Joff Wild

Apple has acquired a group of 11 patents from Korean NPE Goldpeak, according to USPTO assignment records dated 29th June. The transaction, which was completed on 22nd May, involved assets originally owned by Pantech, which was once Korea’s second largest smartphone manufacturer, but filed for bankruptcy in 2014. The transaction was revealed by IAM’s former roving editor Jack Ellis, who left us a couple of months ago but is still keeping his IP eye in.

Jack’s report on the deal is well worth a read and, given that, I will not go into all the details again here, except to say that the portfolio of rights Pantech assembled may not have been huge, but is thought to have been of particularly good quality. What’s more, Goldpeak – the NPE that assigned the patents to Apple –seems to have strong links with Intellectual Discovery, the Korean sovereign patent fund, which also has a close connection to Pantech.  

As we reported in May, it is possible that Goldpeak in the process of planning a US assertion campaign. If that is the case, it could be that Apple was one of the first companies approached and that this transaction is the result. Alternatively, as Jack speculates, it may be that Apple proactively searched out the assets – which were widely known about, of course – in order to beef up its portfolio in anticipation of potential issues with other operating companies such as Qualcomm.

Either way, though, by doing this deal Apple has validated Goldpeak's business model and, possibly, the wider Pantech portfolio. After all, we all know that Apple is an extremely aggressive defender of its position and it is hard to believe that it would have agreed a transaction without first exploring in depth whether it stood a realistic chance of knocking the patents out (or whether, further down the line, others might be able to).

The lesson for NPEs here is that there remains a way forward – for all their condemnations of trolls and the harm they are supposed to do, even companies like Apple will do business with you without going to the courts or the PTAB if they feel they have no other options. The lesson for others who might be approached by Goldpeak – as well as anyone else who owns Pantech patents - is that you would be wise to have a conversation rather than sticking your fingers in your ears. If at least some of the patents developed by the bankrupt Korean company’s R&D team were good enough to persuade Apple to part with cash to get hold of them, others may well be of a similar quality too.