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How GE and Nokia set up a non-telecoms licensing partnership

Juha Laurila, business development director at Nokia, tells Patent Strategy how his company plans to commercialise its non-core innovations with GE’s help, why such a partnership is beneficial and how the venture might be the first of many to come

In a move to take advantage of untapped innovations and generate new revenue streams, GE and Nokia have struck an agreement to explore new channels to commercialise the latter’s non-core market technologies.

Nokia’s business development director Juha Laurila, who manages the firm’s technology portfolios that are not related to the telecoms market, tells Patent Strategy about how and why the partnership was established and how it is likely to develop.
Laurila, based in Nokia’s headquarters in Finland, has experience in partnership, strategy and ecosystem development in digital health, which links to Nokia's internet of things strategy and activities. He has been in his current role since 2015.
He explains that Nokia puts considerable investment into R&D, and that while most of the technologies that come from this are related to the business’s core markets, many of those inventions are also relevant outside of the telecoms space.
The idea behind the venture with GE, he says, is to better identify some of those technologies and the potential partners with which the business could commercialise them.
“Nokia generates huge amounts of innovations and builds patent portfolios to protect those inventions continuously,” he says. “Many of those inventions could be valuable to manufacturing, med tech or aerospace companies, for example.”
The first focus for the new partnership is to find new business opportunities for Nokia’s space division multiplexing (SDM) technology, which has the potential to increase a single fiber’s capacity in a communications network and can be used to develop advanced imaging capabilities.
Laurila says that capability may make SDM valuable to the medical device industry for devices such as endoscopes. The technology was developed by Nokia Bell Labs, the company’s industrial research and scientific development subsidiary based in the US.
But, of course, the business does not plan to stop there with its new partnership.
“The intent is to work with other technologies; our relationship is not limited to medical imaging,” says Laurila, adding that there will likely be multiple technologies and markets that Nokia will work on with GE.
He adds that Nokia is seeking to start similar collaborations with other businesses, and believes that the partnership with GE will be the first of many.
“It is the first in the context of this operation, and we have a pipeline of candidate technologies ready for partnership opportunities that we’re not ready to talk about in any specifics now.”
But, he says, these technologies will typically fit the same type of profile – those that the business is already commercialising through its traditional licensing arm, but that could be leveraged in other non-core industries and that Nokia does not have the domain expertise in to do it alone.

While Nokia does not patent every invention it develops, it has filed more than 1,300 patents on inventions across the company; it would be reasonable to assume that some of those would have broader applicability beyond the telecoms space.


Partner in the know

Laurila says that Nokia’s main aim when searching for a partner to help it commercialise non-telecoms-related innovations – as it should be for any business searching for a licensing partner – was to find an entity with experience in licensing in multiple industries. 
GE, of course, has an experienced licensing arm involved in a range of sectors, including aircraft engines, medical imaging, and financing and industrial products.
“GE has experience in various areas and there is a lot of related expertise. This partnership brings the knowledge needed for these commercialisation initiatives – and that is the core driver behind this deal.”
The president of GE’s licensing business in San Francisco, Pat Patnode, mimicked this point when he said that the business was thrilled to work with Nokia to identify opportunities related to new technologies and IP for commercialisation.
“With our deep knowledge of industry trends, business models and technology, we can accelerate technology commercialisation,” he said.
Laurila adds that the business has started this collaboration now because it has recently hit a “sweet spot” in the combination of the maturity of its SDM technology and its ability to tap into Bell Labs’ expertise.
He says that GE’s expertise in the licensing world also helped smooth the path to the establishment of this new partnership.
“Both companies were well-placed to set up this relationship because both had a history of technology commercialisation – so it was almost easy to be on the same page and find common ground and interests on how to set it up.”
He adds that setting up a partnership between two such large corporations is never easy, but getting started on familiar ground certainly helped.
Such a partnership might also represent the start of a trend in the industry. Laurila explains that Nokia’s new relationship with GE is an interesting way to commercialise untapped assets, and points out that there are other big companies that have started to experiment with this kind of partnership model.
Joining forces in this manner, he adds, would obviously be appropriate only for companies with a strong focus on R&D and a relatively diverse portfolio of inventions.
“That is the fundamental element that makes this whole thing successful,” he says.

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