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Several months ago the editors of IP Worldwide asked the simple question: “Who owns the most valuable patents?” The answer, it turned out, was maddeningly complex. How do you measure value? By how much revenue the patent brings in? Or by how much it boosts a company’s market value? How do you value a patent’s exclusivity — the ability to keep competitors out of key markets? It depends, of course, on the company, market, and patent.Undaunted by these different questions blowing in the wind, IP Worldwide proceeded with the exercise, recognizing that it would be compiling a subjective list — but, also an engaging and provocative one, too. For example, the cholesterol-fighting drug Lipitor (annual sales: $4.5 billion) drove the January $90 billion merger between Warner-Lambert Company and Pfizer Inc. Even American Home Products Corp., the jilted bride in the deal, was sent packing with a $1.8 billion breakup fee.Meanwhile, Qualcomm Inc. collects royalties any time consumers buy the most popular types of digital cell phones. But to climb into that lucrative toll booth, the company has had to wage court battles with nearly every major telecommunications equipment player. Last year, Qualcomm reaped more than $700 million (a quarter of its $2.8 billion in annual revenue) from licensing and royalty fees alone. Even after the crash of the Nasdaq, Qualcomm’s market value still hovers near $50 billion. To find these plums, IP Worldwide examined inventions in various industries, such as computers and technology, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and manufacturing. Editors combed court dockets, damage awards, and Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Industry and legal experts were also consulted. For brevity’s sake, the scope of this survey is limited to active patents. The editors ultimately decided to exclude expired patents, such as the seminal Cohen-Boyer gene-splicing patent or the patent behind Polaroid Corporation’s nearly $1 billion verdict against Eastman Kodak Company. And the magazine will save for another day those patents that have changed the world, regardless of their contributions to corporate coffers. This package would not be complete without listing the lawyers who prosecuted and defended these patent plums. Las Vegas, Nev. lawyer Gerald Hosier, for one, has made untold millions handling licensing deals for the controversial inventor Jerome Lemelson. Lemelson may be dead, but his patents live on — and so do the royalty streams. It’s plum work, if you can get it.

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