The brokered patent market in 2020
A surge in NPE activity is beginning even as corporate buying is declining – time to hug your defensive aggregator
After 10 years analysing the patent market, we have some very direct advice this year. If you are in-house counsel, to borrow a line from Samuel L Jackson: “Hold onto your butts.” These next few years are going to be tough. If you have not already signed up with a defensive aggregator such as Unified Patents, RPX, the Open Invention Network, the License on Transfer (LOT) Network or Allied Security Trust (AST), we recommend dusting off your defensive strategy and re-evaluating it.
In addition to our brokered market analysis, we have expanded our scope to look at a few specific market actions by NPEs and large patent sellers. The results are shocking. Corporate patent buyers have pulled back and NPEs have moved in with more buying (often with cash), accounting for almost 70% of patent sales as of last quarter. In fact, they are buying more than what is listed on the market.
We have also included an analysis of IBM’s sales as an example analysis of all patent sales activity of a specific company. The results? IBM has sold to a who’s who of the high-tech unicorn market. By itself, this is not huge news, until you look at the entire list. What is more, you can track distinct strategy changes around IBM’s joining of the LOT Network, including sales to NPEs before and after joining. For those in LOT late last year, you may have just received the lowest priced patent licences to (some, not all) IBM patents ever. Overall, IBM’s strategy has been no less than phenomenally successful for decades – including adapting to the current market conditions for licensing and selling patents. Data analytics does not directly show the bottom-line success but is clearly indicative of the successful licensing and patent sales machine that is IBM.
The patent market continues to be an important part of an overall patent strategy that includes licensing, risk mitigation and counter-assertion. It helps to solve some of these problems and tracking it gives clarity and colour to other issues – including predicting future problems.
Where do we get our information? We have a database of more than 220,000 patent assets across nearly 12,000 potential patent buying opportunities (we call them patent packages or deals). If you add up the asking prices, we track $36 billion-worth of patent buying opportunities. These packages are presented to the market for purchase. Patent brokers supply most of the deals, but we also receive packages from sellers directly as well as from our private buying clients to track for them. This article identifies the most active brokers, shows what has happened with pricing (stabilised), and reveals what happens when these packages sell or do not (in both cases, litigation continues to rise).
Figure 1. Cumulative sum of asking prices – brokered and tracked private market
Figure 1 shows the total asking price of all the assets that we track, which currently stands at about $36 billion. We have created tools to parse the assignment records for the 220,000 assets and have identified sales of $10.4 billion of those assets. This is $4 billion more than our tracked sales this time last year, including old sales that have been newly identified. Projecting through to the second quarter of 2021, we expect cumulative total sales to reach $13 billion.
The remainder of this article follows the flow of a typical purchase process – covering sourcing, asking prices, diligence steps, purchase closing and litigation. It concludes with our estimate of the market size.
Brokers’ importance diversifies, just like the market
Patent brokers bring the following key skills to the patent market:
- experience in identifying assets of value;
- setting buyer and seller expectations; and
- sales acumen.
To put it simply, if you have never participated in the patent market, use a broker or other experienced adviser. One of our law professors once said: “Yes, sure, you don’t have to be a doctor. You are smart enough to set your own leg. Why would you want to? Hire a professional.”
Brokers have networks of connections allowing them to consistently find the most diverse sets of patents for sale from a variety of sellers – and they know who is buying. They have experience realigning expectations of both buyers and sellers and the longer we participate in the market, the more appreciation we have for this latter skill.
Brokers are also adapting to the marketplace. They now offer licence options that five years ago were unthinkable for many buyers. They are presenting packages in news ways and selling through different channels, including auctions. Overall, brokers adapt to meet market needs. As the market evolves and becomes more complex, brokers are well suited to adapt, but not all of them survive the change.
