RPX, Defensive Patent Firm, Goes from Zero to $160M IPO in Less than Three Years—Thoughts from Boston Investor CRV

5/4/11Follow @gthuang

As examples of ultra-fast growth in the tech world, people like to talk about Groupon and Zynga. While they are phenomenal success stories, neither of those companies is publicly traded yet—nor, for that matter, are Twitter or Facebook. Well, how about a different kind of tech company that started in 2008 and held its IPO today?

That would be RPX, a San Francisco-based “defensive patent aggregation” company with Seattle roots, whose venture investors are in Boston, London, and the Bay Area. RPX filed for an initial public offering in January and says today it has raised $159.6 million in an offering underwritten by Goldman Sachs and Barclays Capital. The firm sold about 8.4 million shares at $19 per share, with trading to begin on the Nasdaq today. (Pricing above the anticipated range of $16-$18 was announced this morning.)

What’s remarkable is how fast a ride it has been for RPX (NASDAQ: RPXC) and its investors, which include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Charles River Ventures, and Index Ventures. The patent rights firm was co-founded just under three years ago by John Amster and Geoff Barker, both former execs at Bellevue, WA-based Intellectual Ventures, the controversial invention and patent licensing company led by Nathan Myhrvold.

RPX’s approach is different from IV’s. As Amster told me last year, RPX focuses much more narrowly—on acquiring patents that its corporate customers pay for access to and can use for defensive purposes, to deter or beat back patent infringement lawsuits. Members pay a subscription fee—a fixed percentage of their operating budget, typically between tens of thousands and a few million dollars—to access the RPX portfolio. And RPX pledges not to sue anyone, unlike IV.

Here’s why RPX is so interesting financially. Its revenue tripled from about $33 million in 2009 to about $95 million in 2010. The firm has been profitable since 2009, with nearly $14 million in net income last year. What’s more, it has the potential for a billion-dollar market cap after its IPO. And its membership group has grown to 80-plus companies and now includes giants like Cisco, Google, Nokia, Samsung, Sony, Verizon, and Zynga.

It’s a simple proposition—to help companies lower their patent-litigation costs or avoid them altogether. And paying licensing or access fees seems to be getting more popular among … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://www.GeneralPatent.com patent litigation

    I don’t quite buy the perspective of some that RPX wants to “neutralize” patent trolls; after all, if it weren’t for said trolls, RPX wouldn’t have a business to begin with. In fact, at present it’s in RPX’s best interest if such trolls run rampant and can be presented as very real (and expensive) threats. Of course, the long-term plan may really be to prepare for the day when so-called “defensive patent aggregators” start suing each other.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkQELhZeDYQ

  • http://www.redchalk.com/ Ip Management

    This does not surprise me to see a startup patent company make so much money in a short period of time. There is a lot of money to be made in this industry.