Jay Walker, the inventor behind Priceline and Walker Digital, has started a new business focused on leveraging patent database information to companies looking for external resources or a survey of their industry.
Walker Innovation was founded in September of 2013. Vice Chairman and CEO Jonathan Ellenthal said in an interview on Friday, Aug. 28 that “many dozens” of companies are already using the service to find “complimentary external resources.”
Customers don’t receive access to the United States patent database themselves. Instead, Walker Innovation uses individual analysts to identify the customer’s specific problem through a telephone-based interview process. They can then create a “problem statement” for each customer, and feed the keywords in that problem statement through their proprietary software to search the patent database across industries to find materials, experts, and companies that may be able to help.
“The primary thing we do for all of our customers, though not the only one, is help speed their internal product development problem solving by bringing more resources to the table than would otherwise exist inside a client company. There’s a real belief that it’s really no longer possible to meet all of your customers’ needs by relying solely on internal resources,” Ellenthal said.
“If you accept the premise that the world is moving faster than any one company could possibly hope to keep up, and if you look at the math that says for every dollar a company spends on its own product design or R&D the world spends thousands on the same topic, it makes sense for companies to figure out who is outside the firm who knows something or can do something that you or your firm needs to learn to do now,” he said.
Walker Innovation spent all of 2014 in development, creating the software and the service organization needed to run. It launched and began taking customers in late January 2015.
“It’s become a competitive imperative that [companies] bring all the world’s resources to bear, not just the resources within the firm,” Ellenthal said.
The firm is less interested in investigating individual patents and more in the ideas and people behind them. The patents themselves serve as the catalyst for connections between companies and individuals.
“We are not looking at the patent specifically for the invention that is quote on quote claimed in the patent, which is typically a very specific, very narrow thing,” Ellenthal said. “We are instead looking at the patent for its deeper content. We’re looking at it as an advertisement for the deeper understanding and expertise of the companies and the people behind the patent.”
The company Walker Digital, also founded by Jay Walker, faced accusations of “patent trolling” circa 2011.
Ellenthal said, “We have never bought a patent for the purpose of asserting it legally.”
“We lived at a charged point in time when it comes to patent rights. There’s a very active conversation in the media about patents and there’s plenty of opportunity for name-calling.”
The legal patent system exists in order to keep people from stealing intellectual property, he said, and trolls buy patents with the sole goal of getting profits.
“We have legally asserted a small number of Mr. Walker’s patents,” he said, “and I think we’re simply legally asserting our right to do so.”
Ellenthal also noted that the cost of the patent system can exclude companies that don’t have “deep pockets,” asserting that this financial exclusivity removes what was intended as a democratic process.
Business advisor Steven Hofman also participated in the interview. He pointed out that with new technology such as 3D printing disrupting the technology markets, “It’s never been more important for companies to understand the broad environment they operate in.”
Companies can leverage the patent database in order to foster their own competitive success, he said.
Walker Innovation may also offer services to help businesses create new ventures, Ellenthal said. With the growth of large companies like Uber and Airbnb, some customers are reaching out to Walker Innovation to receive consulting and support in starting new businesses in new markets. Walker Innovation may offer this service, more custom-tailored consulting regarding new businesses, in the next few years. The subscription-based software service will remain as the mass market service, while the internal development program will be more expensive, since it is tailored to large companies.
It’s difficult to predict where they’ll go next, Ellenthal said, but they have a plan. “My expectation is that we will continue to offer more and more tools and services that will support internal innovation and internal product development and engineers of companies in a way that will continue to allow them to make better products faster and cheaper.”