Table 1. Brokers listing five or more packages – 2020 market year
Brokers with five or more packages
Overall, the broker count has dropped significantly. More sellers are going direct to buyers and buyers are running auctions; thus, brokering opportunities have declined. The total number of brokers that listed packages this year dropped to 42 (last year, the figure stood at 47). This number has been falling for some time. Four years ago, 74 brokers listed a package. ‘For sale by owner’ listings now account for 7.1% of listings (up from 4.5% last year). Additionally, established brokers continue to bring more packages to the market with 12 of 42 brokers bringing 10 or more packages to market (11 of 47 last year). Table 1 shows the brokers that brought five or more packages to the market last year. These brokers accounted for 89% or packages listed by brokers (a slight increase from last year at 88%). (Note: the 2020 market year is 1 June 2019 to 31 May 2020.)
Figure 2. 2019 broker sales rates by number of listed packages
Figure 2 shows the success of individual brokers (each broker being a dot). The X-axis represents the number of packages brought to the market during the measurement period. We used the 2019 calendar year for this analysis in order to allow sufficient time for sales to close and be recorded. The Y-axis represents the sales rate or closing rate for that broker (the percentage of packages sold). Up and to the right means that that broker is doing better. As shown in Figure 2, some brokers were particularly successful (green circles) or unsuccessful (red circles). Importantly, almost all the dots move up over time, meaning that all the brokers experience higher closing rates over longer periods. So, the absolute number of 8.9% sales rate is not that important by itself. What matters is how this rate compares to the previous year (10%), which is an important drop.
Total sales in a given year
Given the covid-19 pandemic, we would expect sales rates to drop through the floor and we are seeing some of that. Unfortunately, the best data will not be available for another year, but some important trends are already apparent. Figure 3 shows the number of packages sold in the 2020 market year – this is the lowest that we have seen in the past five years overall. Bear in mind that because of publication cut-off dates, our 2020 market year ends in the second quarter, so you are only seeing a part of the calendar year 2020 data. One bright spot is that, while the first quarter of 2020 was down significantly year on year, the second quarter was up. If you were expecting covid-19 to wipe out the market completely, that did not happen.
Figure 3. Actual sales by market year of sale
Other market opportunities
New ways to buy or sell patents continue to emerge, some combine the current skills of brokers with platforms, while others offer completely new models. The following are the most noteworthy:
- IAM Market is a market provided by IAM where sellers can list their patents and anyone can browse the packages, contact the sellers and close patent purchases.
- IP3 by AST is a fast-close patent buying programme. Sellers list their assets for a set price and AST member companies decide whether to purchase, all on an accelerated schedule. AST continues to try new models for buying patents and we expect additional leadership from them here.
- Brokers are offering more and more ‘license if you don’t want to buy’ options. At least three of the top brokers are offering licences like this.
- RPX has switched to almost exclusively obtaining licences for its members, rather than buying the patents outright.
Licences are excluded from our data set, as are private buying programmes such as IP3. However, it is important to keep in mind the continuing diversity in the market.
Overall, package counts in the brokered market fell by 14% (Table 2), but that does not fully describe the shifts that we are seeing. Private transactions and larger deals (excluded from the base data set as they are harder to compare) pick up much of the slack.
Table 2. Brokered patent market contents
The market continues to provide buying opportunities in a diverse range of technologies, affecting various products and focus companies. There are assets available to fill business needs in almost any high-tech category. When we receive a package, we use the package materials, along with any assets highlighted by the seller, to categorise it according to our taxonomy of technical areas. We have developed a two-tiered classification taxonomy with 17 general technical categories and 108 sub-categories. We continue to modify this taxonomy as new technologies come onto the brokered market and supplement them with machine-learning classifications.
Figure 4 shows that software packages declined and are now the second highest category by package count. The software package fall is significant but it will take some time to determine the long-term impact. Software tends to sell better than other categories and this reduced number of packages may simply be a shift to direct sales. We will continue to monitor trends here. The increased ‘other technology’ category dominated the package count because:
- automotive, energy and medical device packages increased; and
- a couple of deal sources have substantially increased their volume of ‘other’ packages.
