It is no secret that President Obama has an affinity for the tech industry, which in turn means a disdain for patent trolls. Regardless of what investors feel in regard to Vringo's (NASDAQ:VRNG) moral ground within the murky world of patent lawsuits, a more pressing issue is government legislation, and Obama's expediency in putting his rhetoric into action.
-Barack Obama, February 2013
Though I doubt that the salty irony of Obama attacking patent trolls in an interview hosted on a Google+ Hangout is lost on any Vringo investor (Google being the guilty infringer, and all), it points to Google's ubiquitousness and the impressive uphill battle that Vringo has waged against the company thus far. Google is considered a beacon of innovation, and this sheen is something that Vringo shattered in the Norfolk, Virginia, courtroom.
To be fair, Obama does have a point. There are certainly patent trolls who dig up patents which may have been happenstance-infringed upon or mimicked in some vague way or form, thereby presenting an opportunity for a "hijacking" en route to a salacious court case and lump sum payout, or the demands for dubious licensing fees.
Unfortunately for patent legislation, the catch-22 that Obama mentions in his Google+ Hangout is inescapable: The patent developers do need some sort of protection for a fair number of years, thereby making it a tricky proposition to simply clamp down on patent trolls.
Therefore, due to the existence of many actual patent trolls, the government has begun to roll out legislation that could affect Vringo. I believe that there are four elements to look toward, in comparison with Vringo's own judicial timeline:
1) Execution: The US government is notoriously slow with enacting legislation. The SHIELD act was first introduced in August 2012, and then revamped in February 2013. Though before it went into effect on March 16th, 2013, Obama acknowledged the inherent limitations. It seems pretty clear that any sort of real reform will take some time, and Obama reiterated that in the latter half of his recent patent Q&A. The torpid nature of government action indicates that Vringo is safe for a while, and that includes both the Google decision as well as the Microsoft decision (contingent on the final Google ruling).
2) President Obama: "They don't actually produce anything themselves."
With Ken Lang at the helm, Vringo has a legitimate R&D team working on products and isn't necessarily relying on patents as its sole money maker. If anything, Vringo's 500-plus patent cach gives Lang maneuverability to develop new products and ideas. Sure, Vringo's video ringtone app has turned into a bit of a punchline, but I doubt that represents the endgame of its R&D. In a broader scope, a few initial patent lawsuit victories (before government legislation kicks in) gives Vringo the money that its R&D department needs to forge forward and utilize its patent cache for development, thereby creating a more stable and legal business for the future.
3) Wall Street does not seem concerned. Check out the chart below.
The red points reflect legislative announcements that would seem to harm Vringo's share price but does not seem to have had a real or lasting effect.
August 6th, 2012- The first bill aimed at patent trolling.
February 14th, 2013- Obama says that patent reform needs to go further.
February 28th, 2013- The initial bill is revised.
June 4th, 2013- A White House press release announcing more reforms.
The above chart likely indicates a lack of interest or confidence by Wall Street in regard to the government's plans.
4) International Courts: Lawsuits in other countries would not be affected by US legislation. Vringo is currently suing ZTE in the UK, France, Germany and Australia. The USPTO is a unique governing body for US markets and has no jurisdiction over other countries, which have their own IP lawmakers: IP Australia and the European Patent Office.
Obama might be targeting patent trolls, though for now, as a Vringo investor, I'm not worried. Due to a combination of notorious government bureaucracy, Wall Street's ambivalence, Vringo's future R&D, as well as its international lawsuits, I find myself merely following patent legislation, though not fretting it. Yet.
Disclosure: I am long VRNG. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
Additional disclosure: I have bought and sold Vringo more than once, and despite currently being long, I may sell at any moment.