InterDigital's CEO Presents at Barclays Global Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference (Transcript)

May.23.13 | About: InterDigital, Inc. (IDCC)

InterDigital, Inc. (NASDAQ:IDCC)

Barclays Global Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference Call

May 23, 2013 4:40 PM ET


William Merritt – President and CEO


Adam Carron – Barclays Capital

Adam Carron – Barclays Capital

Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for joining us here for the final presentation of the conference. My name is Adam Carron. I am an associate analyst for the IT, consulting and computer services sector here at Barclays, working for Darrin Peller. And with us this afternoon we have InterDigital Corporation. And from the company we have Bill Merritt and Rich Brezski.

And for those of you that don't know, InterDigital is a company that's dedicated to developing and licensing cellular and wireless technology and I am sure that these guys can a much better job explaining that in greater detail than I can. So with that I will let you guys kind of take it away.

William Merritt

I appreciate that and I appreciate folks coming out. I appreciate the (outpouring) of people in the building. So, I am Bill Merritt, the President and CEO and InterDigital, have been in that role for about eight years, have been with the company for about 17. So first from me I will give you the usual statement about the presentation of course will contain some forward-looking statements and we refer you to our Securities filings with respect to those statements.

So let me start first just with a high level view of the company. So InterDigital's been around for over four decades, involved in really one thing which is looking at fundamental changes in wireless systems, starting back in the late 1970s and 1980s with that fundamental change that took place from analog over to digital that we drove. We have been a pioneer in this space, ever since, driving a lot of the features and functions that you see in your phone today.

We were the first ones to do video over the year, very involved in inventing solutions today for much more efficient broadband networks, employ a very large number, 175 engineers, all of whom have, 80% of which have advanced degrees. So very strong research group, very strong in terms of their ability to not only predict the needs of the wireless market but also then invent the solutions that fit those needs.

We have research facilities in six locations. We have one in King of Prussia, just out of Philadelphia, one right over in Long Island in Melville, Montreal, one's in San Diego and we have new one we will be opening up in Silicon Valley where we drive a lot of the research from those six facilities.

So looking back at last year, continued strong work by the company in terms of driving innovation into the worldwide standards for cellular electronics. So about, just under $70 million of research spending just last year. If you look over the last decade, about $650 million of research by the company; very involved in a wide variety of standards and important standards in terms of 3GPP, which drives the 3G and 4G standards that are driving your phone today; IEEE, which is the 802 standard and others which will create that wonderful experience that you have on your iPhone or Android or other device.

Our engineers participated in a vast number of meetings, made a significant number of contributions, probably upwards of 400-500 contributions into the standards last year, all of a good number of which we would then file for patents on, or take a patent filing. We have done 150 patent filings just last year; so very strong in terms of our continued contribution into the standards bodies. And the contributions that we make derive from things we actually build. We are not just a place that brings deep thought. We actually build systems. It's one of the things that has driven the company over the years. Back in the 80s we actually built what was the first digital wireless telephone systems and deployed them around the world; first to deliver voice; and then in the 90s to deliver video, including video to customers in five different regions around the world.

So it's a company that builds the solution because we find and we build the solutions, when we find the problems and the things we need to solve. So last year we built and demonstrated a number of things, one of which was using white space to deliver Wi-Fi. And one of the applications there being backhaul, one of the things that you can use that for. We were very -- have been very much involved in last four years in building the service platform for machine-to-machine that we hear a lot about machine-to-machine. It's a lot of promise, one of the things that's held it back is the fact that it's not standardized across a lot of -- many of the deployed machine-to-machine services. InterDigital has driven the standard now for SC, create the standardized platform which we think will then enable those 50 billion devices that folks have said will be connected over time in the Internet of things. So we drove that demo last year.

We launched a new technology, innovation in terms of adaptive video, a technology where for example if you are watching a video and your eyes move slightly off the screen it detects that and then degrades the video because you are not looking at it. And that will save bandwidth and a number of features.

And we continue to work on another technology that's been very important to us, very important to the industry now in terms of policy based access to wireless technology. If you think about wireless the thing that is the most precious resource out there is spectrum. It's the thing we have to use very creatively and very efficiently and what our policy-based solution does is it accesses the right, wireless access system for the right purpose at the right time, does it dynamically and intelligently and seamlessly to the user, that's now being deployed and is in field trials around the world. So not just a lot of work that goes on by the company but bringing real life solutions into the market.

