Did Intel Just Rekindle the Fading Patent Boom?

In the last couple of years, technology patents have been a hot commodity. Start-ups and blue chips alike bet fortunes on the resale and lawsuit value of their patent portfolios, chiefly in the wireless arena. For a brief moment, those patents were like money in the bank -- or at least a pretty solid IOU.

But nothing lasts forever, and the patent fever died down quicker than most fads. Eastman Kodak (OTC: EKDKQ) wanted to capitalize on its digital imaging patents to rescue the century-old company from looming bankruptcy, for example, but missed the window. Now, Kodak can't even find a volunteer to start off the bankruptcy auction. And though plenty of patents are wielded as weapons or shields in current courtroom battles, many of the campaigns are stalling or fizzling. Owning patents is no longer the get-rich-quick scheme it was just a year ago.

But maybe, just maybe, there's still life in tech patent sales.

Chip giant Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) is going to cut a $375 million check to patent wrangler InterDigital (Nasdaq: IDCC  ) for the deeds to 1,700 wireless technology patents. Intel says that the purchase will "support Intel's strategic investments in the mobile segment." InterDigital's purpose in life is to extract value from the patents it buys or develops, so the company is probably more adept than Intel at finding new licensors. Therefore, buying the patents outright rather than signing a simple license agreement sends a signal that Intel might use these new properties in court. Whether it's an offensive or defensive move is unclear.

Either way, the agreement is a game-changer for InterDigital, which collected just $302 million in revenue last year. The company still holds more than 7,000 patents and even more applications in process, so there's plenty of potential value in InterDigital's patent vaults.

And the sale itself seems like good news for the licensing industry. If this portfolio was worth more than $200,000 per patent, that's not terribly far off from the $500,000 Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) paid for each Motorola Mobility patent. Maybe it's not too late to find deep-pocketed buyers, after all!

Then again, I wouldn't recommend loading up on Kodak's penny-stock shares just because InterDigital managed to sell some patents. The real value of innovation appears when you actually make stuff rather than haggling over the rights to do it. One particular group of innovators is outlined in our free video report entitled: "The Future Is Made in America." In it we outline how the new industrial revolution is already right in front of us -- so click here now to learn more, completely free of charge.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google but holds no other position in any of the companies mentioned. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Motley Fool owns shares of Intel and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Intel, Google, and InterDigital. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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  • Report this Comment On June 19, 2012, at 7:26 PM, SuntanIronMan wrote:

    "And the sale itself seems like good news for the licensing industry. If this portfolio was worth more than $200,000 per patent, that's not terribly far off from the $500,000 Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) paid for each Motorola Mobility patent."

    Maybe it is just me, but the difference between Intel's $200k per and Google's $500k per seems fairly significant. That is a 150% difference, after all. Of course different patents covering different technologies are worth different prices (and worth different things to different companies). And if you are acquiring an entire company instead a partial portfolio of patents, that matters as well. But it does seem to be a bit more than just "not terrible far off".

  • Report this Comment On June 19, 2012, at 7:57 PM, TMFBiggles wrote:

    @ WhichStocksWork -

    It's probably also worth considering that Google picked up a fairly respectable hardware manufacturing enterprise on top of the patents Motorola had in its portfolio, so it's not a straight 1-1 comparison.

    - Alex

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