On the second point, these sources have had low sales rates, so we do not believe that these packages are contributing significantly to the market.
Figure 4. Package distribution by technology group
The word cloud in Figure 5 provides another way to visualise the focus of the brokered patent market. The relative size of the words highlights the hot companies, technologies and products identified in the evidence of use (EOU) and marketing materials provided from the broker or seller of the packages. Focusing on the word cloud gives a sense of how most packages were marketed in the 2020 market year. It should come as no surprise that the biggest technology companies (eg, Google, Apple and Microsoft) continue to be the favourite targets of patent sellers’ EOU materials.
Figure 5. Word cloud of hot companies, technologies and products
The distribution of package sizes (see Figure 6) continues to be one of the most consistent metrics describing pricing and other deal dynamics in the market. Bigger deals have higher close rates (at least for some assets) and prices tend to decline as more assets are added to a deal. Year on year, we saw little change in the distribution of package size, with a slight decline in single asset packages.
Figure 6. Distribution of package sizes (total assets)
Price is the Holy Grail of getting deals done – no one wants to look like they got a bad deal. Lack of transparency in pricing helps a few individuals but hinders the entire market. This is the reason that we started publishing this report more than seven years ago. We have had people applaud the increased transparency, while others have said that it is the worst thing to have happened to patents. Pricing is complex in every industry; if knowing the numbers alone was sufficient, entire parts of product marketing would disappear. So, the information is here to help guide a pricing discussion, not to dictate a final number.
In the past, as a starting point for discussions, we recommended referencing average and median pricing, and making some adjustments for specific factors related to the deal, recognising that there is a long-tail distribution to pricing histograms. Understanding what the characteristics of an average patent are, and why your patents might differ, helps you to adjust the price from the averages and medians.
We have helped clients buy patents priced at above $1 million per asset and at a small fraction of that price. In both cases we think the prices were justified and, importantly, the deviation from the average was supported by deal-specific factors.
With reference to Table 3, in 2020 the average asking price per asset dropped 8% from $194,000 to $178,000, but that was after the previous year’s 56% gain. However, the asking price per US-issued patent increased 8%, from $280,000 to $320,000, even after the previous year’s gain of 58%.
An important reminder here: these are asking prices. We conduct other independent studies of closing prices and see average discounts of between 30% and 35%. However, discounts increase the longer the assets stay on the market, so if a deal is new, you can expect a smaller discount, while older deals can have much higher discounts.
Table 3. Asking prices in the 2020 market
Per-asset pricing by package size
Figure 7 shows the price per asset compared to the size of the package. Larger packages mean a lower price per asset. Overall, we see no significant changes from previous years. Recall that the package size is one of the easiest and best predictors for patent pricing.
Figure 8 shows the distribution of pricing of all the packages in the study. There is a clear preference for deals in the $500,000 to $1 million range. Signing authorities at companies start to cap out (“I have to get permission from the CEO if I go over $2 million”) and people become less comfortable closing high-price deals.
Figure 8. Distribution of package asking prices
Packages with pricing guidance
Packages that lack pricing guidance are possibly the most frustrating aspect of the brokered market. The number of packages with pricing guidance dropped again to 41% from 76% two years ago. This is despite the fact that half of the buyers we surveyed deprioritise packages without pricing information. As a result, nearly 60% of all packages are ignored by many buyers simply because the deal lacks any pricing guidance.
We accept “market pricing” as one answer to the pricing guidance question, but it is at best a partial answer. Only 22% of sellers gave precise guidance – these deals go to the top of the list for some buyers.
How does providing more detailed pricing translate into sales? Packages with pricing guidance sell 39% more often than packages without. A whopping 39% increase. Yet, the percentage of packages with pricing continues to drop. If you are listing a package for sale, we implore you, give pricing guidance; not doing so is hurting more than just yourself.