In terms of the last ten years of the company and how we have done. So we have a very significant investment in R&D, over $650 million in research, 4 million person-hours in terms of R&D time, our portfolio has grown to just over 19,000 patent and patent applications at the end of last year, 94% of those patents and patent applications coming from inside the company. And if you look at that number approximately about half of that number relates to standards or have been declared as a -- have been declared to standards bodies as essential or potentially essential.

So very, very strong high quality patent portfolio reflected in the revenue that we have been to drive and other parameters as well. This is the revenue growth over the last 10 years, very strong growth, it's a little bit lumpy but generally the trend is strong and upwards. Last year driven not only by licensing revenue but also we sold a relatively small portfolio of patents to Intel for $375 million. So, demonstrating again the strength of the company's internal R&D team, the great capability of our patent management to make sure that those assets are managed in a very effective way.

All this leading the company towards its stated goal, which we put out at the beginning of last year, which is $800 million in sustainable average annual revenue coming off of our terminal unit licensing program which we are committed to as a company and also committed to individually on a compensation basis and I think we are on track to get there.

So very strong record of innovation by the company, driving a very strong record of revenue growth by the company. And when you think about how we have done from a financial perspective also very we believe shareholder friendly in terms of how we deploy our capital.

And so this chart really reflects two things, it reflects consistent profitability over these years, right so we have lot of money being made by the company but also that money being returned to shareholders in a number of different ways; one obviously is reinvestment in the business to drive value but also we have a continuing dividend. We paid special dividend last year and we have had a very, very strong stock repurchase program at the company for a number of years, driving value for shareholders as well.

So the Board is very, very focused on its capital management. It understands the need to maintain a certain level of capital in the business for strength; if you understand the licensing program that's an important component of the business. We make a good amount of investment back into the business, to drive further R&D, but then we also return capital to shareholders as we think in a very strong way. So very strong growth, a strong performance by the company but also we think very well positioned for what we think is the next evolution of wireless.

The strength really comes from the patent portfolio first and foremost, that's the anchored tenet in the business. So if you think about the portfolio today, things that people associate with the company is the money that we have made off of licensing and cellular terminals, that's on the right side. The left that's driven off of the cellular connectivity patents that we have, that's driven that licensing program.

But the portfolio is actually much more diverse than that. And there's a number of things that are not visible to the market, both in terms of the portfolio at the company and the opportunities that those portfolios can create for the company.

So cellular infrastructure we have done very little licensing on that side and that's probably the nearest term opportunity of significant value for the company to move into that space. But we have also been involved in Wi-Fi, video, security and a number of other technologies, all of which can speak to some of the opportunities on the right side of this, not just about terminals but about the infrastructure equipment, about the operator services, about context, content, advertising and the like.

And if you look at the mobile market you see cellular devices extremely strong, you have seen it's probably an industry that's has had a growth in terms of unit numbers and is of that size that is unprecedented in the market. But overtime that growth slows, as people have the devices they need and their turnover rate is a certain rate. But it has a very, very long tail and has a very strong business, and one that will carry us for a very long, driven off of the cellular connectivity portfolio we have today as well as what we have developed over the next year.

That program will also be driven by other technologies as well, but certainly cellular devices now are not just for talking they are for doing lots of other things, they have video streaming technology, Wi-Fi, M2M, all those things that can find their way on to cellular devices, and as well as infrastructure. And infrastructure itself is (evolving) into an opportunity that is bigger than it used to be as we deploy small cells and other types of technologies.

But there is another opportunity that we think is starting and that will eventually eclipse the cellular device market and that deals with content and maybe more so with services, content and Internet of things. And this is not unusual, there are a lot of markets that move from where the hardware is where it's all about and then it moves to where it's the software is what it's all about and hopefully it's about the service that's delivered over that.

So to use as an example companies today are -- Facebook is a good example of a company that -- they are not a hardware company but they rely extensively on the fact that people are connected all day long. Facebook certainly will be around but they maybe a different company as people had access, could only access Facebook from their desktop computer. And Facebook is just one example of many, many companies that rely one, on always being connected to deliver their service and then rely on other things in terms of position as to where that person was, when you were communicating with them, what they were doing at that time and all those things are driven by one, the wireless networks but also these other types of technologies. And ultimately we see a licensing program emerging for those services and values, that's been delivered as well, and the two operating in tandem.

