Why is patent due diligence important for your organization?

Hewlett-Packard (HP), the information technology giant, bought Autonomy for $11.1 billion, in 2012. They wanted to move away from computer hardware to computer software and buying Autonomy seemed like the smartest move to make. Inaccurate income statements, balance sheets, cash flows, and footnotes were a part of the due diligence oversight. Within 14 months after the deal, HP sold Autonomy by writing down more than 80% of the purchase price. 

 

If HP had followed the due diligence practices that they regularly did, they shouldn’t have had to write down the value of their purchase. Organizations should be mindful of following due diligence if they don’t want a botched deal. 

 

What is patent due diligence?

The process of carefully analyzing a company’s patent portfolio is called patent due diligence. It audits the quantity and the quality of IP assets owned by or licensed to a company, business, or individual. The assessment also includes how intellectual property is captured and protected by the business. 

IP due diligence is usually performed by a prospective buyer in relation to the IP assets of the target company. It can also be carried out by a company on its own assets in preparation for a business sale or to close a licensing deal. It tells you whether you can monetize your patents through licensing, enforcement or divestment. 

It also helps you assess the infringement risks posed by competitors’ patents or the patents of another business. 

 

Why conduct IP due diligence?

IP assets have become one of the most important assets that businesses could own. Therefore, it is imperative for businesses to understand the following: 

  • The quantity and quality of the IPs with them so that 3rd parties can put a value on them 
  • To identify IP assets that are not being used currently and whose maintenance costs are being unnecessarily paid
  • To assess whether all the IP assets are adequately protected 
  • To ensure that you have all the necessary rights to your IP assets in order
  • To check whether a third party is infringing on your IP rights 

 

When should a patent due diligence be performed? 

 

  • After you receive a Cease and Desist Letter, or a Notice Letter:

A cease and desist letter or notice is usually sent as a warning to infringers about the existence of the patent rights to initiate licensing discussions, enforce their patent rights, or secure the opportunity to collect damages. 

Such letters claim that the accused infringer stop their infringing conduct immediately. If a company receives such letters, it should ensure that they have a strategy in place to respond properly and reduce its risks. 

They should note the depth of the infringement analysis (usually provided by the patent holder). It will have details about the patent expiry date, and applicable state statutes which talk about the consequences of acting in bad faith. 

 

  • During Mergers & Acquisitions:

During an M&A transaction, the following things are assessed, whether the seller’s patent portfolios include critical company technology to confirm if all fees have been paid and no ownership issues or chain of title defects exist. Following these steps will permit the parties to assign a monetary value to the portfolio. The analysis at this stage can also include assessing the patent infringement risks posed by third-party patents on the technology that is going to be acquired. 

 

  • During divestment, or licensing

Divestment and licensing strategies allow the patent owners to determine how their patents will be utilized. If their portfolio affords broad patent protection, then the value of the technology is high. Valuing patents can be performed in a number of techniques, both quantitative and qualitative. Qualitative analysis helps in determining the scope and strength of the patent rights. On the other hand, a quantitative analysis leverages these findings to assign a monetary value to those rights.

 

  • For contingency reasons:

Patent due diligence can also be done for contingency reasons. If you believe that you might be sued for infringement, and would like to have a deeper understanding of your patent portfolio and how it fares against your competitor’s, then it is wise to conduct patent due diligence. Let’s say you are planning to sue a company that is infringing on your patents, then it is wise to invest in conducting patent due diligence.

 

  • Before filing a patent application:

Patent due diligence is also performed before filing a patent application. They are performed to identify and assess prior art references.

 

How to Conduct IP due diligence. 

Conducting IP due diligence requires professional skills and has to be done thoroughly. IP due diligence should be performed during the initial stages of negotiations itself. By doing so, you will identify if there are any legal issues that affect the value of the IP. While every business transaction is different, there are a set of requirements that should be met when conducting IP due diligence. Here are a few of them. 

 

  • Identify IP assets: 

You need to find the patents, trademarks, brand names, domain names, and any other tangible and intangible assets of the company that you are investigating. 

 

  • Verify ownership and existence of IP: 

One of the first things that are usually investigated during an IP due diligence process is IP ownership. To establish and recognize the seller’s rights, a series of questions are asked about each of the IP assets that are being considered. The IP assets should be easily transferable and there should not be any disputes. If there are disputes, it becomes difficult for the seller to transfer the title and rights of the IP asset to other parties. 

 

  • Check for areas covered in the IP

When you’re validating each IP asset, it is imperative that you check for the countries where IP rights are covered. Therefore, you need to identify which of the territories are protected. If the business operates in multiple countries and has not secured their rights in all the areas where they operate, you might not be able to leverage the IP in those areas. Do remember that IP assets like copyrights and patents are only valid for a certain period of time. You need to study the local IP laws of each directory to check the validity.

 

  • Checking for third party claims:

Apart from identifying IP ownership, it is also wise to check if there are any third-party claims with respect to the seller’s IP assets. There are times when a third-party might have got rights to an IP asset unknowingly. You need to check all the license agreements, franchisee agreements, joint venture agreements, MOUs, and other contracts to ascertain that you will be receiving exclusive rights once you buy the IP assets from the seller. 

