Chicago Sun-Times

Ocean Tomo catches the wave

TECH MAT­TERS | Ap­prox­i­mately 300 spec­u­la­tors, in­ven­tors and oth­ers gather for auc­tion of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty

- BRAD SPIRRISON www.we­b­con­ Chicago · Austria · Eastman Kodak · Iceland · Madison · Belarus · Motorola · Palm Beach · Westport, CT · Connecticut · Massachusetts · Belgium · Yahoo! · Google · Backpack · Sun Microsystems · NYSE Alternext US · Highland Park · Kuczmarski & Associates · Wayland, MA

As soy­bean spec­u­la­tors on April 19 were wind­ing down an­other day in the pits of the Chicago Board of Trade, a few doors to the east on Jack­son Boule­vard the seeds of a fledg­ling fi­nan­cial mar­ket were just tak­ing root.

Ocean Tomo, a four-year-old mer­chant bank mak­ing waves in the world of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, at­tracted ap­prox­i­mately 300 spec­u­la­tors, in­ven­tors, at­tor­neys and oth­ers to its live auc­tion held at the Union League Club. Over the course of three hours, 34 “lots” of patents and other pro­pri­etary items were sold for nearly $11.5 mil­lion. Sell­ers such as East­man Ko­dak and Sun Mi­crosys­tems and small com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­ual in­vestors paid Ocean Tomo fixed list­ing fees and dou­ble-digit com­mis­sions to auc­tion off the rights of their cre­ations.

“Ocean Tomo’s vi­sion is to make in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty an in­vestable and trad­able as­set,” said Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Andrew Ramer. “The auc­tion is the only thing even close to a quasi-pub­lic mar­ket for IP.”

Head­quar­tered at 200 W. Madi­son and with re­gional of­fices on the coasts, Ocean Tomo ad­vises cor­po­ra­tions, in­sti­tu­tional in­vestors and law firms on the strength of their in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty hold­ings. The firm, which was hon­ored by the SunTimes and Kucz­marski & As­so­ciates with a 2006 Chicago In­no­va­tion Award, also man­ages a $200 mil­lion in­vest­ment fund, and last year es­tab­lished the Ocean Tomo 300 Pa­tent In­dex on the Amer­i­can Stock Ex­change.

The idea to sell patents in a live auc­tion was claimed by Vice Chair­man Dean Becker (an afi­cionado of au­to­mo­bile auc­tions) in the fall of 2005. Ocean Tomo held its first auc­tion six months later, and has run three to date.

Becker has founded and man­aged a hat-trick of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions con­cerns, most re­cently Mo­torola Ven­tures-backed wire­less di­rec­tory as­sis­tance ser­vice 422 Inc. Be­fore that, he founded High­land Park-based eWire­less and Becker Beeper, which in the mid-1990s sold for $40 mil­lion. Now based in Palm Beach, Becker also over­sees Ocean Tomo’s in­volve­ment with en­ter­tain­men­to­ri­ented ven­tures.

The the­atrics of the most re­cent live auc­tion, which drew bids from dis­creet at­ten­dees as well as anony­mous buy­ers over the phone, peaked in the mid­dle hour as two lots were sold for more than $2.5 mil­lion a pop. A suite of patents sup­port­ing video-on-de­mand ap­pli­ca­tions was sold by West­port, Conn.-based Im­age Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Corp. for $2.75 mil­lion. Rov­ingRadar Inc. of Way­land, Mass., sold a “friend find­ing” so­cial net­work­ing pa­tent for $2.6 mil­lion. For each, Ocean Tomo re­ceived a 10 per­cent “buyer’s pre­mium” in ad­di­tion to the com­pen­sa­tion re­ceived from the sell­ers (be­tween $1,000 and $6,000 a lot and a 15 per­cent com­mis­sion.)

One irony about IP auc­tions is that the prac­tice it­self does not seem to be patentable. One at­tor­ney I spoke with who fol­lows Ocean Tomo but has no di­rect deal­ing with the com­pany the­o­rized that the firm would “maybe re­duce its prices” if a le­git­i­mate com­peti­tor were to emerge. Un­til then, first mover Ocean Tomo (a Ja­panese phrase for in­tel­li­gent and friendly) seem­ingly con­trols the mar­ket it in­vented, and plans to hold its next Chicago auc­tion in late Oc­to­ber.

Ya­hoo!’s Brick­house to present

Salim Is­mail, who re­cently be­came head of the Brick­house Unit at Ya­hoo!, is sched­uled to speak at Web Con­tent 2007 to be held at the UBS Tower here June 18-19.

Brick­house is a newly launched prod­uct-de­vel­op­ment pro­gram within Ya­hoo! de­signed to help the com­pany bet­ter com­pete with the likes of Google. Join­ing Is­mail on the bill are lo­cal tech play­ers Ja­son Fried of 37Sig­nals and Howard Tull­man of Flashpoint Academy. More in­for­ma­tion about the pro­gram, which is hosted by Chicago-based Duo Con­sult­ing, can be found at

Just an­other “bab­bling loony”

Ten years ago yes­ter­day, the great Mike Royko left this town for friend­lier con­fines in the sky. Need­less to say, he is dearly missed. When con­tem­plat­ing a way to weave the an­niver­sary of his pass­ing into to­day’s col­umn, my first in­stinct was to Google “Mike Royko” and see what hap­pened. I im­me­di­ately (re)dis­cov­ered this quote: “It’s been my pol­icy to view the In­ter­net not as an ‘in­for­ma­tion high­way,’ but as an elec­tronic asy­lum filled with bab­bling loonies.” Me­thinks he’s gotta point! I should have checked the New­berry Li­brary first. No in­ven­tion or al­go­rithm can re­place black ink on white pages.

Brad Spirrison is a lo­cal tech­nol­ogy re­porter and pres­i­dent of Mid­west­Busi­

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 ??  ?? Dean Becker, vice chair­man of Ocean Tomo, came up with the idea of sell­ing patents in a live auc­tion.
Dean Becker, vice chair­man of Ocean Tomo, came up with the idea of sell­ing patents in a live auc­tion.

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