So there's basically a hardware program on the licensing side and then there is a services and context program that builds over time. The nice thing about the company is the portfolio we have today, gives us a strong position already on the cellular device, gives us a starting point with respect to the other things and this R&D we do over the next few years grows that opportunity.

So one of the things we have done as we have watched this evolution in the market is also to evolve how we go about acquiring and developing technology. So we are thought leaders, the organization and the company that has driven the portfolio we have today is InterDigital Labs. It was coined InterDigital Labs last year but that organization has been around since the 1980s, driving significant amount of innovation for what is a group that if you look at their capacity to invent, probably among the strongest in terms of if you look metrics like patents per person. It is in effect a small Bell Lab sitting at a few locations around the U.S. and UK and in Canada. Very strong, very focused they are on wireless or Wi-Fi, cellular technologies and some of the adjacent technologies to that.

That group will continue to do what they have always done, which is predict what that next generation of services needs to be and invent the solutions to deliver that and to do it at a very, very efficient way. That said we don't believe that labs alone can service this new growth in the market, this growth of context and content. And so at the end of last year we created a new group within InterDigital, called Innovation Partners. And Innovation Partners will have a different mission. Innovation Partners will be looking outside the company, for innovations but doing it in a different way than we have seen others do it before.

So it is some kind of have made like a venture capital fund, others have made it like packet acquisition arm. It's really not any one of them. It's all of those. And so as an example we recently did a contract with a small security company in New Jersey. What we did there is we gave them access to capital of ours, that we are going to take some of their -- they are going to take some of their innovation and incorporate -- of our innovation incorporate it to their products and vice versa. We have a continuing R&D relationship with them, we have an equity position in them.

So we are sort of pulling all the levers to create a research opportunity to drive not only their business but our business as well. And so Innovation Partners will bring a large number of tools to universities, called (serial ventures), small companies where we will help them further their innovation. So it's another example with universities, universities have one, generally one opportunity with respect to their internal innovation which is the innovation they created and then there's opportunities to spin out some from the universities.

There's an opportunity there with technology development that goes on within a university to take them into standards. It's not for them to develop the product but it's for them to enable others to build the product. We have a very strong standardization team within the company. So we will enable these universities to do that. With the end result of Innovation Partners being a much more diverse patent portfolio, the portfolio that we have is pretty diverse already, much more diverse, with that innovation being created in environment that is probably more efficient in certain areas than our InterDigital Labs --. Our labs group is exceptional in the areas in which they participate but there are other areas where other folks can do a better than them.

So these two groups together we think will actually create a higher level of wealth and more diverse set of inventions for the company each year, allowing us to address that evolution of the wireless market for instance. And we will then bring those innovations to market in a more diverse way than we have done before.

Historically if you look at the numbers for the company driven principally off of our licensing program directed at terminals. That will continue to be the anchor tenet in the business for quite some time but last year we diversified the monetization strategy by having the sale. We did not need all the patents we had, there was a great market to sell patents. So we then did a great job of selling the patents.

There are other opportunities for patents as well as in certain joint ventures, you can create trusts, you can do swaps, patent have really grown as an asset class and the number of transactions you can do around patents is ten-fold what they were a number of years ago. So with a greater diversity of innovation, we see an opportunity for greater diversity in terms of licensing and monetization of just patents.

That when coupled with the efforts of another InterDigital group that we created end of last year which is InterDigital Solutions. And InterDigital Solutions in some respect will serve as a bridge in transactions but is also group that can take the work by labs; they take the work created by partners and bring it to a more product ready state. For us products typically means a software product, and other things that we deliver to customers. They actually put the products on the shelves at the end of the day.

Solutions as I said today will probably do its best work in terms of creating a bridging mechanism between, if there's a gap between us and a perspective licensee on the patent side, the Solutions Group can step in and deliver some added value to that customer and create an opportunity to create a more comprehensive and more valuable solution for both parties and that's exactly what happened at the beginning of this year, when the intellectual property side of InterDigital combined with the solution side within InterDigital to create along with Sony Corporation, Convida Wireless.

