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The Motley Fool readers have spoken, and I have heeded your cries. After months of pointing out CEO gaffes and faux pas, I've decided to make it a weekly tradition to also point out corporate leaders who are putting shareholder interests and that of the public first and are generally deserving of kudos from investors. For reference, here is last week's selection.
This week, we'll take a closer look at how Bill Merritt, CEO of InterDigital (Nasdaq: IDCC ) , is creating a shareholder-friendly atmosphere.
Kudos to you, Mr. Merritt
It hasn't been the best year for InterDigital or its CEO, Bill Merritt. Last summer, its share price shot to the moon after management made it clear that it was exploring options that could result in the sale of the company's entire patent portfolio. That sale never materialized despite interest from Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) , Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) , and Microsoft, to name a few, and sent the stock steadily sliding from its highs north of $80 to just $22.37 earlier this week.
Those lows could be a distant memory, however, as Bill Merritt and his team saved face by negotiating a $375 million sale of approximately 1,700 patents pertaining to 3G, 4G LTE, and 802.11 technologies, to Intel. The sale itself has multiple implications for investors -- even more than the fact that it's stock jumped by a clean 30% following the news.
For one, the reasonable per-patent price of approximately $220,600 sets a precedent that may encourage more tech leaders to come calling. Many tech companies still have a bad taste in their mouths, specifically Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , Microsoft, and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) , which spent $4.5 billion, collectively, to purchase Nortel's patent portfolio of roughly 6,000 patents. The winning bid works out to a per-patent price of approximately $750,000, much higher than Intel's price per patent, which was also less than half of what Google effectively paid for each Motorola Mobility's patent. It might appear that InterDigital was "low-balled," but it's likely that the lower price may encourage more buyers to step up to the plate.
Also, the sale represents only a small portion (8%) of InterDigital's massive 20,000 patent and patent application portfolio. That means not only will the sale provide ample cash for InterDigital to continue focusing on licensing applications and growing its patent portfolio, but it won't result in any downside adjustments to royalty revenue. It also doesn't affect any of the company's patents in question in its ongoing lawsuit against Nokia.
A step above his peers
Not only has the patent sale resulted in a 25% pop in InterDigital's stock price, but InterDigital's management team is focused on boosting shareholder value by investing in its business. Out of the roughly $250 million in cash that will be left over once the deal closes sometime in the third quarter and the company pays its taxes on the sale, InterDigital plans to take $100 million and double its current share repurchase program from $100 million to $200 million. Clearly I'd love a dividend, but purchasing shares is another sign that management believes its business is undervalued.
More proof that InterDigital could be vastly underpriced even after its patent sale is based on its remaining 18,000-plus patents and patent applications. Keep in mind that certain patents will obviously command higher prices than others, but even at an arbitrary 30% discount to Monday's sale, InterDigital's patent portfolio alone is worth approximately $2.7 billion -- more than double its current value. Considering that InterDigital can replace the patents it sold this week with fresh licensing applications and patents within 18 months, I'd have to agree with management's bullish assessment at these levels.
It wasn't the easiest trek from point A to point B, but InterDigital generated a fair amount of cash from its patent sale; and it should open the door for more sales in the not-so-distant future. InterDigital could easily have sat on the cash, but chose instead to reinvest 40% of it (after taxes) back into the company. InterDigital's business, including the legal aspects, isn't cheap, so the company's insistence on rewarding shareholders for their patience is admirable. I give you my sincere two thumbs-up, Mr. Merritt.
Do you have a CEO you'd like to nominate for this prestigious weekly honor? Shoot me an email and a one- or two-sentence description of why your choice deserves next week's nomination, and you just may see your nominee in the spotlight.
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