Posts Tagged ‘Silicon Valley’

Update on America’s Slipping Global Competitiveness– Implications for Intellectual Property Development of Senate Bill 515

ot_logoThis morning I gave the keynote speech at the ICAP Ocean Tomo IP auction in San Francisco.  My remarks explained the relationship between the long-term decline in America’s global competitiveness, the impact of the capital markets crisis on new investment in research and development, and specifically addressed Senate Bill 515, the pending U.S. legislation that will transform the U.S. patent system and broadly impact intellectual property rights in our country.  Some excerpts follow, and you can download the entire speech and slides by clicking at the bottom of this post:

“The absence of cohesion in American public policy can be seen in many areas—with cybersecurity coming immediately to mind.  Mike McConnell, former director of the National Security Agency, recently wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post on why the U.S. is losing the cyber war, commenting that “The problem is not one of resources; even in our current fiscal straits, we can afford to upgrade our defenses. The problem is that we lack a cohesive strategy to meet this challenge.

This lack of cohesiveness comes from short-term thinking that has become prevalent in many aspects of American society.   The notion that “posterity doesn’t matter” has unfortunately taken root in our country, and this has led to fragmented approaches to public policy solutions across the board, corroded leadership among our elected representatives, and contributed to an entitlement culture and a lack of accountability that permeate much of American society.”

“The key obstacle to moving [patent] reform forward continues to be disagreement between several large high-tech companies, namely the group of Cisco, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, and Intel, on the one hand, and life sciences organizations such as PhRma, BIO, MDMA, AdvaMed, Universities, several union groups, the NVCA, and others, on the other hand, over the idea of creating a new post-grant review procedure within the PTO and over the proposal on apportionment of damages in infringement cases.

As we consider the broad implications of this polarizing issue, we must first step back and remember that inventors and investors devote time, energy and risk capital to innovate new products and technologies.  Since the drafting of our country’s Constitution and even well prior to the establishment of the United States, it was understood that the greater good was served with a patent system that encourages this type of risk taking by protecting inventions resulting from innovation.  It is also understood, though in our country it appears to have been forgotten, that innovation, and job creation, come not just from large, well-funded enterprises, but in large part result from the efforts of small companies and individuals laboring to make a better mouse trap.

The core principles underlying the patent system have not changed.  We need to encourage and reward those that take risk to innovate new products, services and technologies.  Unfortunately, the patent system that served us so well for so long is under assault.  The cost of filing patents has increased dramatically.  The cost of enforcing patents has gone through the roof.  Injunctions have been taken away except for cases of head-to-head competition in the patented item.  Patents are now easier to invalidate after-the-fact.  A patent holder can no longer offer his/her patents for license without putting himself/herself at risk of litigation that he/she may not be able to afford.  Innovation involving patents has become a rich-man’s game, with an increasingly uncertain chance of return.

At a high level, we need to understand that anything that changes our patent system creates winners and losers.  In general, changes that weaken the patent system hurt inventors and innovators, while benefiting large companies with established market positions (e.g., monopolists) and low cost producers (e.g., offshore companies with lower labor costs, fixed currencies and weaker environmental standards).

Some argue for changes in the patent system based on a claim that non-practicing entities, often pejoratively called trolls, have too much power.  Some extraordinary examples, such as NTP seeking an injunction that would shut down Congress’ use of Blackberrys and some high dollar jury awards and settlements, have been cited by some as sufficient reason to argue for a radical restructuring of the way that patents are filed, challenged and enforced in court.

We need balance in this process, as changes may have the unintended affect of hurting those that we need now more than ever – inventors, entrepreneurs and investors that will innovate and create jobs here in the U.S.”

For a full transcript of the speech, including the slides, CLICK HERE.

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VC Governance FAQ: (2) Especially now, when transparency is so important, why is limited financial information available from a private company?

images-3This is the second in our series of ten frequently asked questions from investors in venture capital partnerships.

Susan Mangiero, CEO of Investment Governance’s Fiduciary X, asked me the following:

Question: At a time when transparency is so important to institutional investors, how can fiduciaries reconcile that there is limited information available with a private company?

Answer: Actually there is plenty of financial information available from private companies, but that does not mean that it is available to institutional investors as passive investors who are Limited Partners in venture capital or other private equity partnerships.

Putting that point aside, for a moment, what is absent is a quoted liquid market in their equity and debt securities, which means that the determination of the book value of those private companies is necessarily subjective. Institutional, or any other investors, for that matter, who choose to invest in illiquid securities, presumably do so because they expect to obtain superior returns from the illiquid securities at the end of the investment period than they would from liquid securities over the same period—otherwise it’s not worth giving up the liquidity and taking the risk of the longer holding period. To get to the core of your question, providing passive institutional investors with more financial information about illiquid securities isn’t going to make them more liquid.  They key is whether you can rest assured that the general partner who is responsible for managing your investment is honoring the trust that you have placed in that manager.

There has been a multi-year move among auditors, driven by demand for greater transparency in understanding the process behind the book valuation of private, illiquid investments, to bring more of a “mark to market” approach in the way the general partners of private equity partnerships value their portfolios.  Before I discuss this in more detail, I should fully answer your question:  the main reason why general partners, particularly in venture capital, should legitimately limit the amount of information they disclose to their investors about their private investments is (1) competitive considerations, particularly for disruptive emerging technologies where protecting intellectual property and market competition from large companies are defining elements in the company’s potential for success.

Having said that, if a sophisticated institutional investor insists on having the right to inspect the details about specific private investments, see business plans, and otherwise get details about the company, if they are prepared to sign a confidentiality agreement and have a good reason for wanting to see this information, it certainly exists and can be made available.

To address the broader point about accuracy in book valuation, I am concerned that the developing industry standard for venture capital is at risk of going too far while providing no real benefit to investors. I see the auditors forcing excessive quarterly compliance burdens on the general partners, and this trend has been developing since the institution of 409a valuations for common stock.  The reason I feel this burden is unnecessary is because, in my view, the additional information may be very precise without being accurate.

The fact remains that you don’t know the value of a private asset unless you actually intend to sell it.  And in venture capital, the second you become a forced seller of a company, you have given it the equivalent of the kiss of death.  For many emerging companies, the moment that you become a bona fide seller and are perceived to have to sell the asset, the value will be diminished—so you can imagine why the lack of an IPO market is the single greatest source of distress for venture capital in the U.S.  To conclude on this question, I’d like to emphasize that, in my view, for early stage companies with little or no revenue, valuation models driven by public equity or option inspired equity models simply make no sense.

Wall Street Journal Opinion Column: Don’t Strangle Venture Capital With Miles of Red Tape

The Wall Street Journal published a combined version of  my letter to the editor in response to the Washington vs. Silicon Valley editorial of August 7 with letters from Harry Edelson (another First Boston alumnus from the ’80′s), and Ryan Phillips (whom I do not know).  My blog post of yesterday is a longer version of the letter that I sent to the editor.  Scott Austin has written a lively column today on this topic in Venture Capital Dispatch.  The opinion piece elicited 60 comments as of the date of this post covering a wide range of opinions on this important topic.

I think it’s very important that readers separate their personal feelings about venture capitalists from the capital markets issue.  Small cap IPO’s are necessary to restore job growth in America, regardless of whether they are venture backed or not.  If we don’t restore a robust market for initial public offerings of companies raising less than $50 million, America loses, and that has everything to do with promoting entrepreneurs.