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What's up with WATT, Pt I (or "What's Wrong with Tech Journalism?")

It's been a while since I covered Energous (whose ticker symbol is WATT . Other posts are here , here , here , here , here , here , and...

Friday, April 29, 2016

Do We Have a Deal?


So it seems I was wrong about Energous, they announced a deal. I retract everything I said about them, because clearly based on what they say in their press release, there must be something to their technology.

"Energous ... today announced a partnership agreement with a market-leading specialty battery company in the hearing devices and wearables market. The company has signed a joint development and licensing agreement with Energous and anticipates shipping WattUp receiver technology as well as a Miniature WattUp transmitter.

In order to preserve competitive advantages, the partner has requested confidentiality. "

A Joint Development Agreement as well as a Licensing Agreement? That proves they are a legitimate company that will have products.

Well, no.

A JDA is basically an agreement between two parties that says "We'll try to develop something. What you develop is yours, what we develop is ours, and what we develop together we share." That's it. Doesn't guarantee a product, and it's all still at a research phase. More importantly, there's no requirement for funds committed from either party - other than the time to write it, a JDA is 'free'. I've worked with companies where they almost seemed to collect JDAs - drawers full of them and never a product, or a dollar of revenue, from a single one.

A licensing agreement is a little different - usually it says "One of us has some Intellectual Property. We agree not to sue you if you have a product with it in a specific field of use, a specific region of the world, for a specific period of time." In return the other side usually does something in return - license back some of their technology, pay some cash, pay a % of everything they sell with this IP, or sometimes nothing at all. You want this in place before you put a lot of work into a product, or even know if it's ultimately viable, as you need to know upfront the costs and business impacts.

In other words, licensing agreements are no guarantee of a product or revenue. What is valuable for revenue is when a legitimate company announces "We are releasing a product with Acme Corp technology and paying a license fee." Now this may happen with Energous and this unnamed battery company, but I doubt it. Notice this other company has not necessarily committed funds, or even sullied their name, with this technology. If they were certain it was going somewhere, they'd be announcing their exclusive benefits over their competitors in a press release themselves.

Even when you get an actual product, the licensor might just have gotten lucky and bamboozled a legitimate company into releasing a loser. Witness Theranos, with their tests being performed in Walgreens, and used to help justify the $9 billion valuation - yet now it's looking like those calling Theranos a con game are right, and Walgreens are now realising their mistake and ending the deal.

So in my opinion, Energous get what they want - the veneer of legitimacy to keep the money flowing.

Interestingly, their press release doesn't say what technology was licensed and who the licensor was. The way it's worded, it could be that the battery company is licensing their battery tech to Energous, even though you would think it's the other way around. If devious, Energous could pay the battery company, say $50,000, and include onerous confidentiality clauses in the contract, then announce the agreements, making it seem like it was an agreement in their favour - and never lie and get into trouble with the SEC.

Why do that? Well a 2% bump in stock value of a $170m market cap company is $3.4 million. Do that once a month for a year, and you've added around $45m to the cap, which some shareholders will take a nice cut of. And the $50k that was spent to make the deal, along with the lawyers fees? All from the company funds (paid for by other investors). (Looking at the ticker for WATT, Energous climbed about 2% after this announcement)

For some, it's about just doing what it takes to make it look like they're a legitimate company on the verge of releasing products. Just keep the party going as long as possible. Sometimes it's a real product and all above board. Some do it because they are simply trying to get as much money for themselves as they can, while they can, and they know it's a con. Some do it because they truly believe (rightly or wrongly) that the product is viable, but they just need more time and money to get it working, and when they prove everyone wrong it will all be justified.

But, hey, at least Energous have announced a JDA/licensing deal. Where are uBeam's announcements on that front?

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