 

  • Evaluate potential IP infringements:  

You also need to ascertain whether a third party is infringing on the seller’s IP rights or if the seller’s IP rights are infringing on another company’s assets. In either of these cases, the disputes that arise from it will negatively affect your business. You have to mandatorily conduct a freedom-to-operate search to check whether the investor can make use or sell their IP assets without infringing on any third-party rights. 

 

An FTO search will give you deeper insights into patent rights and tell you if there are any other roadblocks that you need to be careful about. It’s the FTO searches that show any roadblocks. You need to take the necessary steps to overcome them.

 

Steps to conduct due diligence properly:

  1. Ensure that you have a proper IP due diligence team in place. Discuss with IP professionals to see what can be expected from the transactions.
  2. Come up with an IP due diligence checklist based on what is necessary. 
  3. Segment the IP assets of the target that is relevant for the transaction. Segregate IP rights or protectable intangible insights from those that are not relevant. The IP due diligence should show the importance of connecting such additional IP rights with the main IP rights for the transaction. 
  4. Find out the nitty-gritty when it comes to IP ownership. Ensure that you collect information on other IP rights that might pose an issue in the future. 
  5. It is important that the facts collected are also double-checked so that there is no discrepancy. 
  6. Analyze the protected and protectable IP rights. Check for the IP’s status, validity, ownership, claim, and conflict. 
  7. After conducting all the above, prepare the final due diligence report. It should highlight the risks that are a part of the strategies and ways to reduce the risks and the liabilities. 
  8. Document, execute, and record the IP agreements. 

 

Conclusion:

Conducting due diligence is a non-negotiable activity for businesses to mitigate the risks involved. It should be done no matter what your IP portfolio composition looks like. Having a proper due diligence strategy and following it rightly provides a world of benefits for all the stakeholders involved. 

If you are looking for an end-to-end IP services firm to help with patent due diligence, ResearchWire will be glad to help you with it. Get on a call with us to understand how we can assist with your IP needs.  

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Introduction to Patent Blockchain

Blockchain is one of the most talked-about technologies in recent times, and rightly so. Its implications are incredible and has the ability to positively affect almost any industry you can possibly think of. From tracking the progress of goods in the supply chain to verifying the ownership of a piece of art, blockchain is here to stay. Undoubtedly, the world of intellectual property (IP) will see a ton of applications dedicated to it. 

In this article, we will learn about the various applications of blockchain in the IP world. 

 

What is Blockchain?

It is a secure and transparent digital ledger and its system of recording information makes it impossible to hack or cheat into. Each block in the chain contains transactions, and every time there is a new transaction in the blockchain, a record of it is added to every participant’s ledger. 

No one owns Blockchain. It is a distributed ledger through the nodes connected to the chain. Some of the biggest names in the business world, such as, Microsoft, Amazon, Tencent, Walmart, Alibaba, Samsung, PayPal, etc., have live blockchain operations. 

 

Blockchain’s relevance in the Intellectual Property world:

One of the most valuable assets is intellectual property, and given the pace at which businesses innovate, IP is the ultimate competitive advantage. According to US research firms, 84% of the S&P 500’s market value is incredibly difficult to manage, value, and transact. 

When the patents with blockchain claim first got mainstream in 2016, there were only three. As of November 2, 2021, the number grew to 2,660

 

Patentability of Blockchain-based technologies:

The number of patent applications that have the word ‘blockchain’ in it has increased, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect in the approval rates. It will take sometime before we know the rate of success of blockchain-related patents. Most of the blockchain patents are utility patents, they cover processes, features, and functions of technology. A utility patent protects the unique combination of components which go into running the application. 

 

Who are the leaders in Blockchain Patents? 

There has been a huge adoption of the blockchain technology by businesses of all sizes, especially in China. More than 10,000 blockchain-related patents have been filed with the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA). 

China accounts for 46% of the global patent applications filed in 2020 by leading 100 companies, while the US has around 24%. It is closely followed by Japan (8%), South Korea (7%), Germany (5%), Sweden and the UK (2% each). Alibaba holds the most granted blockchain patents at 212, while IBM has 136 patents. 

The number of patents that are filed in this field adds credibility to the potential of blockchain. Getting blockchain IP in many areas would be extremely beneficial for companies. 

 

Blockchain applications in the IP world:

Thanks to its security, accountability, low maintenance cost, and the impossible-to-hack nature of blockchain, you can safely assume that it will have a number of applications in the IP world. Let us look at a few blockchain applications in the Intellectual Property field. 

 

  • Smart contracts:

A smart contract is a program stored on a blockchain which runs when predefined conditions are met. Since blockchains can execute contractual codes, it could be a game-changer for digital rights management and other IP transactions. Smart contracts can be used to enforce IP agreements like licenses, and ensure that payments happen in real-time, to IP owners. 