Now Convida Wireless is a venture focused on what we believe and a lot of other folks believe a very, very strong market opportunity in machine-to-machine, an area of research we have been doing for a long time, that was very attractive to Sony.

So the results of the relationship that we were able to build here was one, a patent licensing relationship with Sony, very strong one for us and a good one for them; a research relationship with Sony to drive machine-to-machine technology and a joint venture opportunity where that venture now at a minimum creates an opportunity for us to store patents in a safe environment unencumbered by either partner's licensing, which then the parties can access a number of years from now for their own licensing program. Or that joint venture can grow on its own in terms of its own licensing entity with two very strong companies behind it. Or third that company can bring in third party investment as well to drive further research and drive further licensing.

So it's a model where all pieces of the business came together to drive what we think is a very comprehensive and valuable solution for both. So in a nutshell the business has evolved very significantly over the last couple of -- for the last year in response to what we saw were changes in the market. I think it's a necessity that businesses do that in mobile where every day brings in new challenges and opportunities. The change was made with the company being in an exceptionally strong financial position to drive these opportunities.

And we think we are very well positioned with this structure going forward to not only continue to execute on our core licensing programs around handsets and terminal devices but now begin to execute on that extended licensing program around first infrastructure and then further down the road with respect to content and context services and advertising and the like and behind all that and driving all that will be a very, very strong team at the company.

So the folks on this slide here, we have got Scott McQuilkin, driving the innovation side of the house. Many of you actually know Scott, a veteran of the business, a public business for a long time, has worked on many aspects of our business, probably knows the breadth of our business as well as I do and driving all innovation for the company.

Working for him, Jim Nolan; Jim is probably one of the most well-known folks in wireless in terms of predicting where wireless is going to go, speaking about the trends in wireless. He often writes on the subject. And then we recently brought in Dr. Todd Simpson from Mozilla; he was the Director or Chief of Innovation there, to drive the whole partners' opportunity for us. So those three folks are very much involved in driving the creation of that very, very diverse patent pool that will help us continue to create value for the company in terms of licensing program.

The patent monetization side of the business is driven by Larry Shay and Don Dinella. Larry's been around with us for a long time, probably also one of the more known folks in terms of this type of business; Don coming to us from Alcatel-Lucent where he did the exact same job in terms of driving their licensing program. And then InterDigital Solutions who are the group that sits in the middle driven by Allen Proithis who is a veteran of mobile, most recently as Head of Strategy at Hewlett-Packard before coming to InterDigital.

So a very, very strong team driving a strong company with exceptionally good opportunities not only with respect to its core business which is terminal unit licensing but the new business that we can move into in terms of infrastructure and context and services and other licensing opportunities for the company. So with that I will open it up for a few questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Adam Carron – Barclays Capital

All right. So if we could just start by talking about the $800 million revenue target; is that a combination of InterDigital Solutions, the traditional licensing revenue as well as patent asset sales or is it more just a 800 million in licensing type of figure?

William Merritt

It's 800 million in licensing. So it would not include contributions from sales. The way that solutions could figure into that is not so much in revenue, how you count revenue towards the goal but instead they would be the driving, help to be the driving force in certain deals. So for example Sony is a good example. We were able to get the patent licensing agreement done with Sony because the solutions group stepped in and created -- filled that gap. So they are more of an enabler and de-risker of that path, the 800, then they are an actual revenue contributor.

Adam Carron – Barclays Capital

Okay, and then as kind of a follow-up, you mentioned there is new opportunities as I guess, wireless devices become more complex, the (inaudible) space I guess is an example. And when we think of that companies like that in terms of this $800 million context, I mean is this, is that really incorporating a broader mix of companies or is that, I guess I am wondering what percentage of that is based on your traditional wireless focused companies?

William Merritt

So when we set the goal and now we are being measured on that goal is basically off the traditional customer. So if you look at the market at the last year, I think is, revenue on those licensing side put us I'd say on the 300 million, little short of 300 million and with little less than 50% of the market under licensing. So over the next three years or so the market of 3G and 4G devices will double, if not triple.

