Entrepreneurial consulting firm CJPS Enterprises said this week that it has created an online company designed to help sell and buy intellectual property.
The company, called e-IP, is the latest in a slew of IP-marketing and -management websites launched over the past few years hoping to influence the way patents are listed, searched, and managed while attempting to win a share of the rapidly expanding market for IP services.
E-IP’s website, which has been uploading IP listings from universities, research organizations, and companies since December 2007, believes its IP volume, posting, and searching features give it an edge over its competitors — so much so that it has applied for patent protection for the underlying process and website features it uses, a company executive said this week.
“We actually patented this whole website and business process, because we thought it was different enough,” Christophe Sevrain, founder and CEO both of e-IP and CJPS Enterprises, told BTW this week. “It would be sort of embarrassing if the place to go for IP wasn’t itself IP-protected.”
However, it remains to be seen whether the newly formed company can succeed at building an online portal with the “critical mass” necessary to become a “go-to” clearinghouse for IP — a challenge that has left many rivals treading water in recent years, according to an official from a competing company.
“Without the critical mass, there is no value,” Matt Troyer, marketing director of engineering IP services firm Taeus told BTW this week. “So if these guys can somehow pull it off, I would be surprised.”
Sevrain admitted that his newest enterprise “won’t work unless it has the highest volume in the industry. We want to make this the place to go if you either want to get rid of some IP or you’re looking for some. But for this to be the place to go, we want to make sure we start with a big bang.”
E-IP’s website, www.techtransferonline.com, is currently up and running – somewhat – as the site’s design, information, and most features are in place. However, the site won’t be live for searches until sometime in April, Sevrain said.
The sources of many of the IP listings the site has collected so far indicate that a majority of the IP for sale is in the healthcare and life sciences arena, although the site has no restrictions or preference on the type of IP it brokers.
Sevrain is a serial biomedical entrepreneur who holds more than 20 patents, and has served in multiple biomedical managerial positions, including managing director at Delphi Medical Systems; vice president of global Technology, IV systems, and medical products for Baxter International; and technical director, vice president of R&D and business development for the MEMS Division of Micropump Corporation.
He said that e-IP was originally developed for exclusive use by his most recent company, CJPS, to help it provide better entrepreneurial services, including IP research and management, to its clients. Much of the time this involved culling university websites to identify IP that might be of interest to its customers.
“I became frustrated because it wasn’t that easy to find IP,” Sevrain said. “You have to go through every single university, ideally, because they each have a website with their own IP. There is no central place that has all the IP. Of course, this is very tedious. It takes forever, and every website is different. For some you can get alerts to tell you what’s available; for some you don’t; and for some you think you’re getting alerts, but they never come.”
But once CJPS started sharing its site with customers, many of them took a shine to it and suggested that the same tool could be useful as the basis for an online portal for a wide variety of available IP, Sevrain said.
He told BTW that universities in particular appreciated a site feature that allows them to confidentially showcase their available IP. Furthermore, he said, this enabled another feature, which was to list technologies and invention disclosures on the site that haven’t yet been disclosed in the public domain.
“As a licensee … ideally I want to be able to license something that is either a provisional patent application, or at least not published yet,” Sevrain said. “The reason for that is if I can license it early enough, I can influence the prosecution of the patent. To me that’s more powerful than after it’s all done.”
In response to his clients’ request, last year Sevrain decided that CJPS should spin off a web portal for IP marketing and management as a separate company. He said that this decision allowed the new company, e-IP, to operate independently of CJPS.
Some other features of the site include an automated import option that allows e-IP to “crawl” 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 can also import their IP data on their own using .csv files or XML streaming, e-IP said.
Sevrain also said that e-IP attempted to approach the site design from both the seller and buyer’s standpoints.
“Ideally I want to be able to license something that is either a provisional patent application, or at least not published yet [because] I can influence the prosecution of the patent.”
“Users will be able to search through every single document that the lister might put up – whether it’s a patent application, movie, PowerPoint presentation – it doesn’t matter,” Sevrain said. “You can upload anything you want, and it searches through that.
“Then I can save my search and get alerts,” he added. “I only have to go to this one website and put in my keywords. I literally will know when people will check out my IP as a lister, because it will send me a message every time somebody looks at my IP, and then I have a lead. But also, as a searcher, I can save my search and receive an e-mail alert every time somebody puts up an IP that answers the criteria I entered.”
