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  • High Technology Goes on the Block

Photonics Spectra
May 2000
Daniel S. Burgess

HOUSTON -- Many auction houses feature art, antiques and collectibles. With the offering of rights to a chip-based vision system, however, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP hopes to put high-tech intellectual properties on the block.

"We are positioning ourselves in the market to become the 'Sotheby' of intellectual property and technology auctions," said Bryan Benoit, a partner in the intellectual asset management practice in the company's financial advisory services. "We see an increasing interest amongst our clients in auctioning [intellectual property] rights and technology."

It is likely that PricewaterhouseCoopers' first lot, up for closed bidding within the next six months, will be the commercialization rights to the Generic Visual Perception Processor, a $6 to $7 vision system on a chip that its promoters say has 100 applications across 10 industries. The chip, which was invented in 1992 by Bureau d'Etudes Vision Holding SA of Bouyges, France, houses 23 neural blocks that simulate temporal and spatial processing in the human brain. The technology is well-suited to the auction format because its commercial value, which PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates in the billions, is entirely dependent on the willingness of the potential buyers to develop it.

Opportunity license

The management practice offers its clients a valuation service and three-stage auction process. In this case, it sent approximately 60 companies a memorandum in January describing the technology and its applications. Companies interested in the chip will be allowed to attend a technical demonstration. If they are interested still, they may pay to test models of the device and discuss it with Bureau d'Etudes Vision's engineers. Based on the nonbinding offers they submit, companies then may enter a final round of evaluation and bidding.

"Typically, we start with a reasonably robust group [and] end up having discussions with all of them on a one-on-one basis," said Benoit. He expected that 25 to 50 percent of the companies would move from one stage in the process to the next and that one to three companies would enter final bids. "You end up with companies willing to pay the appropriate price for the technology and put it to the best use," he said.

Benoit said that PricewaterhouseCoopers selects clients that have patent protection, a prototype and a clear idea of the significance and applications of their intellectual property. "We're looking for opportunity," he said. "It's really an opportunity license. We help them find the right company to do something productive in the marketplace."

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