It's not exactly like selling picks and shovels during the California gold rush. But the patent wars now raging across corporate America have simultaneously generated a lot of interest in New York-based startup Article One Partners (AOP), whose global network of researchers uncover the "prior art" that enables its clients to shoot down low quality patent lawsuits.
For those not familiar with the term, "prior art" is the Achilles heel of any patent. If AOP's crowdsourced researchers, located across the globe in 160 different countries, are able to find any patent or technical paper about an invention that predates the patent for that invention -- or any evidence of prior public knowledge or use of it -- then that patent is at high risk of being invalidated. Bang. Dead.
As Philips Electronics senior executive Ruud Peters told Businessweek two weeks ago in the magazine's profile of Article One, "Because of [AOP], we could completely eradicate the [patent suit] against us." Philips paid AOP less than $100,000 to unearth the prior art, said Peters. But it saved the company many millions of dollars in expected litigation costs.
The researchers responsible for finding the prior art silver bullet that Philips needed, meanwhile, earned a hefty $5,000 award.
To see just how crucial such prior art and the fight against patent trolls has become to businesses of all types today, look at the growth of Article One in 2012 alone:
83 percent more clients in 2012 -- 30 percent of them among the Global 500. 42 percent revenue growth for the company. 141 percent increase to 609 successful Studies conducted for clients. 52 percent increase in the number of Article One researchers worldwide. 83 percent increase to $3.7 million in awards paid to their research community. Expansion of AOP research beyond litigation defense into new areas like vetting patents for licensing campaigns, mergers and acquisitions, and patent prosecution.
The prospects for 2013 look even brighter, says Article One Partners CEO Cheryl Milone. "The new America Invents Act law this year makes whole new categories of prior art available to stop nuisance patent troll suits," Milone says. "Plus, there are several new patent office review procedures that will allow us to help weed out bad patents that shouldn't be granted at all. This year, in fact, we'll begin filing some of our research findings directly to the United States Patent and Trademark Office."
Another client, Sony senior executive Fumihiko Moriya notes, "Our partnership with Article One enables Sony to identify highly-relevant prior art to help defend against an increasing number of low quality patent suits."
Adds Article One's Cheryl Milone: "It's all about getting better quality patents. That's good for business, good for the public, and good for our overworked patent office. And we pay the public to correct the problem that harms them as entrepreneurs -- that's good economics!"
It is also good for Article One Partners, which expects its growth trajectory to continue in 2013.
For more information on active Patent Studies and to learn how to participate in AOP's research, go to http://www.articleonepartners.com.