Figure 9. Average asking price per asset by technology group
Asking price by tech category
Technology categories continue to drive asking price variations but this signal for specific tech areas is often buried in the noise of other factors. For the more specific technology areas, we use a normalisation procedure to calculate the impact on pricing. For more detail, please see last year’s Brokered Market Report in IAM 98. More generally, the major tech groupings have moved closer together in pricing. When it comes to top asking prices, the ‘software’ category has retaken the highest priced category (in our private studies, ‘other’ is still the top price). Notably, communication packages have caught back up with the rest of the pack.
Asking price and impact of an EOU
There are ways that a seller can show that its package has high value and should have a high price. An EOU is a great way to do that. Overall, the percentage of deals with an EOU has stayed about the same (this year at 39%). The price premium for an EOU varies greatly by package size and is another opportunity to dig into normalised data. Over the full data set, we observed a 41% (27% last year) price premium for packages with a seller-supplied EOU over those without an EOU provided. We also know that sales rates are higher for deals with an EOU (see below), so the value of preparing an EOU is even greater.
For the second year in a row, we see a decline in the total transaction volume on the brokered market (see Figure 3, compare 2020 with 2018-2019). Brokered sales make up a smaller overall portion of the patent market for buying, selling and licensing patents. We also continue to see sales of older deals, including some that are five-plus years old. Generally, highly sought-after packages move fast, followed by a long tail of additional sales. As a seller, patience can pay off.
We began tracking sales in order to avoid presenting sold deals to our clients. You would think that whether a package has actually sold would be a simple piece of information to obtain. For one package, it may be, but for thousands of packages over multiple of years, we had to write code to parse the USPTO assignment data and to identify sold deals. Our methodology considers a package to have sold if at least one patent in it is found to have an assignment corresponding to a sale. We then use the execution date of assignment for the earliest transacted patent in the package as the date of the sale (data is limited to packages received by 31 May 2019 and to sales recorded with the USPTO by 5 August 2019). When discussing sales, we switch to a different data set, which includes 4,100 packages, with 1,108 identified sales, and which is measured on a calendar year basis. This sample set includes packages that were analysed in our previous papers and dates back to packages listed as early as 2011.
We only look at sales rates for packages that have had enough time to sell – a package that just hit the market is not a good predictor of sales rates. Our sales rate for 2019 listings stands at 8.5%, which is a significant drop from last year’s 13.1% for the same period. This is heavily affected by extremely depressed sales in the first quarter of 2020. This is likely due to companies being preoccupied by figuring out the repercussions of the covid-19 pandemic on their businesses (eg, working from home). Interestingly, sales for the second quarter of 2020 were higher than expected, so it remains to be seen whether the market will make up for lost time. While purchasing decreased for operating companies in the first half of 2020, it stayed level or increased for NPEs – more on this later.
To see how well packages sell over time, we are presenting a new way to visualise the data. Figure 10 shows the curve fit of sales rates based on time from the listing year. Sales rates cap out at around 27%, with about 13% of the packages sold within one year. Note: our methodology necessarily underrepresents the overall value of the market. First, if the buyer does not record the transaction, the package will never have been sold, and buyers do delay recording transactions. Second, more and more sellers are offering licence deals where no sale is recorded and those transactions will never appear in this chart.
Figure 10. Predicted sales rate by years from package listing
Sales by receipt date
Buyers have an advantage when they move quickly. As we write this, one of our buyers just lost out on a deal that was on the market for less than three months. We know that corporate decisions include multiple approval levels, which take time. So how fast is fast enough? We analysed how quickly the sold packages listed in the 2019 calendar year transacted in order to estimate how much time buyers have to bid. It seems that buyers have lost some of the urgency that we saw last year. Figure 11 shows 80% of the sales from 2019 listings occurred within nine months from the receipt date of the package. But 30% of sales are gone in four months. Note that this is listing to sales date. Therefore, the entire deal is closed. This means that you need to make your decision to buy within three months to secure the best opportunities.
