Expedia Spins Out TripAdvisor, PopCap Opens a New Studio, LiquidPlanner Makes Work Social & More in the Seattle-Area Tech Roundup

The digital travel sector was a hot source of news for Xconomy readers in the past week—specifically, we had three major appearances from Bellevue, WA-based Expedia (NASDAQ: EXPE). The online travel giant made its biggest headlines with its decision to spin out TripAdvisor into a separate public company. As Xconomy’s Greg Huang reported, Newton, MA-based TripAdvisor has been part of Expedia since 2004, but the two companies operated independently. That setup seems to have worked pretty well—TripAdvisor reported $486 million in revenue in 2010.

The TripAdvisor announcement came just one day before the federal government said it would approve Google’s $700 million acquisition of Cambridge, MA-based ITA Software, which makes airfare pricing and shopping software. Expedia was among the online-travel companies that opposed the original bid by Google (NASDAQ: GOOG). But that coalition praised the U.S. Justice Department’s firewalls and ongoing oversight as conditions of the deal.

If that wasn’t enough, we also had an in-depth report from Xconomy Detroit’s Thomas Lee about the entrepreneur working on Expedia’s first native hotel-booking iPhone app, Expedia Hotel, which debuts this month. The guy behind the new product, Ben Kazez, sold his startup Mobiata to Expedia last year. The new app is a big step for Expedia, which gets most of its revenue from hotel bookings.

Elsewhere on the Seattle-area tech beat:

—I stopped by venture capitalist Tom Huseby’s office for a chat on the implications for the Puget Sound region’s mobile innovation community if AT&T‘s blockbuster $39 billion purchase of Bellevue’s T-Mobile goes through. Huseby is a veteran of the industry here, and has specialized in startups that work with wireless carriers. One of his major takeaways from the buyout was a bit of “chin up” advice for the local community: Yes, losing a major headquarters is bad. But it’s not as bad as everyone thinks. Go check out the whole thing for more insights on our mobile talent cluster, the carrier duopoly (plus Sprint), and why mobile and place-bound computing convergence is the biggest disruption of them all.

—I took a look at how Bellevue-based LiquidPlanner, a startup that makes mid-range online project management software, is capitalizing on the trend of blending social and mobile features with boring old business software. As CEO Charles Seybold explained, there’s more than beauty in the user-friendly design of LiquidPlanner—the Facebook-like look and feel, and the instant messaging-style features have actually helped the company win business in a sales landscape that runs on a lot of free trials. LiquidPlanner’s co-founders came from—where else?—Expedia, where they saw firsthand how a growing company’s bureaucracy and scale can get in the way without better tools to manage everything.

—The folks at PopCap Games rolled out a new studio that is supposed to set free some of the “strange or marginal ideas” that its developers come up with. Dubbed 4th & Battery in honor of the company’s headquarters address, the new indie label is pitched as an outlet for some of the weirder creative ideas that PopCap workers come up with—without the expectations for success or even metrics that mainline PopCap games would face. This is both fun and serious: It allows some off-the-wall creativity to take root, and probably makes the troops happier because they have a place to try new things. In a hot market like social and mobile gaming, I’d guess that keeping your hands on talent (and their ideas) is a big imperative.

—A couple of acquisitions made news: Zillow, the Seattle-based online real estate company, snapped up San Francisco’s Postlets, a syndication service for online home and apartment listings. Terms weren’t disclosed. The two companies already had been doing business together. The acquisition comes with the backdrop of Zillow reportedly testing the waters for a potential IPO. The other buyout news came courtesy of Seattle’s Marchex (NASDAQ: ticker:[[MCHX]]), an online advertising and search company. Marchex announced it was acquiring Billerica, MA-based Jingle Networks for up to $62.5 million in cash and stock.

—Those list-makers at Forbes gave us some tidbits to chew on, including the new “Midas List” ranking of the top 100 VCs in the country. Farm-team Seattle only had one entrant on the list: Matt McIlwain of Madrona Venture Group, owing in part to Isilon Systems’ $2.25 billion sale to EMC. The rankings used some mathematical factors to weigh an investor’s influence, and added an “expert panel” to throw some human judgment into the mix. In a notoriously male-dominated profession, it was interesting that there were two women on the list, but only one Seattleite. Forbes also was on our radar with its ranking of the best cities for minority entrepreneurs, and Seattle did somewhat better here: Of the six cities Xconomy covers, Seattle ranked highest, coming in at No. 27 out of 52.

—The intellectual property middlemen over at Nathan Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures had another patent deal to crow about, and this time it wasn’t even a big dog in the tech world. Seattle startup Dashwire, which sells mobile-device backup and data transfer services, acquired rights to some of Intellectual Ventures’s patents—partly as a defensive maneuver in an ongoing lawsuit brought by larger competitor Synchronoss. It seems like a lot of the patent deals we’re hearing about lately are in the mobile sector, which speaks to the hot growth in those businesses and, apparently, the quality of the mobile patents that Intellectual Ventures has racked up

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