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Number Cruncher

Picking through the patently attractive Add to ...

What are we looking for?

Companies with hefty patent portfolios that may be of interest to cash-rich technology giants.

Some of biggest deals in the tech sector this year have involved the transfer of patents. Among the most significant were an Apple Inc.-led consortium paying $4.5-billion (U.S.) for 6,000 patents owned by Nortel Networks and Google’s $12.5-billion purchase of Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. for its 17,000 patents.

Canadian patent licensing firm Wi-LAN has also made a $480-million (Canadian) offer for another Canadian patent company, Mosaid Technologies.

Patents are key for the companies battling for supremacy in the smart phone business. Countless individual phone features are often subject to them and no one owns all the relevant patents. This creates the potential for costly patent infringement cases that the smart phone companies are taking great strides to prevent. The industry expects the tech titans to continue to write billion-dollar cheques to accumulate as many patents as they can.

What we found

With help from Bloomberg, we screened for the top North American-listed companies with the biggest patent portfolios. Most are overseas names listed in the United States as an ADR.

One company particularly stood out: SK Telecommunications Co. South Korea’s biggest mobile carrier by revenue has more than 267 billion trademarks but is down more than 26 per cent this year. Its price-to-earnings ratio is among the lowest on our list, at 7.8.

Another large holder is Ericsson LM. The telecommunications and data giant is down more almost 20 per cent this year despite holding more than 14 billion trademarks.

With SK Telecom having a market cap of $9.9-billion, and Ericsson almost three times that, it would take a tech giant with a lot of cash or financing muscle to make a move on them.

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