Figure 11. Cumulative percentage of sales by months from receipt date (2019 listings)
Nonetheless, buyers can still find deals years after the packages are listed. We recently completed a study on private closed deals involving more than 500 deals across 27 companies. We focused on discounts. This was the first time that we had the data, and the discount trends align with common intuition: the longer the deal sits unsold, the greater the discount.
Sales when an EOU is provided
Claim charts, an EOU or an indication of use adds value to a package. This directly translates into higher asking prices (and sales prices). This year, we continued to see an increased sales rate for packages that have a seller-provided EOU: packages listed in the 2019 calendar year with EOU were 60% (29% last year) more likely to sell than packages without. Additionally, buyers seem to be less resistant to acknowledging the value of a broker-provided EOU. An EOU confirms that the technology is adopted by another party, acts as a guide for developing your own EOU on a different product and quickly directs potential buyers to the value drivers in a deal. By combining the increased likelihood of a sale and the 41% sales price premium associated with an EOU (discussed above), the expected value of a package with an EOU is 126% greater (2.26 times the price).
The bottom line on an EOU is that, if you can build it, the expected additional value more than pays for the costs of doing so.
Life after Alice
Alice-affected software and financial packages continue to thrive, with sales rates well above the market average. As can be seen in Figure 12, packages from Alice-affected technology categories listed in 2016 are 39% more likely to sell than packages in the overall market. Alice fears have subsided, and buyers and sellers have figured out what to look for in patents in Alice-affected technologies.
Figure 12. Percentage difference between Alice-affected sales rate and total market sales rate
As a buyer, tracking the behaviours of sellers, both in aggregate and individually, allows you to operationalise your buying activities. Knowing who is willing to sell and the type of assets available not only allows you to review listings faster, but also gives you the opportunity to make a direct approach for a private deal. This is especially true for repeat sellers, which account for 43% (see Table 4) of the transactions of packages in calendar years 2019 and 2020. Keeping track of a seller’s listings, package sizes and asking prices can also help in negotiations because you know their negotiation parameters before you sit down at the table.
Table 4. Repeat sellers (sold in 2019 or 2020)
Similarly, if you are a seller, it is important to get the word out that you are selling. Listing packages on your website and/or through the IAM Market, targeted email blasts and working with brokers all help to attract buyers to you, rather than you having to spend the time and effort to find them.
For the analysis of current sellers and buyers, we analysed packages that were received at any time up to 31 May 2020 and that sold after 1 January 2019 (assignments were last checked on 5 August 2020). Figure 13 shows that 63% of the deals came from operating companies – about the same percentage as last year. Considering that operating companies file most patents, this is not particularly surprising.
Figure 13. Distribution of seller type – 2019 and 2020 sales
Operating companies that are buying to mitigate risk may want to monitor sellers to try to determine who is starting to sell before they fully ramp up their sales programme. Ask yourself: “How can I mitigate the risk of these patents without purchasing them?” Taking an early licence to a seller’s portfolio may be significantly less expensive than taking one after the assets have sold. Additionally, solutions such as the LOT Network may help to mitigate NPE risk across companies that are currently have no intention to sell assets.
But wait, there is more: seller analysis – IBM case study
We decided to dig deeper on specific sellers to better understand what their histories look like and what they might achieve from their activities. For us, IBM stood out. For more than 25 years Big Blue has been the biggest filer of patents in the United States, as well as a regular seller and licensor. Figure 14 shows both the number of assignments and the number of US assets transferred out of IBM each year from 2010 to 2020 (as of 31 August 2020).
Figure 14. IBM outbound transfers
The results show that 2019 was a big year. Bringing in some other industry background, the reasons become clear: IBM bought Red Hat and joined the LOT Network late that year. As such, the IBM team was clearly quite busy in 2019 getting ready to join the LOT Network.
We then examined where those patents landed. Table 5 shows the new owners of IBM’s patents during that period and they are the who’s who of unicorns (start-ups with valuations over $1 billion). The list includes companies that IBM sued (eg, Twitter) and spinouts such as GlobalFoundries. Does IBM sell on the brokered market? Rarely, if at all. And, frankly, why should it when it regularly closes big-ticket deals with a broad range of companies?
