In the still relatively nascent ride-sharing market there are two clear leaders – Uber from the US and Didi Chuxing from China. Both are relative minnows in IP terms, but the pair have been busy in the secondary market of late which for the latter is particularly significant as it expands into North America – with a mooted launch in Mexico and the establishment of a Silicon Valley research centre.

According to the USPTO assignment database, Uber has most recently picked up a package of 17 assets from Microsoft. That follows a 2015 deal between the two companies which saw Uber pick up some IP as part of a broader business agreement.

The acquisition from Microsoft followed another deal between Uber and AT&T for 13 assets - the third significant acquisition that the ride-sharing giant has made from the telecoms giant with the company picking up well over 100 assets.

Although as the 2015 Microsoft deal shows that Uber’s IP head John Mulgrew has been focused on bolstering the company’s patent position for a while, the focus on building up its portfolio in the secondary market has intensified since the hire of former Google and Motorola IP executive Kurt Brasch in September 2016. Mulgrew is understood to have led on the most recent deal with Microsoft along with Uber IP lawyer Rakesh Michael.

Since then, Uber has ramped up its buying activities adding more than 300 US assets to its portfolio, according to data from ktMINE and the USPTO assignment database. As well as AT&T and Microsoft, the company has acquired assets from PARC, HP Enterprise and AST (as well as AST’s buying platform IP3). It also launched a tailored patent-buying programme – UP3 – in April last year.

The multi-billion dollar start-up’s IP strategy has been in the headlines of late thanks to a very high profile spat with Google sister company Waymo. That ended in a settlement last week, just days into what was already shaping up to be the corporate courtroom fight of the year.

That case focused on trade secrets, but was widely seen as Uber drawing a line on a damaging affair which might have tarnished its attempts to go public any time soon. With an IPO reportedly on the horizon, the company is doing what other previous multi-billion dollar start-ups, such as Facebook, have done before: increasing its patent-buying activities as a means to fend off any pre-listing litigation.

Major recent Uber deals

Seller Number of assets Execution date
AT&T 76 January 13th 2017
Apparate International 47 October 26th 2016
IP3 41 June 16th 2017
AT&T 30 January 12th 2017
HP Enterprise 24 June 9th 2017
Microsoft 17 January 19th 2018
AT&T 13 December 14th 2017
ManyWorlds 12 May 16th 2017

Source: ktMINE/USPTO assignment database

While Uber has aggressively built its patent assets in the secondary market, a recent deal between France Brevets and Didi Chuxing - which saw the Chinese company acquire 29 grants from the French sovereign patent fund - looks potentially even more significant. Uber has dominated the ride sharing market since it launched in 2010 although with the Waymo lawsuit and the departure of CEO and founder Travis Kalanick it has experienced more than its fair share of turmoil of late. Didi, meanwhile, has built a pre-eminent position in China and now appears to be more aggressively pursuing overseas markets including that plan to launch in Mexico this year.

Uber was an early competitor with Didi in China but merged its Chinese business into its rival in 2016. Although any expansion into Mexico will place Didi head on into competition with Uber, it’s not clear yet whether the Chinese company has any near-term plans to launch in the US. Its patent-buying activity does indicate, however, that it is acutely aware that it needs a high level of IP protection.

The recent France Brevets deal is the latest move the Chinese start-up has made to bolster its patent position. As this blog reported last year it acquired a package of five assets from HP Enterprise and before that acquired a portfolio from Mitac International Corporation. Its patent buying follows its 2016 hire of Raymond Chen, who was formerly with Finnegan in Washington DC and the electric car company Faraday Future, as director of intellectual property. While its deal making is comfortably eclipsed by that of Uber’s, the France Brevets deal shows that patent buying remains firmly on Didi’s radar.

Major recent Didi patent deals

Seller Number of assets Execution date
France Brevets 29 February 6th 2018
Mitac International Corporation 29 October 19th 2016
HP Enterprise 5 September 1st 2017

Source: ktMINE/USPTO assignment database