Stephen Robertson of Metis Partners

Making a big noise

Judging by the heavyweight credentials on his CV, Stephen Robertson clearly takes his business seriously. After a law degree from the University of Dundee, he trained as a chartered accountant with Deloitte & Touche before cutting his teeth in corporate finance with Bank of Scotland and the London Stock Exchange.

He set up his own business, Metis Partners, in 2003 to advise companies on how to assess, exploit, value, monetise and sell their IP. Since then his firm has gone from strength-tostrength, now employing 20 staff and running its Glasgow head office, with outposts in San Francisco and Sofia.

Yet there’s clearly a lighter side to Robertson too. His “Friday Funnies” email that goes out to the market, is the stuff of legend, having won numerous marketing awards. His clients may also be surprised to learn that he once had a Pop Idol USA experience.

“I trained as an opera singer when I was at school and I’d been telling my kids I could do better than the contestants on The X Factor, so they told me to prove it,” laughs Robertson. “After some arm-twisting from them, I applied and secured an X Factor audition in Glasgow, but then I couldn’t go because it was on the day we were flying out on a family holiday to Orlando.

“When we got there, we discovered Disney was running its own Pop Idol USA competition, where competitors spent the day going through heats and then the three finalists sang in front of an audience of over 1,000 people in the evening. I got through to the final three and I sang Elton John’s Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me on stage.”

And Robertson certainly isn’t letting the sun go down on Metis either. He’s preparing to move to the United States later this year to grow the company’s American arm, having put in place a management structure so that his firm continues to grow in the UK and Europe while he’s across the pond!

“We’ve got a dynamic management team – five people aged between 25 and 30 – and I’ve put a development programme and mentoring scheme in place for them,” he explains. “As well as a dozen full-time members of staff, we also have a very successful internship programme, which takes undergraduates from various disciplines during their second year at university and puts them on placement with us.

“They work part-time during their university terms – becoming very highly-skilled and experienced members of the team – and then they switch to working full-time for us during the university holidays. They build up a lot of experience during their two or three years with us and they allow us to give our permanent staff the opportunity to go on holiday knowing they aren’t leaving colleagues in the lurch and some have even taken three weeks’ summer holiday, which is something you might not get at other small companies.”

Metis is already tasting success in the States. Robertson was approached by the founder of Knowledge Base Capital (KBC) in Denver, who wanted to use Metis’ valuation services to underpin a new form of lending to American IP-rich businesses based on their patents, trade marks, software and other innovations.

“This is an idea that the UK Government and the new Scottish National Investment Bank have talked about for a long time, but they’ve never really got off the ground,” explains Robertson. “It’s not governments that innovate – it’s entrepreneurs, who just get on with it and do it. “KBC has taken the idea and put it into the fast lane; I think we’re still stuck in the slow lane in the UK when it comes to lending to businesses based on the strength of their IP. Despite Clydesdale & Yorkshire Bank’s success in lending to high-growth IP-rich small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), it’s still very niche.”

KBC has brought together groups of business angels that want to lend moneyto IP-rich businesses. Instead of going down the route of taking equity – which can take longer to secure and comes with the obvious and significant conditions and changes in company ownership and controls – KBC called in Metis to help it come up with a way of valuing the IP and lending against it.

Closer to home, Metis is continuing to innovate in the UK market too. “Our desktop valuation is making the process more accessible and at a more affordable price,” says Saj Ali, IP valuation manager and part of Robertson’s experienced management team.

Metis has also pioneered its unique virtual chief intellectual property officer (vCIPO) service, which provides ongoing and ondemand IP-related support for SMEs that need the continuity of immediate, informed advice on IP valuation, IP strategy, IP deal structuring and IP portfolio management. Another way in which the firm helps companies to manage their innovations is through the creation of an “IP holding company” (IPCo), which acts as a holding company to own a group’s IP and then lease it back to the trading company.

“If a business has bought a brand then it’s easy to value that on the balance sheet because it has a price attached to it,” says Ali. “However, if a company has created a brand in-house then it can be difficult to measure and harder to recognise its worth on the balance sheet.

“By ‘selling’ the brand or other IP within the group, it can be recognised at market value – based on how it contributes to revenue generation – which can help to reorganise a group’s debt and can protect the IP against external risk factors that could affect the business.”

The very act of placing a value on IP can help companies to grow. “It shows investors or lenders that a business takes its IP seriously and has put measures in place to protect it and to manage it,” Robertson adds.

One of the clients that has been working with Metis Partners for a number of years and benefited from its support is P2i, which finished second in this year’s IP League Table. The company, which provides waterproofing nanotechnology for smartphones and other devices, secured debt from Clydesdale Bank multiple times and Metis carried out IP diligence for the bank each time.

Since then P2i has been working on a plethora of recommendations to improve its IP management, including protecting trade secrets, pruning its patent portfolio and working on developing product and service brands and straplines that capture the benefits of its technology.

Other businesses that have worked with Metis include 20|20 Business Insight, a Dundeebased training and project management firm that created an IPCo to manage its IP and innovations, and London-based MATIVISION, a 360-degree virtual reality platform that’s used by clients such as Facebook, Samsung and Virgin Records. 

As it happens, all of these companies have entered the IP100 and, as Robertson says: “It offers them a platform to gain recognition for the investment they have made in their IP, enabling them to better articulate their investment in IP assets and the subsequent value that they have harnessed. It makes it easier for them to demonstrate that IP assets are critical to their business model and how they plan to leverage these assets in order to generate financial return.”

Published: 26 April 2018

Article by Peter Ranscombe
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