Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How could Yahoo's patents be worth $4b?

Four years later - I appreciate the compliment, but still think they were only half right.

Understanding the dynamics and patent issues for these IP rich companies is definitely a niche, and though I worked pretty hard to see where the value might be in this complex data for investors, the Nostradamus part was a lot more logic than anything else.

Back in 2011-2012 there was real uncertainty in how these patent wars would play out. When I first looked at the patent data, it was clear that there was real value in the Yahoo patent portfolio as it applied to Facebook. Connecting the dots that Yahoo would sue Facebook as soon as the social network filed to go public, just like Yahoo sued Google when that company IPO'd, seemed like a reasonable extension, which turned out to be correct.

Today Yahoo is still looking to monetize their patent portfolio and some fairly large numbers are being reported as to their valuation. I had the opportunity to briefly walk through this yesterday on CBS Radio's KNX Money Hour with Frank Mottek and Charles Feldman:

There were some connection issues at the end and we cut a bit short, but I wanted to lay out my thinking as to how to realistically value these assets.

At a high level: the Yahoo patent portfolio has vastly different values, depending on the buyer. 

For example, another content company in a similar space to Yahoo, like Twitter or even a news organization, would not see the patents as a major deal driver and likely assign very little value to the portfolio - though the innovations that they protect and have developed at Yahoo could be interesting. Those companies are obviously looking to grow reach, add content, drive impressions, etc. and would value the operating business along those more traditional metrics.

A purely financial buyer like Intellectual Ventures looking to enforce or more strategically license those patents, would assign significantly more value to the patent portfolio than a content company, but would likely offer far less than the $1.1B AOL received in their portfolio transaction. From a pure financial buyers perspective, there are three reasons that these valuations are depressed: the US has made IP much more difficult to enforce - which hurts patent owners and negatively impacts valuations, there is significant transition going on within these specialty IP shops adjusting to the market's "new normal" and so a lot of smart money is on the sideline, and Yahoo may have already licensed much of the portfolio to the most valuable targets, especially Facebook.

The most interesting acquirer could be companies like Comcast, Verizon, Cox, or AT&T, all of whom are starting to compete with new products like Google Fi or Google Fiber. If the Yahoo assets are substantially free from Google encumbrances, then a firm like Verizon could very reasonably assign $1b or more in value because of the applicability of the assets to Google. Verizon especially has been growing their patent portfolio at a rapid rate, and should have significant interest in assets that could meaningfully impact Google with respect to direct licensing, or forcing them to develop alternative technical approaches which could slow their growth. Over the last 5 years, there has been no company better at adjusting both their own IP position as well as the global IP environment to their favor than Google. Since Yahoo likely licensed only a portion of their portfolio to Google, and since those companies are looking for new advantages against what could become an important competitor, this seems like the most obvious fit.

That, to me, this is why companies like Verizon or Comcast would make the most sense. They have divisions which would have significant value for the IP, and divisions which would have real value for the content assets. It would make sense strategically and financially.

There are a number of assumptions in that analysis, but this should help connect the dots a bit. A big part of why I've founded Genaesis was to help companies and investors understand how to make the most of intangible assets in a credible and reasonable way. Hopefully this Yahoo analysis seems a bit more logical and lot less fortune-telling.

Erin-Michael Gill, CEO, Genaesis

Acting on House of Cards Season 4

Last summer I took some vacation time and got cast as "Senior White House Staff" on Season 4 of the Netflix series, "House of Cards". I had done some acting in high school and went to the open casting call with about 5,000 other hopefuls in Annapolis - though my day job more than prepared me to look concerned talking into a phone as the camera was panning to Kevin Spacey:

I ended up in about half this seasons episodes and had an incredible experience with some very talented professionals. Great times.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Asked by the White House to Present "The Value of IP in Attracting Financing" at APEC

Last year, I was invited by the White House Office of the US Trade Representative to present at the Third APEC Senior Officials Meeting (SOM3),  "Workshop on the Role of Trade Secrets for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in Attracting Financing and Integrating into Global Supply Chains" Cebu, Philippines 22 August 2015.

APEC Intellectual Property Experts Group Meeting room, Cebu, Philippines
The meeting went well, and it felt like the the participating countries had a genuine desire to move the ball forward on enabling global business growth. The event almost had an Olympic feel - to the point that when my flight was delayed to a 1 AM arrival from Tokyo, the Philippine hosts still had the welcome staff of about about 50 waiting and a shuttle van with police escorts (front and back) ready and waiting as well.

Police Escort From Airport to Hotel in Cebu, Philippines

As for the meeting itself, there is a lot of complexity in these topics, but there are three fundamental points which - in my experience - are critical to creating favorable business environments, and seemed to make sense to the representatives:

I was able to speak to each of those points for about an hour and got some thoughtful follow-up questions from a number of the delegates. Helping to inform and advise these Asia Pacific economies on their IP policies, in a way that is going to help both foreign and domestic business grow, is a great privilege and one which hopefully will show meaningful results in the near term. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Speaking at the US-China Innovation Dialogue

The final outcomes aren't public yet, but I thought this would be okay to share - I was invited by the White House to speak to the leaders of the United States and China’s innovation policies at the “6th US-China Innovation Dialogue” held at the US State Department on June 22. The meeting was co-chaired by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology head Minister Wan Gang, and The White House Office and Science and Technology Director Dr. John Holdren (both pictured having a quiet moment before the sessions began). I advocated for stronger IP rights as a way to reduce outside investor risk and enable a more diverse, innovation centric, economic base.

I won't characterize the discussions other than to say that it was an impressive group of senior representatives from both the US and China, and in a very real way, the right people were brought together. Beijing sent leaders from China's Ministry of Finance, the State Intellectual Property Office, the National Development and Reform Commission, and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, as well as the Ministry of Science and Technology, while the US had representatives from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, U.S. Treasury Department, U.S. Department of State, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Minister Wan and Director Holdren's leadership of the proceedings truly fostered a collaborative and constructive dialogue. Also noteworthy was Deputy Chief of Mission and Minister of the Chinese Embassy to the US, Wu Xi (pictured far right) who gave a beautiful and moving opening statement about how innovation and a culture of innovation can bring nations together.

I'm looking forward to seeing the outcomes of this meeting, and hope it can be a catalyst for more positive collaborations in the future.