AOL, lacking better options, hires firm to sell its patents

AOL is said to have hired Evercore Partners to help it shop around its patent portfolio in hopes of making up for declining dial-up revenues.

Josh Lowensohn
Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
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AOL's effort to sell off a chunk of its patent portfolio keeps chugging ahead. The company has now reportedly hired investment banking advisory firm Evercore Partners to help strike a deal.

Citing three people with knowledge of the hire, Bloomberg says AOL tapped Evercore to find a buyer for more than 800 patents and to "explore other strategic options" -- code for a possible sale or private buyout of the entire company.

An Evercore spokesperson declined to comment on the report, and AOL didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The beleaguered Internet pioneer is currently attempting a turnaround led by chief Tim Armstrong, who came on board from Google in 2009. Last December, Armstrong announced plans to reorganize the company, combining its declining dial-up Internet service business and its Web services arm, the latter of which was recently scaled back with layoffs in the Instant Messenger group.

AOL has previously said it's looking for ways to raise cash from its patent portfolio. In a response to a letter from Starboard Value last month that moved to put five new members on AOL's board, the company issued a statement saying it was in the process of making efforts to "accelerate shareholder value creation." Part of that effort involved selling "non-strategic" elements of the company's patent portfolio:

We have a valuable patent portfolio and several months ago, prior to Starboard's first letter, the AOL Board of Directors authorized the start of a process, and hired advisors, to realize the value of certain non-strategic patents.

News of the hire follows Facebook's acquisition of some 750 patents from IBM, a deal made to bolster the social network's defenses against litigious rivals. Just days ahead of the purchase, Facebook was targeted by Yahoo for allegedly infringing on a number of its patents that cover customization and advertising.

Evercore Partners has been involved in the shopping of other patent collections, including that of InterDigital. The King of Prussia, Pa.-based technology company began that effort last summer, later deciding to call it off in January.