Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

AOL Has Some Pretty Sweet Patents, Too, Tim Armstrong Tells Wall Street

Yahoo’s Facebook lawsuit doesn’t seem to have done much for its share price. And it is going over like a lead balloon with the digerati (Union Square Ventures portfolio companies shouldn’t expect a Sunnyvale deal anytime soon).

But Yahoo isn’t the only aging Web giant with a big basket of patents it thinks it can turn into money. AOL also has a portfolio of 700 to 800 “really important” patents, CEO Tim Armstrong told Wall Street this morning.

“You should assume we understand that portfolio, and assume we have a strategy on it,” he told the audience at a Barclays investor conference.

Like what? No details there. But he did draw a parallel with the Nortel patents that will sell for $4.5 billion to a coalition that inclues Apple and Microsoft — “foundational patents for the Internet” that haven’t been on the market before. They’re like “beachfront property in East Hampton,” Armstrong said. “I don’t know — I don’t go to the Hamptons.”

Armstrong said he made a point of wresting the patents from Time Warner when AOL spun off a few years ago, and that the company started taking a close look at them back in September. No mention of the proxy fight recently launched by Starboard Value, which says that AOL’s patents “could produce in excess of $1 billion of licensing income if appropriately harvested and monetized.”

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik