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Asia’s Changing IP Landscape

Guy L Proulx 

Transpacific IP is a full-service intellectual property firm based in Asia. Established in 2004, the company has seven offices in the region including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo. The firm focuses on transactions and patent strategy, as well as patent prosecution and due diligence. Transpacific founder Guy Proulx, who took part in this year’ Business of IP Asia Forum, 5-6 December in Hong Kong, explains how Asia’s IP industry has developed in recent years.

How did Transpacific IP get its start?
I found an opportunity; there was a good patent portfolio available for sale through a national auction in Taiwan. I knew where to locate some money and went ahead and put a bid in. We kind of came out of the blue and we were successful. I thought if we could just buy 500, maybe 1,000 patents, and license them out, we’d make a pretty good business. Within 12 months, we were well into 1,500 patents, and it’s just been going on and on since then.

 
 

Under the theme "IP: Driving the New Economy," the Business of IP Asia Forum included discussions on corporate IP strategies and trading opportunities, as well as the launch of an online portal that promotes Hong Kong as an IP trading hub

How has the IP landscape changed over the years in Asia?
In 2004, 2005, 2006, I think people were laughing at me for doing something here. I was way ahead of the curve, and it’s drastically changed since then. China certainly has come a long way in the last decade relative to intellectual property rights and certainly the number of patent filings. And that’s been true throughout Asia. This [BIP Asia] conference here wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago. You just wouldn’t have got the attendance, and people wouldn’t have been interested. My first conference that I sponsored here in Hong Kong, I literally had to buy people lunch so I could get 30 people to show up. So it’s drastically changed over the last decade.

What’s your assessment of the state of IP trading in the region?
I think it’s all positive. It’s good for the industry, it’s certainly good for us, and it’s just good for entrepreneurs and companies in general. For the longest time, Asian companies did not pay much attention to intellectual property rights. They did when they were sued by, say, an overseas company, and that’s when they had to pull together patents to defend themselves. Now they’re looking at it as kind of the natural life cycle of a product or a technology. In order to compete in the smartphone business, you need to have some patents, because it’s the technology that differentiates you. If you don’t own that technology, you end up being kind of left by the wayside.

HTC is a good example of that. They didn’t have much of a patent portfolio when Apple sued them. As a matter of fact, I would say it was probably 100 patents give or take. And that was really tough for them to counter-sue and come up with a response to that. And I think you’re starting to see companies becoming more adept at planning the strategy around entering a new market. The strategy particular to intellectual property and patents: making sure that they’ve got the right patents or are at least attempting to build a portfolio that will help support the products, or the parts of the product, that they create or manufacture prior to entering a particular market.

What are some of the issues that start-up companies tend to overlook regarding IP?
The first thing they overlook right out of the box is filing a patent application. As an entrepreneur, it’s tough to do something that you don’t see real value from for years to come. So filing a patent application to protect your technology – and we run into entrepreneurs all the time and, for them, it’s always “delay, delay, delay,” “Well, I’ll do it next year or the year after.” Usually, by then, it’s already public knowledge, and they’ve lost the opportunity to protect their invention. And what I try to explain to entrepreneurs is, if you’ve got a great technology, and you’re starting up a company and it gets quick acceptance, ultimately somebody is going to notice you, and that someone is going to be a much bigger company. If you haven’t protected that idea, when the big company sees is as a new opportunity, they’ll come in and start creating and producing that product. And you can be wiped off the map pretty quickly, unless you’ve protected your innovation. So we spend a lot of time educating entrepreneurs along that route.

What can Hong Kong do to develop as an IP trading hub?
You need to be selective and pick what you can do in the IP realm that makes sense; that could make you a hub. Arbitration is an opportunity. There’s still a lot to be done along the lines of securitisation of intellectual property, finding ways to wrap together a bunch of patents and make it into a financial product, and doing loans against intellectual property. And I think that’s something that would have a great chance of possibly succeeding here with the financial centre that Hong Kong is.

How can events such as BIP Asia help promote awareness about the importance of IP?
 We’ve been actively sponsoring conferences all over the region, and we’ve been doing that since day one. We find it a good way to come in touch with a lot of different technologies and entrepreneurs that come. We also get to mingle with other IP professionals. It’s a rather small community. If someone were to give me the name of somebody in the IP world, and I couldn’t call someone and get a referral with that one person, it’s probably not somebody who’s been in the community very long. So it’s a small community, and we’re trying to grow it and this is one great way to do it. And I think it’s also an excellent way to get more information out on intellectual property rights and how it can best benefit a business.

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