According to the latest Gartner Hype Cycle report, augmented reality is in the Mariana Trench of technological promise—the deepest part of “the trough of disillusionment”.
Gartner describes the trough of disillusionment as follows:
“Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Producers of the technology shake out or fail. Investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.”
It looks like many companies who invested in patented augmented reality technologies will be abandoning ship… right… about… now. What to do with all the commercial value lying dormant in underutilised patents? License, of course.
I don’t want to get sucked into the nitty gritty of what makes a licensable technology and how to estimate the value of the patent protecting that technology—these kinds of topics have already been capably covered by others.
One area that remains surprisingly underexplored is the topic of how to get the most lucrative and accurate view of potential licensees. One VP of corporate development with whom I spoke said he basically relies on his existing network and word of mouth.
But today’s network of suitable licensees extends far beyond the grasp of physical and social proximity. As the principles of microeconomics show, you put an unnecessary cap on potential revenue from a commodity when you restrict the flow of demand for that product. I’m going to share how skilful use of data can help you get your patent under the lustful gaze of as many highly relevant licensees as possible.
Let’s use Snapchat—a hardware-wannabe, software company—as an example.
Snapchat has millions in R&D spend and maintenance costs tied up in a US patent focussed on augmented reality and another AR patent in Korea (both in the same family). But, as reported in The Motley Fool, the company has a troubled history with optics-focussed innovation. In 2017, “It wrote down $40 million in inventory-related charges… laid off hardware workers and shook up management,” after the initial glitter of its spectacles began to fade.
And this VRFocus article explains why (the author believes) AR will never go mainstream, until its ergonomics are sorted out. How long will that take? Is Snapchat patient enough to fix the problem (or wait for it to get fixed by others)? How long is a piece of string?
At this point, licensing is a good option for the company. So, assuming its patents are valuable, here’s how Snapchat can use trends in patent data to find suitable licensees.
Analyse international patent filing trends, with a technology area focus
Google’s recent cross-licensing deal with Tencent illustrates the strategic and commercial value of international licensing deals—especially as a tool for bridging the east-west divide.
Snapchat’s patent relates to image tracking in AR—so I built a search query focussed on AR technologies, within the PatSnap IP intelligence tool. The list of top companies reveals the usual suspects:
- Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI)
- Magic Leap
And of the companies on this list, only Microsoft, Samsung and LG have drastically accelerated patent filings in recent years—indicating a growing commercial commitment to AR technologies and IP. This makes them more interesting candidates.
But what happens when I look at only companies whose patents relate to image tracking? The list of INPADOC patent families shrinks from 7393 to 213, while Layar, Daqri and Metaio (acquired by Apple in 2015) move into the top 10 list.
The geographic spread of patenting activity also changes shape slightly. America, where Snapchat is based, still leads the pack but the list of top countries now includes India, South Korea and Australia.
When I further limit my search results to show only activity in America, I’m left with 148 INPADOC patent families. What I’m looking for is non-American companies that have recently started filing in America. The chart showing companies that fit these criteria includes:
- Huang Hsuan—assignee on a patent which belongs to a family with an original document filed in Taiwan
- Lee Fangwei—assignee on a patent which belongs to a family with an original document filed in China
- Luo Linjie and Sheth Rahul—assignees on a patent which belongs to a family with an original document filed in Korea
These are all assignees interested in having patent protection in the US and Asia, for technologies relating to AR image tracking—qualities that are highly congruous with those in Snapchat’s patents. A little digging also shows that Lee Fangwei is an AR expert who spent 9 years (until 2015) working at Dreamworks and has set up his own AR company—Realiteer Corporation. Just like that, we’ve found a company that might have remained otherwise hidden—sometimes, patents used for corporate purposes are filed under the inventor’s name.
I can also cross-reference assignees filing image tracking AR patents in America with those doing so internationally—Qualcomm, Microsoft and Samsung all appear in the overlap.
Use AI-driven automated tools
Although my preceding analyses involve using the PatSnap platform, they don’t have to. If you’re skilled enough in data analysis, you can get the same kinds of answers I did using free tools (such as Google Patents and Microsoft Excel). It would just take way longer.
However, there are entirely automated ways of using data to find potential licensees—such as PatSnap’s licensee locator tool.
Of course, no tool can completely replace human judgment when it comes to outcome-driven problem solving. The role of software is simply to perform tasks more suited to computers, with remarkable efficiency and accuracy. This includes, for example:
- Speeding up multi-dimensional data analyses
- Being a compass that points to the general vicinity of golden licensing opportunities
- Giving you access to a larger network of potential licensees
You simply need to input a patent number, text snippet or collection of patents, and the licensee locator tool will suggest suitable acquirers for your patent. These licensees are suggested based on objective metrics of licensability—such as similarity or overlap in technology, a culture of licensing in technology, as well as the size of IP and financial resources.
When I entered Snapchat’s patent into the tool, filtered the list of potential licensees to show only those matching the IPCs within Snapchat’s patent and then sorted by licensability score, I got the following top 10 companies:
- Utherverse Digital
- Worlds Inc
- Fingerprint Cards
- Arc Devices
- Upskill Inc
- Ariadne’s Thread
- Cross Match Technologies
- AQ Media
In a list of fantastically imaginative names, Daqri stands out for having appeared in earlier analyses, as well as a history of acquiring AR-focussed IP (and the company that owns it). Mirametrix, another company identified by PatSnap’s licensee locator tool (but which falls outside the top 10 list), specialises in computer vision and image tracking. Bullseye.
So, I’ve uncovered several potential licensees for Snapchat’s patent in about 5 fours, thanks to the richness and pliability of patent data. Sceptics might question the ability of data, sans human interpretation, to provide actionable conclusions. Why not stick to the old, reliable methods? Well, because that’s a false dichotomy and these data-informed approaches do not undermine established practices—in fact, they enhance them.
I say, why not combine the wisdom of old ways with the nimbleness of new ones?
Join our panel discussion in a free webinar hosted by IAM and Patsnap on April 25 at 4PM to discover more on strategies for finding patent licensing partners,
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