The corporate behemoth that is IPH Limited (ASX:IPH) – which at close on 10 September 2021 had a market capitalisation of A$2.00 billion, and was trading at a near-all-time-high of A$9.270 – has, through a series of acquisitions and ‘integrations’, brought about the demise of a number of well-known names in the Australasian IP firmament. Fisher Adams Kelly, Callinans, Cullens, Watermark and Baldwins are all brands that, until not so long ago, were familiar to anyone with an interest in the IP services market, but which no longer exist. And on 8 September 2021, IPH announced [PDF, 98kB] that Shelston IP is next in line. Shelston IP will be integrated with Spruson & Ferguson Australia, with the combined firm operating under the Spruson & Ferguson brand from 1 November 2021, at which time the Shelston IP brand will be retired. Full systems integration is expected to occur in December 2021.
Ironically, at the time of writing, the ‘About us’ page (Wayback Machine archive, for posterity) on the Shelston IP web site summarises the firm’s history as follows:
Shelston IP has provided excellence in intellectual property for over 160 years. Throughout this time we have developed deep relationships with our clients including with some of the world’s most recognisable companies; relationships that span more than fifty years. Like our clients we never stand still and have innovated, grown and aligned our business for success ensuring we will still be here in another 100 years.
Sadly, this is not to be, and many (me included) will be sad to see the demise of yet another firm with such a long history. But IPH – unlike Xenith IP Group Limited, the listed entity that Shelston IP itself established and which went on to own Watermark and Griffith Hack before being acquired by IPH – has been uncompromising in its determination to generate greater efficiencies and profitability from its stable of firms. And while IPH is not without critics, both within and outside the profession, it is no mean feat to build a A$2 billion company. By my estimation, this now makes IPH large enough for inclusion in the ASX 200 index. Love it or hate it, according to established financial metrics, IPH is a hugely successful enterprise.
I have taken a look at some of the data on changes in the number of patent attorneys at firms within the IPH group over the past 18 months or so, as well as the group’s patent filing numbers over the past financial year, to try to get a sense of where the IPH businesses may be heading. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with IPH CEO, Dr Andrew Blattman, on Friday 10 September 2021. In what follows, I will present a few of my observations, along with relevant comments from my discussion with Dr Blattman.
Dr Blattman is, of course, the CEO of a listed company, and he has obligations to shareholders and the market that may limit what he can say publicly, and which at the same time constrain him from misleading the market in any way. Not everyone (including me) will agree with everything he says. However, I have done my best to accurately report his comments without distorting or misrepresenting his views. (I have used the blockquote style when reporting Dr Blattman’s comments to clearly differentiate them from my opinions and commentary, although it will be obvious from the context that they are not exact quotes.) I am not trying to engage in hard-hitting journalism here, just to be a source of information and opinion. And please keep in mind, if you choose to engage through the comments section at the end, that the High Court has just confirmed that I am legally responsible for any defamatory content you may post!