16 May 2007

Patent auction in Munich, success or failure?

Was the first IP auction in Munich, yesterday at Kempinski hotel, a success? Well, it depends how you define “success”. Certainly the German organizers, Intellectual Property Auctions GmbH (IPA) did a great job. You must be courageous to organize an auction in Europe, where the notion of selling and buying patents is still in its infancy and general IP awareness is at minimal levels. So yes, it was a success in the sense that IPA has been the first one to create greater awareness that patents are more than rights you acquire to then shelve them.

In terms of proceeds, no, the auction was a washout. Out of the 81 lots of patent(families) covering 12 fields of technology as well as one (!) trademark, the highest bid – 50K euros, by an absentee bidder – was for a patent on a reduced light scattering ultra phobic material, owned by a German company. Most sellers were, by the way German companies and institutions, among which Fraunhofer. Fraunhofer did relatively the best business, out of 11 patents auctioned, 10 were sold, be it for an average of an abysmal 17K euros, for a total of 188K euros. The lowest amount for which a patent was sold was for 5K (can you imagine, that’s not even 1/100th of the costs for an average European patent application covering 5 countries).

There were some exotic patents as well. A patent for making leather out of fish skin, wouldn’t that be great to support Europe’s fishing industry’s competitive edge? No bids however, an inevitable fate for most lots as it was clear from the start that, again, more tyre kickers than buyers frequented the auction. Or a patent offered for sale by a German patent attorneys firm for wound treatment, asking price 80K, no bids.

The only trademark auctioned was NUTRI-CARE of BASF, sold for 14K, after a (telephone) bidding with increments of 1,000 euro. Not a bad result though for a trademark if you compare it to the results for patents were (almost exclusively telephone) bidders did not want to pay more for any patent than a paltry 15k-17K euros. The only bid that was made on a certain patent from the audience was - guess what – from Ocean Tomo, the US auction organizer, who will have its first European action on June 1 in London. The bid failed as it was overturned by a telephone bid. How sad can it be?

What can we learn from this first auction?
First and foremost that a successful sale of patents is still the terrain of the patent brokers and IP merchant bankers, rather than the auction houses. Secondly, that the big issue that need to be overcome is: where are the buyers? In that respect it does not help that the organizers have waited too long before making the auction catalogue available on the internet free of charge (only after filling in forms, paying entry fees, etc). How else would a potential buyer know about what is being offered, leaving sufficient time for due diligence? Instead, IPA was much too secretive and restrictive about who is selling what, for what price and what details could be provided for any interested party to get him to bid. Thirdly, crucial details in the catalogue were missing, price indication, value estimators, valuation analysis that IPA must have done before accepting the lots, etc.

Let us wait how Ocean Tomo does the London auction before giving the final verdict.

1 comment:

Salvador Minguijon Perez said...

We should have patience. The result of this auction is not very different from the one that had the first auctions of OceanTomo. Most of the sales was made later on to the auction. It is necessary to keep in mind that the auctioneer has reserved a time to finish executing the sales that could not be carried out during the own auction.