So if you take the 300 million and you double or triple that you are at -- and then if you increase your market penetration the 800 million is -- it is a challenging goal. We understand that. But it is a blocking and tackling goal. It's not a question of is the market there or is our technology used in the market. It's our ability to secure license agreement. We absolute believe we can do that and so that goal is really just focused on the traditional business. All the other things we talked about are really things on top of that.

Adam Carron – Barclays Capital

Okay, and then there's obviously a great deal of outstanding litigation in arbitrary matters and then I mean maybe you can provide us with an update in terms of what we should be expecting over the near term with a lot of these existing cases that are out there and to what extent those existing I guess cases kind of play into that $800 million number, for us.

William Merritt

So we have -- the vast majority of our license agreements come without needing to resort to litigation. But we do have litigations that we are working right now and there's four parties that we're in litigation with, Nokia, ZTE, Huawei and Samsung are the four. And those are involved in three different cases before the international trade commission. One of the cases is on remand involving Nokia, back at the ITC and so that and here we can move at any time, at the ITC. We are waiting for the next move by the ITC in that case.

The second case involving Nokia, Huawei and ZTE is the ALJ decision and that case is due at the end of June, with a commission decision at the end of the year. So certainly and then there's a third case, which involves Nokia, Huawei, ZTE and also at Samsung, focused on both 3G and LTE devices so the third case adds LTE to the list.

So the opportunity for creating environment for settlement we think is pretty strong and that's ultimately what we want to do. Our desire is enter into worldwide agreements with these folks on fair and reasonable terms. That's our obligation pursuant to standards (inaudible) that's what we seek, that's all we seek. And I think that the opportunities that the ITC affords will hopefully lead to that result in the near to mid-term.

So we will see how well that plays out, how it plays into the $800 million goal, it's really a question of is litigation a necessary forcing function to getting agreements done. If it is then positive results in the litigation will do that. If for whatever reasons we do not prevail and when you think about litigation we don't need to win everyone we will just need to win one against someone. But if it were to go against us then it becomes a timing issue. Then you have to restart litigation. So it really drives not the when -- not the if of 800 million, it will drive the when of 800 million.

But again we don't like to rely on litigation as the only forcing function for deals, so bringing solutions group again. Solutions group is there to increase the perceived value of the patent offering. We thing the patent offering is very strong. But we also appreciate that if we can add additional technology in the mix that's great. We have worked with Sony and so we are leveraging that opportunity with these folks as well. So we come at these things from many directions all with a focus on getting to that goal.

Adam Carron – Barclays Capital

Sure and I will just ask one more and then we can open it up to others as well. In terms of -- you just mentioned the solutions agreement with Sony and I am just curious in terms of how that came about and how many other companies you think that's a viable kind of situation or relationship to kind of create with, and whether or not there's exclusivities between you and Sony in the revenue agreement?

William Merritt

So I think there is a number of other opportunities like that. I think the number of opportunities will grow over time. To use this as an example if you have a license negotiation that we have $20 million or $30 million gap, solutions can step in and fill that gap. It's the size of the offerings that you are dealing with and the things they can bring to the table. If you have a $300 million gap solutions isn't going to be able to fill that gap today. But with success we have, a great amount of confidence in not only its ability to drive that organization and as they begin to grow the value of the offering then its ability to fill gaps in deals becomes greater and puts more companies on the table in terms of where that gap fill will effectively complete a deal.

So midsized companies today, I think are all ripe for the solutions group to step in and work with the patent group if need be not. At the end of the last year we did both the Sony agreement and that included solutions, but we did an agreement with Blackberry as well without the solutions group. They don't need to step in every time.

With the larger folks I think it's absolutely a possibility that the solutions group will step and play a role in the transaction but it may not completely fill the gap. We may need to do other things. So I think and the other thing that will happen I think with solutions is while its role early on will be to gap fill, help drive agreements with folks it will start to build the book of its own independent book of business overtime. I think its independent book of business will grow as well outside of any patent licensing relationship.

So we have high hopes for the group. We have good leadership in that group. We have good technology behind it, a good vision and I think it will do great things.

Unidentified Analyst

Could you just go over your acquisition strategy? I mean how we think in terms of tuck-ins or can we look at transformational deals and kind of give more color on that.