Table 5. New owners of IBM outbound transfers – 2010 to 2020
What can we see from these purchasers? Does IBM sell to NPEs? Yes; in fact, just before the LOT membership became effective, IBM sold about 600 patents to Daedalus Group LLC – Daedalus began suing on those patents in 2020. But IBM also sold to an NPE after joining the LOT Network – 1,046 patents transferred to WiLAN in March 2020 under the name Elpis Technologies Inc. What does this mean? If you were a LOT Network member before the IBM-WiLAN deal, then congratulations are in order as you may have just got the cheapest NPE licence ever. We recommend copying and pasting your LOT Network licence into your scrap book, because WiLAN is not going to sit on those patents for long. Also, this means that companies can still successfully sell patents after joining the LOT Network, even to an NPE.
It is just as important for sellers to track buyers as the other way around. But it is less obvious that buyers should also be tracking other buyers. However, doing so can give you the competitive advantage of knowing whether any of your competitors, or other operating companies of concern, are actively buying in the market.
How might an in-house corporate person view the market? Returning to previous analysis of packages that were received at any time up to 31 May 2020 and that sold after 1 January 2019 (assignments were last checked on 5 August 2020), you can see that your world is changing rapidly (see Figure 15). Corporate buying has pulled way back (27% of purchases this year versus 39% last year). NPE buying is up overall (51% for 2019-2020 transactions) but in 2020, it skyrocketed to 67% of overall buying (see Figure 16).
Figure 15. Distribution of buyer type – 2019 and 2020 sales
Figure 16. Percentage of sales to NPEs by sales year
Again in 2020, 67% of purchases were by NPEs
Worse still, NPEs buy more than what is on the market. We analysed the assignments linked to NPE purchases of brokered packages and found that NPEs generally go to the seller and purchase more than was offered. For example, if a seller was offering a package with five families, an NPE might purchase between 10 and 20 families, some of which were not even on the market. In contrast, operating companies tend to buy only a select part of a package and then stop. With decreased corporate buying, NPEs can pick and choose. This cannot end well for corporations. Year after year, NPE purchasing has crept up (see Figure 16). We do not expect the 67% rate to be sustainable, but the trend is clear, NPEs are buying more and more.
Defensive aggregator purchases, on the other hand, picked up some of the slack. Looking at all purchases made after 1 January 2019, defensive aggregators were active, purchasing 18% of packages. More concerning for corporations was the steep falloff in 2020; defensive aggregators account for only 5% of purchases, while NPE activity has climbed to 67%.
From 1 January 2019 to 5 August 2020, 109 buyers purchased 182 packages and 24 buyers purchased multiple packages (see Table 6). Last year’s analysis had 30 repeat buyers accounting for 59% of the packages purchased. Like the rest of our analysis, the buyer and seller analysis includes only the brokered patent market and does not include private purchases or the purchases from Provenance IP Group.
Table 6. Repeat buyers (bought in 2019 or 2020)
The brokered patent market represents a large pool of litigation risk. Purchased patents do not sit unused – 19.4% of packages that sold contain at least one US asset that went on to be litigated (see Table 7). Some of this increase can be attributed to more time having passed for older packages, but many newly sold packages have been litigated.
Table 7. Litigation and inter partes review frequency
NPEs that buy patents certainly use them. When looking at sold packages that were litigated after their listing date, 2,573 litigations have been filed. Of these, 80% were litigated by an NPE and the average number of NPE-filed litigations for these packages was 11. (It is important to note that we have visibility only into filed cases and that the numbers do not include private assertions and licensing deals that were settled before litigation was filed.)
As litigations increase, so too do inter partes reviews. Sold packages are 4.6 times more likely to be subject to an inter partes review after listing than unsold packages. Unsurprisingly, if the patents were litigated, they were subject to an inter partes review 37% of the time. The 37% inter partes review rate drops to 34% if we limit the focus to NPE litigations of sold packages. Basically, sold patents are being asserted and inter partes reviews are the tool to fight back.
