On February 7 2018, Fuji Xerox announced that it will roll out the patent licensing business to SMEs.
In Japan, a business model for large companies to license their unused patents to SMEs to help such SMEs develop new products or create new business is getting a lot attention lately. Fuji Xerox has been participating in intellectual property business matching between SMEs and large companies since 2016 which is a local government project. Now it has signed a patent license agreement with a company in Yokohama, and made this announcement. This is the first success case in the IP business matching for Fuji Xerox.
This business model brings the following advantage:
- Large companies can monetize their unused patents.
- Large companies can expect advertising effect by contributing to SMEs and regional community.
- SMEs can gain the chance of development of new products.
Especially for large companies, since they provide their unused and non-core technologies, it is unlikely to affect their business and it would be easily approved in the company. Also, the litigation risk is probably not high, because there is a big gap between large companies and SMEs in internal resources (e.g. IP staff, financing) and maybe few SMEs will challenge the patents of large companies or try to use the ideas without infringing the patents. On the other hand, the license revenue depends on future success of the new products implementing the patented ideas. It is unpredictable and maybe cannot expect huge revenue.
Therefore, it is a low-risk, low-return business for large companies. Fuji Xerox clearly states in the announcement that it will promote this type of licensing business. However, it should consider the cost of matching with SMEs, in addition to unpredictable revenues. If an SME is looking for a specific technology and it approaches to a large company which has such a patented technology through its own effort, that’s fine for the large company. However, it would be challenging for large companies to identify their unused patents which potentially contribute to the business of a SME and make a proposal for it, considering the cost. Currently, a local government is playing the important role as an middleman in the transactions. It should be watched whether Fuji Xerox can grow this licensing business successfully.