In May 2004, Iridian Technologies, a Moorestown, New Jersey, company, was facing a Faustian bargain: surrender the right to defend its core patent or give up the dream of breaking into a big new market.
The Problem Iridian, which makes software that enables special cameras to analyze patterns in a human iris, was poised to expand into the global transportation security market in 2003. But in order for iris recognition to be included in the International Civil Aviation Organization's travel standards, Iridian would have to give up the right to enforce its broad concept patent. Iridian was the only established vendor in the field and the ICAO's 188 member nations worried about high prices and the possibility of Iridian going out of business. The company's investors bristled at the idea of opening the door for rivals, but CEO Frank Fitzsimmons complied with the ICAO's wishes.
What the Experts Said Craig Grossman, then an IP law professor at the University of Memphis, said the decision was a "no-brainer--especially since the core concept patent Iridian is giving up will be expiring soon." Bill Newman, managing director of Northwest Technology Ventures, said that competition would be beneficial because it would create critical mass and establish iris recognition against other technologies.
What's Happened Since "The experts got it right," Fitzsimmons says. Since 2004, Iridian has secured two dozen new patents related to iris recognition, including one for software that prevents the interception of transmissions between cameras and databases. Iridian now boasts an impressive roster of global clients, including airports in Germany, Canada, and England. The company's formerly nervous investors ponied up an additional $5 million last year.
What's Next Competition is heating up. To stay ahead, Fitzsimmons is focusing on innovation and tapping new markets. Iridian's cameras are now less expensive, which is helping the company expand into less affluent nations in Africa and South America, where trials are currently under way.