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Cantech Letter interviews Jim Skippen of WiLAN; Part Two

Skippen: "I think that bigger, stronger companies in the patent area are better suited to compete than a smaller company. So we do want to continue to get larger."

Missed it by that much.

This morning, Nick Waddell of Cantech Letter snagged a lengthy interview with Jim Skippen, CEO of runaway Ottawa-success story WiLAN (TSX:WIN).

WiLAN now has nearly fifteen-hundred patents and has already licensed their technologies to blue chip techs such as Cisco, Nokia, Panasonic, and Samsung. In doing so, WiLAN’s revenue has climbed from just over $2 million in fiscal 2006 to over $50 million in 2010, and more than that in the first two quarters of fiscal 2011.

After a few friendly shots about Cantech Letter’s excessive coverage of rival Mosaid Technologies, Waddell and Skippen had a rambling chat about patent reform, the Ottawa tech scene and ringing the opening bell at the Nasdaq. And then, less than two hours later, Skippen announced that WiLAN intends to make a formal all-cash offer to acquire all the outstanding common shares of former Skippen employer Mosaid Technologies for approximately $480-million.

In an interview with Bloomberg recently Terry Matthews said that the Ottawa tech scene is on its way back and the activity levels for new companies starting up is wild in Ottawa. Do you see this happening?

We see many small, promising companies. WiLAN is known for patent licensing but we have two initiatives, one is next-generation White Space, where we are developing products and one is LTE Pico Cells where we are also developing products so we are part of the scene on many levels. We don’t have as many big companies as we used to, that’s for sure, but I do sense that there are many small, interesting companies.

It seems to me that a lot of Ottawa tech firms get to a certain level and then they get snatched up by larger American firms. I am speaking of course of Cognos, Creo, Corel, JDS Uniphase and now Bridgewater Systems. Do you see a day when these homegrown Ottawa companies will stay at home or is it the nature of the beast that the Americans will eventually come calling?

You know that’s a good question. You know I don’t have the answer to that and I don’t know why technology hasn’t done better in Canada. I would really like to see our Federal Government adopt some policies that better support Canadian technology companies because they somehow just seem to get lost in the shuffle, from what I can see. WiLAN would like to stay independent, we would like to stay a Canadian company, and we just hope that the environment is going to continue to be favorable for us in order to do that.

It’s a major theme of Cantech Letter. We’re big advocates, obviously, of Canada moving up the value chain and not focusing solely on resources because there may come a day when that doesn’t serve us as well.

That’s absolutely true. It’s kind of sad because I think around the year 2000 time frame Ottawa was really starting to take off, we had a lot of promising tech companies, a lot were getting to a sort of critical size and somehow or other that seems to have, largely, collapsed. I don’t know whether it will ever get back to the point where it was.

So what’s next for WiLAN, Jim? Do you continue to build the company’s portfolio of patents?

Yes. We’re in a strong financial position, we have over $200 million in the bank and we’re going to continue to try and buy patents, we’re going to look at buying private and maybe even public companies to try to continue to become bigger and stronger, which I think is a positive for Ottawa and Canada. I also think that bigger, stronger companies in the patent area are better suited to compete than a smaller company. So we do want to continue to get larger. We’re also going to continue to develop a part of our business where we work with small and large companies and inventors to help them license the valuable IP that they have, rather than letting it sit on the shelf. I see that as an exciting growth area for the company moving forward.

What we’re finding more and more when we talk to companies about buying their patents, they say what they really want to do is participate in the upside, so they ask if there is any way we can work as consultants and help us generate value from our patents. And we’re happy to do that, if that’s what they want.

I guess that opens a lot of doors to business that you might not have had a chance to get before…

Absolutely. And we announced partnerships with some fairly well known companies in Canada, such as 01 Communique and Poynt, both of which have interesting patent portfolios.

And what about Mosaid?

Well, WiLAN is, I think, a fairly dramatic success story because, as I mentioned, I was at Mosaid, I built that program, I led it I was very successful. It’s almost entirely my old team that’s still there. Then I came to WiLAN, which at the time had no revenues, no employees, it only had about twenty patents, it had no cash in the bank and look at where we are today. Almost a billion dollar valuation, two-hundred million in the bank, almost 1500 patents, and 250 companies that have signed licenses. It’s a very dramatic Canadian success story. If you listed the top ten Canadian tech companies by market cap, I believe we are number five or six. I think sometimes the media doesn’t give us the due that they should, just in terms of how successful we have been in such a short period of time.



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About The Author /

Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.
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