Full market size
We estimate the 2020 market size to be $290 million – about the same as last year’s $300 million. However, with the impact of covid-19 yet to be revealed, we expect the 2021 market to be down considerably. It is still early, but the level of buying from January to June is concerning.
To make this estimate, we used the observed sales that occurred in the 2020 market year and our standard 35% discount on their actual asking prices to determine the market size. As is consistent with the previous two years, if no pricing guidance was provided, the average asking price per asset for the market year of the sale (eg, $194,000 for 2019 market year sales) was multiplied by the number of assets to determine the expected asking price. We used average pricing rather than median to model the market size because we were modelling across many independent events rather than identifying a typical instance. Even so, we still had to make adjustments to account for a few large deals.
Table 8. Data summary – 2020 market year
We then used the market size (after eliminating ‘for sale by owner’ listings) to back-calculate the number of working brokers that the market supports. By applying an average commission rate of 15%, the revenue from this market for brokers is $41 million (higher than last year’s $37 million). Last year we used 20% for broker commission, but we decided to reduce this percentage as large deals often have lower commission rates. By estimating the average loaded labour rate per broker ($300,000 a year), we calculated that there are 138 full-time equivalent employees working as brokers. Assuming that three brokers work in each brokerage, this results in approximately 46 brokerages. Our data shows 42 brokerages that listed packages in the 2019 market.
So, $290 million in brokered market sales. Not a bad year.
Opportunities, insights and reflections
The patent market is maturing, Samuel L Jackson quotes notwithstanding. More in-house attorneys have successfully bought or sold patents to further their strategies. Pricing will always have a long-tail distribution, but we see more sophistication in understanding the implications of that distribution. We continue to push for greater transparency not only in public reports like this one, but even in our private reports where we try to bring more and more people into the idea that sharing information helps them more than it hurts.
The patent market continues to evolve and provide opportunities for insights beyond a basic buying and selling strategy. In-house counsel should be able to use this report to show greater need for planning in case of a licensing demand or lawsuit from an NPE, and to look for deeper analysis of competitors’ and the general ecosystem’s licensing and sales activities that may blow back onto their companies. Litigation rates continue to climb and show the patent market to be a particularly good source for identifying patents that are much more likely to be in a patent fight.
Some parts of the market continue to baffle us. The fact that so few sellers provide an asking price when the benefits are clear, and that sellers are unwilling to provide even indications of use when the premiums on the expected value are more than 100%, are just a couple of examples.
Corporate patent buyers can fundamentally shift their risk profiles by buying patents on the open market – basically, the market can arm the unarmed. Those not participating will find themselves at a disadvantage.
Tools and processes used to analyse the data
As the brokered patent market has matured, access to data has increased. However, the market remains fairly opaque. Therefore, to analyse the market we pull data from many sources, combining this with a proprietary set of tools that we have designed in-house.
Our data sources include our proprietary patent package database, the USPTO patent data (Public-Pair), the USPTO Assignment database, Cipher, Derwent Innovation and litigation data from DocketNavigator.
This data is then combined on both a per-patent and per-package basis, using tools that we have developed over the past six years. The result is a proprietary database of hundreds of thousands of records across nearly 500 fields. These tools are programmed in SQL, R, Ruby, Python, AppleScript and VBA using ODBC to retrieve up-to-the-minute live data from our database. We also use business intelligence tools such as Tableau. We continue to expand our capabilities to sort, sift and visualise the data.
We also internally track asking prices, bidding dates and clients’ specific diligence decisions, and maintain a list of unique entities that are buying and selling with standardised names. We even classify these entities by entity type, which means that we have our own internal list of companies that we believe to be NPEs. Although this process is quite time consuming, we believe that using real data to back up our conclusion is the best way to provide accurate analyses to our clients and lower the barrier to entry for companies joining the market.