Founders Wanted has joined a growing list of patent advisory and licensing companies, incubators and technology companies in developing a platform seeking to marry the best patented ideas from inventors with the best founders to build startups.
The firm is joining companies including Dominion Harbor Group, WiLAN Inc., TheraNova LLC, ipCreate, Intellectual Ventures and Google, who view patents as potentially more valuable as an investment currency than a vehicle for winning licensing settlements.
The emergence of patents as a currency for investing in startups appears to be a response to changes in the patent landscape that have reduced the value of patents dramatically and made the old model of patent monetization — acquiring patents and then using them to bring enforcement actions and force settlements — much less profitable.
Indeed, the America Invents Act of 2011 has given alleged infringers tools for quickly and inexpensively invalidating weak patents through the Patent Trial and Appeal Board and the inter partes review (IPR) and covered business method (CBM) review processes. This also has coincided with the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court’s increasing skepticism of large damages awards and concern about the cottage industry of patent trolls. All these developments have made alleged infringers extremely reluctant to take a license and much more willing to fight enforcement actions to the end.
A recent study published by the U.S. Patent Office called “The Bright Side of Patents,” by Joan Farre-Mensa, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, and Deepak Hegde, an assistant professor, and Alexander Ljungqvist, a professor of finance, at the Stern School of Business at New York University looked into whether changes to the patent system were hindering innovation, particularly for small inventors.
“We find that patent approvals help startups create jobs, grow their sales, innovate, and reward their investors,” the study said. “Exogenous delays in the patent examination process significantly reduce firm growth, job creation, and innovation, even when a firm’s patent application is eventually approved. Our results suggest that patents act as a catalyst that sets startups on a growth path by facilitating their access to capital.”
Andrew Sherman, a partner with Jones Day in Washington, D.C., and a recognized authority on legal and strategic issues facing small and growth companies, said in an interview that U.S. companies are “grossly under-monetized” in terms of their intellectual property today.
“What I’m encouraged about is that which was old is new again,” he said. “The old way of monetizing IP through joint ventures and cross licenses has become popular again. That’s the way it should be instead of trying to monetize through litigation.”
Sherman attributes the change to technological innovations such as social media.
“Twenty-five years ago you’d have to go to a conference and hope you sat at the right table,” he said. “Today for many entrepreneurs R&D is their biggest expense. If they can get fundamental patents early in their development they won’t need to spend as much money on R&D. I fully support 1000% attempts to match technology and startups almost in an Uber way.”
By Uber, Sherman is of course citing the company that subverted the taxi industry by creating a mobile phone app that allows people to connect directly with drivers who can take them to their destination.
Lindham, New Hampshire-based Founders Wanted was founded by James Logan and Mark Pascarella in November.
Logan is the founder of startups including Bringrr Systems, Personal Audio LLC, Gotuit Media and MicroTouch Systems. He has an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and a BA from Hamilton College.
Pascarella is the founder of Pixip Labs, the general manager of Hootsuite Analytics. He also was CEO of uberVu from 2011 to January 2014 and president and CEO of Gotuit Media from 2002 to 2011. He has an MBA from Harvard and a BS in management from Bucknell.
“At FW we believe world-class founders should be drawing from a pool of world-class ideas,” the firm says on its website. “And we feel this pool should emphasize patented ideas–as the right patents can offer the risk reduction and strategic advantage needed to ensure success.”
The firm says its portfolio of patented concepts are business-ready, transformative, and can serve as the foundational IP of a startup.
“At FW we’re not arrogant and we don’t have an agonizing process. We’re objective. We’re a team of experienced entrepreneurs and inventors who know how to go from concept to production. We’ve scaled companies and taken them public. We want to work with the best IP and most talented people to build high-growth technology companies.”
Among the portfolio of innovative technologies Founders Wanted is currently marketing is Ride Safe, patent pending technology that employs helmet sensors that can detect usage and communicate with specially equipped ATVs, dirt bikes, bicycles and skateboards to allow them to function.
“We envision a world where no device that moves a child will work without a helmet being worn,” the firm says on the profile for Ride Safe. “A multiplicity of consumer and OEM possibilities are associated with this technology.