William Merritt

Sure. So I'd put acquisitions into two or three buckets, right? So I think there is a -- there's certainly the tuck-ins and there we have done some acquisitions over the last year or so of small patent portfolios that created some additional strength in current licensing negotiations, but those tend to be small deals they can be couple of hundred thousand, they can be a few million bucks. So that's one type of thing that we look at.

Second is our innovations that supplement the work we are already doing inside the company. So if we were doing as we are working the security space or working machine-to-machine or work in compression, we may do complementary acquisitions of IP around that, to build a bigger estate of technology, to kind of complement what the internal teams are doing.

The third is would be more transformational type of things. I'd say that those are not things that we -- I want to say we don't actively seek and we don't need to do that. But if we see an opportunity and the balance sheet is strong and the company is strong that we will explore them. And I think that in the profile of companies that we would look at is companies that carry the same kind of profile as ours. We are attracted to companies that have a long history of innovation in this space, pioneers in this space. And particular where their technology may be complementary to the things that we are doing, either in machine-to-machine and dynamic spectrum management, in access, in wireless access management. So I think that there can be those opportunities but the business doesn't depend on it as well, so we will deal with them as they pop up.

Unidentified Analyst

So question for you on the Innovation Partners you talked about partnering with universities and smaller patent vendors. And I am curious to know how the economics work for that, who controls the patent and how much in terms of royalties do you prepay the, I guess some vendor that you are partnering with and how competitive is that from other call it, NPEs that are out there looking to do these similar types of agreements.

William Merritt

One I think it's highly competitive because I think what we bring to the table is different than what your traditional venture capital or strategic capital operating company or an NPE can bring here. So one difference and this would be a difference from a non-bracket is the ability of the inventor to continue his work, working shoulder to shoulder with individual folks in their labs, in our labs. That's a very different environment than others would offer. It's the ability to take their innovation and bring it into a standards body, which again not many people would be able to offer that.

In terms of how it would differ from lots of other companies out there look for innovation, a lot of times those innovation are driven by their particular product needs and when it comes to research we are far more pure in terms of how we look at things, we are not burdened by a current product design that we have got to sustain. What we look for is what the next great thing that can come into the market from a technology standpoint. So innovators working with the company will have I think greater breadth in terms of what they can do because they are not going to be constrained by any product business that we may have.

So I think in terms of the financial arrangement there's really no formula. A lot of the folks that are out there that do aggregate patents, they work with a strict formula, you know what you get, you know what you are not going to get. I think with us it's going to depend up the particular opportunity and what we need to do then to mature and grow that opportunity versus what we are going to get from the inventor but I would tell you that the response to the partners group has been very strong because it does bring a different style of investment and a different style of -- range of opportunities to again universities, (student) ventures, small companies and things like that.

So very encouraged so far by what we are seeing.

Unidentified Analyst

Is there a true competitor that you would kind of look to with a similar kind of model, -- is kind of similar in terms of what Intellectual Ventures doing in science?

William Merritt

I think that there is probably some parallel to IV and I think there's probably some parallels over with Qualcomm as well. Again I think the difference is as an example IV doesn't run standardization arm, which we do. I think that labs is a much important component of our business than it is in other places. So I think it's not as we have described and so it's not any one thing that partners does. I think you could find any one thing that they do in other organizations is the collection of things that it can do that we believe is unique and will allow us to secure unique opportunities.

And speaking for Todd he joined us a week ago from Mozilla I think and he did an interview a week ago. I think he saw the structure that we have around partners as a strong commitment for the company to continue to innovate and he saw it is a unique set of tools that he could effectively use in the market to attract innovation. So at a minimum we were able to encourage Todd to come join the company based upon that structure. Anything further?

Adam Carron – Barclays Capital

I got just one more. I mean I am sure you guys obviously saw the announcement by Samsung this morning to become a shareholder of Pantech. And I am wondering if there is any implication to you guys from that?

William Merritt

No real implications to us. We actually wrote down our investment in Pantech based on some updates, the company did a essentially reverse split, that was (inaudible) a little ago. And we are pleased to see that the Samsung valuation came in above where we have written our investment down to. So no immediate implications to us but Pantech is a good customer and we are a stockholder. So we are pleased to see that.

Anything else? Okay, terrific. I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Adam Carron – Barclays Capital

Thanks a lot guys.

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