Jean Besson, head of Questel-Orbit under the French government-owned telecommunications giant France Telecom, recently announced a management buyout of 80-percent of Questel-Orbit from its former owner. Besson will head up the new company, IPG (Intellectual Property Group). France Telecom will keep 20 percent of IPG and have a seat on its board of directors, but Besson and his staff will be in charge. Employees will have a part-ownership stake in the new company and share in the profits. Details of stock options and profitability plans are still being worked out.
Questel-Orbit spent much of 1998 and 1999 working on the other IPG: Intellectual Property Gold, a project to merge the old Orbit's intellectual property databases and most-desired systems features into Questel to form Questel-Orbit. And it has been a success, according to David Dickens, head of the U.S. office. Questel-Orbit's earnings this year rose 12 percent over the combined earnings of Questel and Orbit this time last year.
Dickens sees even more growth ahead. He says that the new company will have greatly increased flexibility when free of the bureaucracy inherent in a very large company like France Telecom. The new company will also have a more global outlook, compared to France Telecom's European and especially French perspective. However, France Telecom's continued investment in IPG will give the new company breathing room, a chance to establish itself and grow.
IPG now constitutes Questel-Orbit's parent company. It may add other entities in the future. Though it's now privately owned, the owners hope to go public in a few years.
Dickens anticipates no shake-ups in either the U.S. or French offices of Questel-Orbit. In fact, he foresees expansion at both locations. He plans to increase the U.S. staff, adding Internet, sales, technical, and help-desk staff. The Questel-Orbit technical office in Sophia, France, will also add staff to help with Questel-Orbit's systems development and to address the wish list of systems features recommended by the Advisory Group of users. The Sophia staff will include separate teams focusing on the European Patent Office and Questel-Orbit online projects; developments within one group should benefit the other.
Dickens confirmed that IPG will focus on intellectual property databases (patents and trademarks), plus those sci-tech and energy files important to IP. Questel-Orbit still includes non-IP databases of interest to the European community, and their fate is not yet decided. Questel-Orbit project managers for many of these segments—medical, business, news, and so on—have left or been reassigned. The only remaining project managers are Pierre Benichou for trademarks and David Dickens for patents; new developments will fall strictly in the IP and sci-tech areas.
Projects already under development at the time of the buyout, and still going strong, include U.S. state trademark files; a full-text file of EP-A and EP-B patents; PlusPat, the enhanced Inpadoc file, scheduled for release in late August; development of Web products, including QPAT, and their integration with online products; and expanded delivery options for search output, SDIs, and full documents.
[For more details on France Telecom and the business aspects of the buyout, check Marydee Ojala's news story at http://www.onlineinc.com/news/news00/questel.html.]