The statement: “We just want to look into the ownership of company X’s patents and then maybe assign them over after the deal” seems fairly innocuous. But, anyone who has ever worked through a due diligence exercise or even just been asked to assign a few IP assets from A to B knows that IP ownership can get difficult quickly.
One particular issue is whether it’s possible to trust the public record. Is the IP asset owned by company A or did they assign it away at some point in the past to company C who just hasn’t gotten round to updating the register?
This potential lack of accuracy in patent records is now being addressed by the ORoPO project which is a free and open register of patent ownership.
According to their website ORoPO is “committed to assembling the first global database of who owns which rights”. ORoPO is voluntary, open and non-profit and its database will include verified details of patents owned by organisations.
Anyone wanting to take part in the ORoPO register should read their guidelines for providing data.
Anyone wondering whether this project will work should note that it already has the backing of IBM, Microsoft, ARM, BAE Systems, Shazam, Patent Properties, Conversant, and Finjan.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that according to the UKIPO’s Facts and Figures 2013/2014 publication, the top 50 companies who had the most Patents Granted in 2014 accounted for around 36% of the total number of granted patents. A fairly comprehensive ORoPO database therefore seems a possibility even if only the top 50 or 100 patent owners sign up.
One of the hopes of ORoPO is that with better understanding of who owns what it should become easier to trade patent assets. An analogy might be drawn to the UK’s property ownership register at the Land Registry. Through the Land Registry database it is possible to work out who owns a particular property and to have confidence in that information. This in turn makes it easier to buy and sell homes and property because the ownership position is well understood.
Mark Richardson 30 September 2015