Patent News

Oct. 15, 2015

The Wall Street Journal: Activist Foundations’ ‘Impact Investing’ Pays Off, Sometimes After Court Fights, by Valerie Bauerlein

This post originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal on October 15, 2015.

BALTIMORE—Roughly $100 from the sale of every Hyundai and Kia hybrid sedan sold in the U.S. is set to go to a foundation that aims to help alleviate poverty here. Not that Hyundai Motor Co. and its affiliate Kia Motors Corp. want it that way.

Established 30 years ago by the former owners of the Baltimore Sun newspaper, the Abell Foundation began taking direct stakes in companies in the late 1990s as a way of bringing jobs to Baltimore and getting an economic return from a source other than its endowment.

The nonprofit invests directly in companies working on sustainable energy projects and co-owns more than a dozen patents. One of its investments was in a company that patented the technology for components in a hybrid powertrain engine.

The foundation’s investments are now the subject of several contentious lawsuits. Ford Motor Co. and Hyundai say they shouldn’t have to fork over royalty payments to the foundation for the right to use its powertrain technology in their hybrids. Lawyers for Hyundai recently called the foundation a patent troll that aims for a payout on patents that should have never been granted because they were based on natural technological developments.