Book Review

If you were a boxing judge you’d consider the recent round of the Apple Samsung patent fight a draw. True, Samsung has to pay Apple $119.8 million in damages for infringing some Apple patents and Apple only $158,400 for infringing Samsung’s.  But little got resolved in the latest battle of the Apple Samsung war, a war that seems to be going on forever.

Indeed, there are those who think that the IP wars will continue to have no clear resolution or winners.  The only real beneficiaries: lawyers.  But commentators such as Bruce Berman argue that unless and until we can quickly sort out the real issues in the IP imbroglio, almost everyone –even the patent trolls – will lose out.   “More people have a business interest in intellectual property than they realize. Only some are aware of it,” says Berman.

For  those who really want to understand  the implications of IP and why it is such a  key weapon  in a company’s technology arsenal and also a field of landmines,  Bruce Berman’s The Intangible Investor is necessary reading.  Berman has been writing about the use and impact of intellectual property, well before it was fashionable or popular.   And because few understood what he was forced to write about the subject in a disarmingly jargon-free and explanatory style.

Many of us are intangible investors – unseen stakeholders with an interest in what is provided by patents and other innovation rights, intangible assets by accounting definition. While IP rights may be owned by individuals or assigned to companies, how they are deployed, and by whom, is what gets most people riled up. The preceding decade’s challenge was to discern “How are IP rights assets?”   For the coming one it will be “how can IP rights best be used to support innovation?”

Berman’s commentaries are excellent primers for understanding how the discussion around   IP has evolved. Berman rightly points out that the complexity of the IP process and the difficulty in enforcing one’s claims may have deterred many companies from getting involved.   The lack of data may also have made the valuation task difficult.  But once patent auctions and other similar events happened, the task of mark-to-market became much easier. So the companies that still shy away from valuing their IP aren’t simply undervaluing their assets but also shortchanging their investors. Many patent owners still don’t want to believe that patents can sold or traded like tangible assets.

Berman discusses the emergence of a whole new set of players such as PIPCOs (Public IP Companies) that are helping to turn once under-utilized, off-balance sheet IP rights into an asset class worthy of global investor interest.   Their success will not only reward their backers but also shed much needed light only on how audiences and markets look at all rights, but also how they can be used to achieve objectives.

The Intangible Investor is not a complete guide to the IP discussion. But until another book comes out to discuss IP rights this may be the most illuminating set of commentaries – on the past, present and future of IP.