E-IP grows to largest company of its kind

January 18, 2009
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TROY — Troy-based e-IP LLC, through its TechTransferOnline.com Web site, has been marketing intellectual property online only since March and already has achieved status as the most visited intellectual property portal in the world. It’s like eBay for intellectual property, where IP can be listed, searched, sold or licensed.

In late December, e-IP waived all listing fees, transaction fees and commissions and shifted to a $25-a-month membership fee. Individuals, companies and institutions can list IP assets on the site without paying a penny, regardless of how many IP assets they post. To use the site, a person simply keys in a subject, such as breast cancer technology, and the system reveals how many patents are posted on that subject, the title of each patent and the patent owner. If a company desires more detailed information on a particular patent or wants to know who has been looking at its listed patents, it must become a member. Whether a person searches for 10, 200 or 5,000 patents, the membership cost remains $25 a month, said CEO Christophe Sevrain.

Sevrain said he decided to go to a membership-only fee for a couple of reasons. Up until recently, the site had been attracting mostly universities and national labs as customers, but the company wanted to attract large private corporations, as well. Large private corporations, however, don’t necessarily want to tell the world what patents they’ve sold or licensed, he explained. The other reason the company switched to a membership fee structure is because of the poor economy, Sevrain said. One way to build the economy is to create startups, and startups are typically created based on intellectual property — new technologies and patents, he observed.

“We don’t want companies that have a lot of patents to think twice about listing on our site the IP that they want to sell or license because it is not a good time to prevent other companies from using those new technologies to diversify their business,” Sevrain explained. “In this economy, we don’t want anything to stand in the way of that potential flow. We want big companies to make money from their patents, and we want the little companies to be creative and to create jobs from those patents.

Not yet one year old, TechTranferOnline has the largest and most valuable database of available IP in the world, according to Sevrain. To date, entities from Fortune 500 companies to universities have posted more than 50,000 patents on the site and nearly 1,000 additional technologies are being added each month, he said. Michigan listers include Wayne State, Michigan Tech, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan universities.

The National Institutes of Health has 1,400 patents listed on TechTransferOnline.

E-IP’s Web site is 20 times the size of its competitors, Sevrain said: Virtually all of e-IP’s competitors are two to three years old and have between 500 and 2,000 patents listed on their sites. The largest has 2,500 posted patents. Most competitors are small nonprofits, he said, and those that are for-profit don’t necessarily have the money to advertise, plus their sites are not as user-friendly as TechTransferOnline, according to Sevrain.

He attributes e-IP’s fast growth to a lot of advertising through press releases, industry trade shows and trade publications. As part of a current advertising campaign, for instance, the company is giving away 100 iPods a month over the next few months.

“People who list with us like that because when we advertise our site, indirectly we advertise them: the more people we draw to our Web site, the more exposure our listers get.” 

An e-IP competitor in West Michigan is InnovationWorks, a regional initiative geared to speeding the commercialization of products, processes and services in West Michigan. InnovationWorks is funded by WIRED West Michigan and was developed by The Right Place Inc. in conjunction with other economic development organizations in West Michigan.

“They look locally for patents, whereas we look globally,” Sevrain said of InnovationWorks. “We would like to have InnovationWorks list on our site and create an IP ‘store’ for West Michigan,” Sevrain said. “We like to think of e-IP as an enabler, rather than a competitor: We like to drive traffic to the Web site.”

Six-year-old Ocean Tomo of Chicago was the largest player in the online IP market before e-IP came along. Most competitors sell about 10 patents a month, while TechTransferOnline sells or licenses 50 to 100 patents each month, according to the company’s data.

“We have so many visitors. It’s a Catch 22: The more patents we have listed, the more people come to look at the listings, the more people want to list with us, and the more people want to become members — so it feeds itself,” Sevrain said.

E-IP is a spin-off of Sevrain’s CJPS Enterprises. CJPS manages the Michigan Life Sciences Pipeline and is putting together a network of researchers, entrepreneurs and service providers as part of the pipeline project.

Sevrain describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur.” For more than 20 years, he has been licensing technologies from universities, national laboratories, corporate research groups and research institutions to complement his own portfolio of 20 patents.

“Michigan is one of the top five states in terms of number of patents per capita,” Sevrain said. “We have a huge amount of patents, but we’re not really using them as much as we could to spin off new companies or earning revenues on the licensing of those patents.”

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