e-IP, a startup company attempting to create the most comprehensive online intellectual property database, said last week that it has surpassed its data-collecting goal and will now offer its site free to all non-profit organizations wishing to list their IP on the site.
The company’s decision is significant because it may encourage more universities, non-profit research institutes, and government labs to list their IP, possibly allowing e-IP to build the critical mass that experts feel is necessary to create a one-stop shop for selling and buying IP.
The move comes just a few months after e-IP launched its site, under a model that charged all of its users to list their IP for licensing, but allowed individuals shopping for IP to browse the site for free.
As part of its new plan, e-IP has fully refunded all non-profit organizations that to date had paid it a fee to list their technologies.
According to the e-IP’s founder and CEO, Christophe Sevrain, e-IP decided to alter its non-profit pricing structure partly because it better aligned its mission with tech-transfer offices at non-profit institutions.
“Our plan was to have the highest volume of IP available,” Sevrain told BTW last week. “That was our goal, and I think we wanted to hit something like 1,000 patents by April 1. We really blew through that.”
“Focusing on volume, trying to do the right thing, and [listening to] feedback from some of our customers, we decided that the role of a university is not to make money; it is to create innovation and then make it available to the public,” Sevrain added. “I thought our model would not support that purpose. The minute we charge even a dollar, whoever cannot afford a dollar will not list with us. And that really is counter to our charter of making this available as much as possible.”
Sevrain also said that e-IP has generated enough IP volume and early revenues from brokering deals to afford such a move.
“We felt we had built such a good business early that we can afford to do it this way now,” Sevrain said. “We have so much volume through now that we were able to make that happen, whereas when we started we didn’t know what we would be able to afford to do.”
When it launched earlier this year, e-IP said that users would be able to browse the site for free. However, those wishing to list their IP on the site could choose from a few pricing options: A flat selling fee of $5,000 when the IP is licensed, but no monthly fees; $995 per month (or $9,950 per year) for unlimited IP listings, with no selling fees; or $9.95 per listing per month (or $99.50 per year), with no selling fees.
“We waived every single fee” for non-profit IP listers, Sevrain said. “They never pay to sell, buy, or anything.” E-IP continues to charge for-profit corporations $5,000 to sell or license a piece of their IP, he said. “And frankly, one could argue it’s free for them too, because they only pay when they sell,” Sevrain added.
“The more IP we have, the more visitors we have, and the more visitors we have, the more people want to list with us.”
Companies also don’t need to pay when they list unless their e-IP listing leads to a licensing deal: the site has a patented feature that generates monthly statements for its listers that shows who viewed their IP.
“This has two purposes,” Sevrain said. “First, it gives the lister a list of leads. But also, it proves that people came through us to see their IP. That triggers the $5,000 if it is licensed to one of those visitors. If someone buys their IP but didn’t come through us, then there is no fee.”
Sevrain spun e-IP out of consulting firm CJPS Enterprises earlier this year to create an e-Bay of IP. The site was originally developed to be exclusively used by CJPS to enhance entrepreneurial services such as IP research and management for its clients (see BTW, 2/13/2008).
The site advertised features such as an automated import option that allows the company to browse the websites of IP sellers with their permission, automatically import their IP listings, and periodically synchronize their listings with the e-IP website. Contributing entities would also be allowed to import their IP data on their own using .csv files or XML streaming.
But e-IP’s main value proposition, it said at the time, would be establishing a database comprehensive enough that parties interested in licensing IP would have a one-stop shop to do so.
Several other so-called ‘IP marketplace’ websites have also popped up in the past year or two with the same general goal of e-IP, but have yet to attract the volume of IP needed to become a go-to clearinghouse. Sevrain himself said earlier this year that e-IP’s site would not work unless it absolutely contained the largest volume of available IP.
Sevrain now claims that e-IP’s site is the largest site in the world for IP listings, and that it continues to grow by “thousands of new patents per month,” although he did not disclose exactly how many patents it has available at this point. Other competing sites have not disclosed the individual number of IP listings available, either.
The US Patent and Trademark Office patent database likely has more patents and patent applications listed than any site, but without the same customized search features.
And a few companies, such as Ocean Tomo and Taeus, offer large, specialized IP web portals that also provide a gateway that links users to services offered by those companies. However, neither of those companies has attempted to establish a complete online IP clearinghouse.
One reason e-IP has been able to build its database is that companies have begun listing their IP on the site even though e-IP solicited mostly academic and non-profit research institutions when it started. In February, Sevrain estimated that about 70 percent to 80 percent of e-IP’s listings came from non-profit organizations and the rest from companies; now, he says, the ratio is about 50-50.
“By the end of this month — which is key for us because it is our six-month anniversary — we expect to have roughly the same number of IP [listings] from universities and non-profits as we have from corporations,” Sevrain said. “This is a bit of a surprise, because we really only advertised to universities up until now. We started with the tech-transfer offices, but then this took on a life of its own, and corporations approached us to list.
“So we feel comfortable now that it will sort of feed itself,” he said. “The more IP we have, the more visitors we have, and the more visitors we have, the more people want to list with us.”
Sevrain estimated that about 30 to 40 percent of its IP can be broadly categorized as being in the life sciences, and cited customers such as the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins University as big contributors in that area.
“We also have a lot of technologies like clean tech and alternative energy from [non-profits],” Sevrain said. “And then from industry, it tends to be more electronics, and more in the US and Europe.
“I’m not sure it’s a good reflection of the world,” he added. “But right now IP from universities seems to be coming more from the life sciences. We’re only six months old, so it’s really hard to tell where we’ll settle, but that’s what it is now.”