FaceBack is a patented mobile software technology that turns on the camera of a recipient of a text to allow the sender to see the person’s emotional reaction to the text.
Tilt n tell is a low cost sticker based on patent pending Internet of Things (IoT) technology that shows how many times an object such as a refrigerator door has been moved.
Tap Ware is a patented IoT technology that describes sensors embedded in cutlery, glasses, or plates that monitor activity and summon service at just the right moment.
“Imagine a water that magically shows up the moment you finish that lost drop of beer,” the firm says on the profile for Tap Ware. “Customers can also communicate explicitly with the staff with a tap on a glass, for instance. Addresses a huge B2B market opportunity with an IoT solution that will only go down in cost.”
Logan and Pascarella couldn’t be reached for comment.
Earlier this year, Dominion and WiLAN launched a partnership to invest about 100 of WiLAN’s patents into startups identified by Dominion’s Monument Bank of Intellectual Property.
The partnership is an outgrowth of a strategy launched by Dominion in its first year of business in 2013 after a company is was advising on behalf of a startup decided to make an acquisition.
Similarly, biomedical device incubator TheraNova, run by CEO Dr. Daniel Burnett, last summer hired former Document Security Systems Inc. (DSS) COO Peter Hardigan for his patent experience as it was seeking $15 million to $20 million in new capital to fund the advancement of six inventions into startups.
“We’ve raised 70 million dollars in different companies over the last 9 months and we are in negotiations to close a round of funding for our pipeline,” Hardigan said in an email. “All of this is our own internally generated IP.”
Similarly, former International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) executives John Cronin and Marshall Phelps Jr. launched ipCreate in 2012 to restore what it says is the historic link between patents and invention rather than litigation.
“Working with select leaders of industries undergoing rapid technological disruption – whether dominant players in the market or visionary startups – ipCreate employs proprietary tools and resources to identify promising innovation areas and rapidly create foundational patents at the chokepoints of looming market change,” the firm says on its website. “With major financial backing behind it, ipCreate expects to fund and execute more than 100 strategic invention and IP creation projects and produce thousands of foundational patents by the year 2017.”
In addition, Intellectual Ventures for years has been trying to use some of its thousans of patents to build promising startups in recognition that its original patent monetization strategy is no longer as easy or profitable as it was just a few years ago.
Indeed, Intellectual Ventures and other patent monetizers have been tarred with the patent troll label, which has clearly hurt their profitability. Patent monetization companies today face a steady stream of anti-patent troll rhetoric that has been successfully used to lobby for legislation to combat the “patent troll problem”.
Google, one of the biggest troll critics, also launched its Google Patent Starter Program last year.
“The world of patents can be very confusing, cumbersome and often distracting for startups,” Google said in the statement introducing the program last year. “All too often these days, the first time a startup has to deal with a patent issue is when a patent troll attacks them. Or when a prospective investor may ask them how they are protecting their ideas ('You don’t have any patents???'). These problems are the impetus behind the Patent Starter Program.”
Under the program, participants receive at no cost two patent families from Google's patent portfolio. The technology giant said it will identify a group of 35 assets generally based on a startup’s business focus from which each participant can choose 2.
The program also allows startups to participate in the License On Transfer (LOT) program, an industry-led, networked, royalty-free patent cross licensing arrangement for transferred patents launched by industry participants, including Canon, Dropbox, Google, and SAP with contributions by many others. The LOT program has more than 325,000 patent assets.
Under the LOT program, every company that participates grants a license to the other participants where the license becomes effective only when patents are transferred to nonparticipants. While membership in the LOT Network is a requirement for participating in this program, LOT membership fees will be waived for the first two years of participation.
In addition, startups will be given access to a portal that allows them to search Google's nonorganic patent portfolio for assets that Google may be willing to sell. There is no cost for access to the portal, and Google will provide fair valuations on assets with which we are willing to divest.
Last year, Google said its Google Patent Starter Program would be available to only the first 50 startups that sign up.
The company hasn’t disclosed how well the program is going. William Fitzgerald, a Google spokesman, declined to comment.
—To reach the reporter responsible for this story, please contact Dan Lonkevich at 707 318-7899 or at firstname.lastname@example.org