He’s an interesting thing, the most prolific inventor currently in the world (by number of US patents lodged) is actually an Australian by the name of Kia Silverbrook. Kia runs an outfit called Silverbrook Research out of Sydney.
However the most prolific companies are the usual suspects. According to CNET in 2009 the most prolific companies for the year were:
IBM with 4,914
Samsung with 3,611
Microsoft with 2,906
Canon with 2,206
Panasonic with 1,829
Toshiba with 1,696
Sony with 1,680
Intel with 1,537
Seiko Epson with 1,330
HP with 1,273
Unfortunately, the vast majority of these patents will never see the light of day as their commercialisation is not expected to meet their internal ROI requirements.
Which got me wondering “what could they do with all theses patents?” Now if you were someone like Dr Terry Cutler or Henry Chesbrough you would be arguing for open innovation, or allowing everyone to access to each others IP. However the thrust is way to “trust me you will make money in the end” for my liking and the focus is also on intermediary services such as IXC that allow behemoths to talk to each other.
It has occurred to me that maybe these patents could also be made accessible to the Australian SME’s. I would argue that the role of the startup in a market, is to validate if an idea, product or serviced is valued. If its not valued, the business will fail, but if it is valued, the startup will be snapped up by a large enterprise that’s in the market to purchase validated solutions, not take commercial risks themselves.
So here’s my idea – perhaps I should approach the guardians of this IP and make an offering along the lines of the following.
- I would like a non-transferable licence some of your unused IP, that looks good but is not estimated to meet your ROI requirements, for say $1,000 and potentially 10% of the equity in my business.
- You have the right to purchase the remaining the equity in my business for 5 x the net tangible assets for 1 year.
- You have the right to purchase 10 x the forecast of the next years revenue, for up to 3 years.
It seems to me that this type of purely commercial solution allows the big end of town to open up their IP portfolio’s in a win/win scenario, as well as winning kudos for not being a knowledge fortress. The other side of the coin is that small dynamic companies can do what they do best, and validate whether the IP actually has value. They will be rewarded if it does, without having to commit large to their own R&D spending.
Perhaps then those with the largest numbers of patents, can win in other ways as well?