The IP personalities of 2016, part two

Yesterday we revealed our first five IP personalities of 2016. Today, we name the final five. Before we do, though, a quick reminder: we define a “personality” in very broad terms. You don’t have to be a human being or even a single identifiable entity to qualify - basically the term encompasses whatever we want it to encompass; it’s all about who and what caught our eye over the past 12 months.

Laura Quatela – There are few more experienced operators at the top end of the IP market than Laura Quatela. As head of IP and then president of Kodak, she was intimately involved in developing the company’s IP strategy and in doing the 2012 patent sale that subsequently enabled it to escape from bankruptcy (not that she liked it). From Kodak she moved to Alcatel-Lucent in the summer of 2014, having set-up IP consultancy Quatela Lynch (soon to become Quatela Lynch McCurdy) with former Kodak chief IP officer Tim Lynch. With another report direct into the company’s CEO, Quatela was a key player in the Alcatel-Lucent merger with Nokia; and while all this was happening she also sat on the board of Technicolor as it went through a prolonged dispute with an activist shareholder. In November 2016, fluent Chinese speaker Quatela took another big career step forward, when she was appointed chief legal officer of Lenovo – and, once more, she will report direct to the CEO. With such a record, it’s hard to think of anyone who has done more IP work at board level in major corporates than Quatela; and although her new job carries a much wider remit, given Lenovo’s ongoing need to secure freedom to operate she will no doubt be spending a lot of time liaising with one of her own reports - the company’s IP head Ira Blumberg.

Courtney Quish - In early September Rovi Corporation completed its purchase of TiVo and a new entertainment technology super-company – which retains the TiVo name – came into being. As we discussed when the merger was first mooted, the coming-together also created an IP powerhouse, something that puts Courtney Quish, who joined Rovi in March 2015 with a specific IP M&A strategy role, at the heart of its operations. Since moving from private practice at Mintz Levin to the corporate world at Rovi, Quish has made a big mark, playing a key part in negotiating an agreement with Intellectual Ventures which saw Rovi become the NPE’s exclusive partner in licensing its combined patent portfolio to over-the-top content technology customers. While product development remains big business for Rovi, so too does IP licensing, and its reach and influence continue to grow. In August it announced that it had concluded a 10-year licensing renewal agreement with DISH Network, meaning that nine of the top 10 US pay-television operators are now under licence. Another big deal with Netflix was announced at the end of November. The TiVo hook-up will give Quish even more assets to play with in a market in which patents have an increasingly important role. Watch this space.

Boris Teksler – Apple’s former director of patent licensing and strategy had an action packed 2016. It began with Unwired Planet, the NPE he joined as CEO from Technicolor in mid-2015, securing significant patent litigation wins in Europe and saw him call for a major rethink in the way that FRAND licensing is done. Only weeks later, though, it emerged that Teksler was stepping down from Unwired Planet as the firm was leaving the patent business and selling its assets to Optis. A few months of relative quiet followed and Teksler took the opportunity to do some consulting work for Via Licensing, only for the headline writers to be back in business in December when he was appointed the new CEO of Canadian NPE Conversant. It has been a frenetic three years for this IP market veteran, but he now has an opportunity to revive the fortunes of a firm beginning to bounce back from a series of tough knocks.      

WiLAN – If 2015 was the year in which the Canadian NPE’s boss, Jim Skippen, announced he was to step down and then changed his mind, 2016 was the year in which WiLAN made history. At the start of November, one of its subsidiaries – Wireless Future Technologies Inc – filed suit in the Intermediate People’s Court of Nanjing against Sony, so becoming the first western NPE to initiate litigation in China. Not only significant for WiLAN itself, this move was a major vote of confidence in the Chinese patent system and will be closely watched by other NPEs looking for monetisation opportunities outside the US as the market there continues to be hostile to patent owners. Long-known for having a pragmatic approach to IP deal-making, WiLAN has focused heavily on the Asian market in recent times and has done several deals with major Japanese companies. The Chinese action against Sony may end up resulting in another one; but, whatever happens, WiLAN’s place in the record books is now assured. It could well have started something that gets very big over the coming years.     

Xiaomi – Who says the IP deals market is flat? During 2016, Chinese mobile manufacturer Xiaomi – not yet 10 years old – seemed to be on a one company mission to prove that this is far from the case. In January it emerged that it had got its hands on a suite of Broadcom patents while a month later came the news that it had acquired a significant portfolio of US assets from Intel. Both deals, though, were eclipsed by the ground-breaking transaction with Microsoft announced at the end of May – a win-win for both that exemplified the way that IP is now forming the bedrock of much wider co-operative agreements between operating companies. While all this was happening. Xiaomi was also incorporating Zhigu Holdings into its internal operation – a move that saw the aggregator’s president and chief operating officer Paul Lin become Xiaomi’s VP of IP strategy. That could well prove to be a masterstroke, with Lin having gained a great deal of deal-making experience at both Intellectual Ventures and Microsoft while based in the US. Like many young Chinese technology businesses, Xiaomi is running a significant patent deficit; but unlike many of them it has recognised it needs to be aggressive in doing something about this. To expand, it will not only have to develop its own IP, but must continue to be active and creative in bringing it in form third parties. With Lin enjoying enlightened support from the very top of the company, Xiaomi is set to become an even bigger patent player in 2017.       

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