Once one of Canada's most dysfunctional tech companies ? and that's saying something ? the formerly Calgary-based broadband wireless equipment maker turned over a new leaf in 2006. Wi-LAN jettisoned the last of its broken-down manufacturing divisions and moved its headquarters to Ottawa. Its future now rests in the hands of technology lawyer Jim Skippen, who previously helped engineer a successful intellectual-property licensing business at Mosaid Technologies, and intends to do the same for Wi-LAN. He took over as CEO in June, and quickly set about establishing the credibility of the company's patent portfolio, which mostly relates to wireless technologies like Wi-Fi and WiMAX. His first victory came in December with a deal from Nokia for $15.2 million in cash, as well as 94 Nokia patents related to DSL technology, which were valued at $34 million. The result: Wi-LAN's best quarter in 14 years, with $49.3 million in revenue and earnings of $28.6 million, or 45¢ per share.
Skippen entered into a partnership in April with Ottawa-based March Networks ( TSX: MN) to act as its licensing agent, and receive licensing royalties on March's wireless products for the next five years. But perhaps his boldest move was the announcement in late March of the $108-million all-stock acquisition of Toronto-based Tri-Vision International ( TSX: TVL), holders of the patents for V-Chip technologies, which the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has mandated be built into all TV receivers, set-top boxes and DVRs beginning last year. Skippen is gutsy, and quietly aggressive, so expect more moves.