In the hottest Hong Kong IPO in a decade, shares of China Literature surged over 90% in their trading debut earlier this month. The wild success of Tecent’s digital publishing business with investors is just the latest success for the Shenzhen-based internet giant, which recently became the first Asian tech company to reach a total value of over $500 billion – joining the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and Alphabet. The China Literature listing is a good example of how Tencent has deployed an IP strategy that goes well beyond patents to drive big revenues.
China Literature is an online publisher of e-books, which is a growing market in China. But investors say its greatest opportunity is in monetising the IP rights related to the literary titles it controls into films, games, online and televised series and other products. Parent Tencent has its own production studios – Tencent Film and Penguin Pictures – and has been one of China’s pioneers in commercialising and franchising these types of rights. Back in June, China Literature formed a joint venture along with Tencent Film, Tencent Games and Dalian Wanda to cooperate on creating and monetising intellectual property.
This sort of copyright monetisation is a major reason why Tencent has been included on the IAM’s annual list of Asia IP Elite companies since its inauguration. But Tencent has also staked its claim as a leading patent player among China’s internet firms, according to recent analyses. IAM has also dug up a previously unpublicised purchase of IBM patents by the Chinese company.
A report released last summer by the Peking University Internet Law Center analysed 20 of the most active high-tech companies in China – both foreign and domestic – and found Tencent to be the patent leader in several key segments including search and database structure. In messaging, where the company’s WeChat platform dominates the consumer market, it found 6,285 patents owned by Tencent, compared to 2,052 to Alibaba and 903 for Baidu. Tencent’s portfolio is one of the fastest growing as well, with the company filing over 2,000 global applications per year.
In terms of third-party acquisitions, a series of USPTO assignments suggest that Tencent bought portfolios from IBM on two separate occasions, in deals that have not previously been reported. In January 2017, IBM transferred 25 US assets along with a handful of Chinese and Japanese patents to an entity called Sinoeast Concept Limited. Its address corresponds to Tencent’s head office in Hong Kong, where its shares are listed. Sinoeast previously acquired a portfolio of similar size from IBM back in 2013. It has also been assigned a handful of patents by Tencent itself.
Patents have also supported Tencent’s move into the market for mobile and video games, where it has used M&A to become a major global force. A 2015 analysis found Tencent to be the most important holder of Chinese patents in the field, with other big powers including Huawei, ZTE and Microsoft. Thus far, the gaming segment seems to be the one that has precipitated the most overseas patent conflict for Tencent.
Tencent’s 2011 acquisition of Riot Games, a US videogame developer, put it on the defendant side of numerous US NPE assertions. Just one of these has drawn in Tencent directly, a fight with Game and Technology Co. Ltd, an NPE with links to Korean sovereign patent fund Intellectual Discovery. Riot’s Chinese parent company has joined two IPR petitions targeting patents in that case, one of which was instituted. Another Tencent gaming subsidiary, Supercell OY, filed its first complaint for patent infringement in the US against Japanese rival GREE (no relation to Chinese appliance maker Gree).
Tencent may not have quite the profile in the patent world that Chinese telecoms and other tech companies with more overseas business do, but the numbers show that it’s an important local player. Looking at IP more broadly, its wide range of content creation in the copyright and trademark spheres have given it every incentive to make IP protection a company-wide priority, and it shows.