Pickup of patents from former Yahoo! portfolio is latest acquisition move by Samsung Electronics

Pickup of patents from former Yahoo! portfolio is latest acquisition move by Samsung Electronics

Altaba, the holding company that was formed to sell off former Yahoo! assets, has transferred a patent portfolio to Samsung Electronics, in what looks to be its second small-scale disposal.

USPTO records show that the transfer was made in late February. The assignment includes nine US patents and two applications. If there are any foreign counterparts involved, they’re not mentioned in the documentation. A brief review of the titles suggest that they cover inventions related to augmented reality (AR) technologies (“Reconfiguring reality using a reality overlay device”; “Virtual notes in a reality overlay”).

The move is the first made by Altaba since it brought in former RPX executive Paul Reidy to lead its patent monetisation effort last December. It comes five months after Altaba’s first patent disposal in September, which saw Eureka Database Solutions, an affiliate of Dominion Harbor Group, pick up 25 patent assets related to search. It is unclear whether that deal was brokered by Houlihan Lokey, the firm originally appointed to find a buyer for the whole portfolio.

Excalibur IP, the entity led by Reidy, controls a portfolio of about 4,000 patents that are said to be “non-core” Yahoo! IP. Verizon bought Yahoo’s operating business for $4.5 billion in June 2017 and has a perpetual licence to the portfolio, but passed on acquiring it outright. The rights were most recently valued at around $675 million altogether, but there is no indication as of yet that a big-time buyer will swoop in for the whole lot. 

In an interview with IAM, Reidy indicated that he would explore a number of options for the Excalibur portfolio, including a syndication-based model or even an assertion campaign. In response to comments made by Dan McCurdy, CEO of Provenance Asset Group, who publicly opined that there’s a lack of fear of the portfolio in the market, Reidy acknowledged "it is incumbent on us to show people that they need it". If we see further disposals to operating companies, it may signal that that is the approach Excalibur is now taking. 

For Samsung Electronics, the deal caps a period in which it has been notably active on the secondary market. In November, it bought nearly 500 rights from a bankrupt startup which, like Yahoo!, was primarily in the search business. Since then it has done a number of small deals, buying 10 patents or less from bankrupt software maker OpenPeak, as well as Augmented Reality Holdings (AR seems to be a priority) and Palo Alto Research Centre.

Samsung still has the largest in-force portfolio of US patent rights by some distance. Nevertheless, as a huge product company in every world market, it faces big risks that necessitate a proactive approach on the transactions market. Acquisitions, deals with NPEs and new licensing initiatives suggest that all options are on the table for the IP team led by Seungho Ahn.

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