For IP searchers and potential buyers, the site is free. However, for those wishing to list their IP on the site, the company plans to offer a few pricing options: A flat selling fee of $5,000 when the IP is licensed and no monthly fees; $995 per month (or $9,950 per year) for unlimited IP listings, with no selling fees; or $9.95 per IP listed per month (or $99.50 per year), with no selling fees.
Sevrain said that most of the existing content – an estimated 75 to 80 percent – has been uploaded from universities due primarily to the fact that e-IP made an effort to focus on universities first.
“Even the online confidentiality agreement is very much in favor of the lister,” he said. “We made it in such a way that it was very pro-university. In fact, a lot of the features have been requested by the tech-transfer offices of large universities.”
Sevrain claims that the remaining IP has been contributed by “some very large Fortune 500 companies that contacted us and wanted to license some of their IP in fields of use that are outside their business.” Sevrain declined to disclose the number or identities of organizations that have posted IP to the site so far, citing verbal confidentiality agreements.
“We officially launched a place for people to upload their IP because we want to fill up the store shelves before we can open the door to the store,” said Sevraiun. “We already know, though, that on the day we launch for the searchers, we have more IP than anybody else out there.”
Crowded IP House
Other IP marketing and management web portals exist, and many of them have been launched within the last year or two. A short list of these sites includes the original IP clearinghouse, the USPTO database; Google Patents; PatentCafe; FreePatentsOnline; Ocean Tomo’s PatentRatings system; and the Delphion IP Network.
More recent rivals include the Kauffman Innovation Network’s iBridge Network (see BTW, 10/1/2007); Canadian IP portal FlintBox; SparkIP; and Taeus, which focuses on engineering patents (see BTW, 10/22/2007).
Each of these sites offers a unique spin on the IP portal model, but e-IP believes that its combination of services is distinct enough to warrant its own patent protection: The company has filed provisional patents on its business model and collection of website features.
Even if e-IP wins these patents, it is not guaranteed to be the “be-all-end-all” of patent portals, according to Taeus’ Troyer.
Over the past year or so, Troyer and his company have been advocating industry standardization of patent information to create a patent clearinghouse — a kind of eBay of patent information — that makes it easier for people to buy and sell IP.
In such a model, multiple IP portals could exist; they would just have to distinguish themselves on the services they offered, or the features available on their website, or some other unique business offering. For instance, Taeus, whose recently launched IP portal deals mostly in engineering patents, has always been an IP services company, long before it considered creating an IP marketing site.
“What does it cost to list anything on a website anymore?” Troyer asked rhetorically. “It’s almost zero. We want the opportunity to provide what Taeus always has provided, which is services – whether it’s during the transaction, or evaluating patents, or looking for other patents – that kind of stuff. That’s what we’re pushing.
“Ours is a 100-percent free [website],” he added. “We’re hoping that what will come out of it is that these transactions are complicated, and people need services. If I host a million patents or other non-disclosed technologies on my site, if only a small percentage uses our services, then we’ve got a major win.”
Taeus last week held a symposium at its headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., promoting the “open IP” idea. He said that most IP buyers have expressed that they have never seriously used individual IP portals.
“So what’s the likelihood in this fractionated marketplace of finding that key technology” that makes one site stand out against another, Troyer posited. “The whole idea of having a portal is that it’s not just the patent – but what are you looking for? Are you looking for a sale, some type of license, and if so, what type of license? Without the critical mass, there is no value.”
Troyer admitted that although such a critical mass would be near-impossible for any one site to achieve on its own in order to become an eBay of patents, it might be possible in specialized areas, especially life sciences or biotechnology.
“[e-IP] comes out of the medical side, right? Medical is a little different in terms of volume of patents – it tends to be a smaller number of very high-value IP, whereas something like the iPhone has 1,000 patents on it,” Troyer said. “In the electronics space, there is a far larger volume of transactions happening.”
Sevrain seems to be relishing the potential competition, and said that he is not concerned about having unique IP content on his company’s website, or about its customers posting their IP to multiple web portals.
“In fact, I hope they do, because they’ll see ours is better,” he said. “eBay is not the only company that provides its service, but I go to eBay because it’s the best place to go. I don’t mind that, and in fact, if they infringe on our patent, we’ll stop them anyway.”