The camera brand Kodak, recently launched a blockchain-based image rights management platform, and is aimed at servicing businesses and governments to store and manage sensitive documents. 

 

  • Supply Chain Management:

Since blockchain has the ability to track goods, it could help brands enforce contractual terms with respect to distribution. It will also be able to check for anomalies in the distribution system and even identify if there is any untoward activity that happens in the background. By tracking product distribution, regulatory requirements can also be met. 

 

  • Act as IP registry:

They can also be used as a technology-based IP registry where IP owners could use digital certificates of their IP. Inventors can use the blockchain platform to collect royalties from those who are using their IP. One of the biggest issues with patent filing and application is that it takes up a lot of time for approvals. For businesses that are looking to gain by being the first at something, this can hamper their ability to not only protect their innovation, but also stops them from taking full advantage of the IP. 

 

  • Evidence of ownership:

Since blockchain can provide proof of conception, use, qualification requirements, and status, it can play a huge role with respect to unregistered IP rights. When an inventor uploads the original design or at least the details of the work to a blockchain, it will create a time-stamped record and will act as a valid proof of the ownership. Many blockchain-based startups are already working on distributed ledger technology-based repositories. It will be a great application for both copyright protection and digital rights management. 

 

  • Maintaining version control of digital assets:

The average patent or copyrights would have had multiple versions over the course of their lifetime and there is a pressing need to link these different versions. Blockchain can be used in such a scenario where all the versions of the digital assets can be linked using the ledger technology. It can be used for managing the digital asset’s entire lifecycle. 

 

  • Anti-counterfeiting: 

The ability to identify an original one from a fake is possible because of the blockchain ledger that cannot be compromised. Everyone in the supply chain would be able to validate the genuinity of the product- customers, custom authorities, vendors, etc. 

Since blockchain ledgers hold IP rights information, it can also be used as a certificate of provenance. Provenance is the document which validates an authentic art piece as it outlines the work’s creator, history and appraisal value. The blockchain ledger holds information about the product’s manufacturing process, when and where they are made, raw material’s sources, etc. Such solutions are gaining fast acceptance among businesses, consumers, and insurance companies. 

 

  • Micro-licensing:

Blockchain can also be used for the management of access authorization and for the grant of licenses. Access will be granted to digital content only if the payment has been validated in the blockchain. Also, when it comes to licensing, blockchain can track who all have been granted licenses, and also ensure that the royalties are paid on time. 

 

  • R&D agreements:

 If there are two parties collaborating with each other’s IP, then they can license their existing IP to each other to create a new IPR. Allocating ownership of the new IP can be handled through the blockchain solution. Milestone-based payments could also be made to the parties based on how far they have come in the project. 

 

  • IP Marketplace:

Since blockchain utilizes the distributed ledger technology, it has the ability to record, share, and synchronize transactions in their respective electronic ledgers. Blockchain can potentially be used as a platform where inventors can store their information in the form of ledgers with a note describing their invention. It can act as an IP marketplace where potential licensees will get to know about inventions and the patent holders/inventors. 

 

  •  For information sharing of IPR related data:

The ledger technology that blockchain uses can change the way IPR-related information is shared. By using this way of sharing information, you will not be compromising on the transparency, security, and other regulatory frameworks. IPR is one area where information sharing has to be sacrosanct and not everyone can have access to it. 

 

  • Unifying global patent system:

Unifying the patent system across the world is one use case that the ledger technology of blockchain can surely solve. It can solve the speed at which applications filed are processed, fastens the innovation process, and provides a more evolved information-sharing process. A few patent offices have even started accepting blockchain as proof of evidence under electronic evidence. 

 

  • Collaboration between IP offices:

Since blockchain has the feature to track all activities, it will be extremely useful when collaborations between different IP offices happen during prosecution of IP applications. Information sharing with World Intellectual Property Offices (WIPO) will also be easier if data is maintained using blockchain technology. 

 

  •  MSMEs can use IP judiciously:

When information regarding IP rights is made available on the blockchain, it will help small and medium businesses to invest their resources without having to infringe on others rights. They will also be able to use technologies whose IP rights have expired. While this is possible even now, they will need to invest in a lot of resources, both monetary and time, to identify if they are infringing on someone else’s IP. 

 

  • Settle IP disputes:

If all IP data is made available on the blockchain, then it will be easier to sort out IP related issues. It will be easy to gauge the genuineness of IP rights and even the law enforcement agencies will find it pretty simple to solve these cases not only in the right manner, but also expedite them. 

 

Conclusion:

If you are using blockchain-backed technologies as a part of your intellectual property endeavours, then you are best advised to file your patent application as quickly as possible. By doing so, your innovation will be protected. The first few use cases of blockchain have shown a lot of promise, but we would need to research further to understand the full potential of blockchain, and also consider the legal challenges that will come up. 

Schedule a consultation call with one of our IP experts to check if you can patent your blockchain-driven innovation. ResearchWire’s experts are well-versed with the nuances of laws pertaining to IP as well as blockchain, and would be able to offer you the right solution.

 

write to: query@researchwire.in

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