33 US patent rights as part of an overall global package of just under 130 assets. While Microsoft has picked up significant portfolios in the last few years from the likes of Toshiba and LG Electronics, it is not a regular acquirer of portfolios from other operating companies; that may be changing, though, as the company expands its ‘patent pick’ offering to cloud customers through the Azure IP Advantage programme.

Seiko Epson’s assignment to IP Bridge expands an existing relationship with the Japanese public/private entity that began in 2016, when it assigned 72 US patents to the fund operator. This latest tranche of patents is smaller, totalling six US rights. But an announcement from IP Bridge, which does not mention the seller by name but seems to line up with the assignment of video coding-related patents, makes clear that it is a separate portfolio, relevant to the AVC and HEVC standards.

Finally, Chamiraux Management LLC acquired seven patent families from Seiko Epson back in July. The company is registered in Delaware, but otherwise has no public footprint. The individual who signed the assignment on Chamiraux’s behalf heads a company that provides commercial domicile services.

If this last portfolio is NPE-bound, it is not necessarily the first time that Seiko Epson has done a deal with this type of entity (even excepting IP Bridge!). In 2016, the Japanese firm transferred 53 US patents to Intellectuals High-Tech KFT, which IAM reported appears to be an Intellectual Ventures vehicle. Those assets did not end up in litigation however – they were soon passed on to a Chinese display maker.

There is very good reason for Seiko Epson to be on the sell side of the market. Though it has the 16th largest portfolio of in-force US patents, its revenues for 2016 were $9.1 billion, giving it just around $500,000 in revenues per patent (and that is comparing global revenues to just US patent rights). And the portfolio continues to grow as Seiko Epson remains in the top 10 Japanese companies in terms of grants.  

Seiko Epson sold portfolios of 100 or more US patents to Samsung and Hoya in 2013, but its biggest disposal yet – 425 patents sold in 2016 to Chinese panel maker BOE – so far has not found a sequel. More recent transactions with (possibly) IV, IP Bridge and now this Chamiraux entity may indicate an openness to a new kind of buyer.