Earlier this month, the news reported that several automakers, including BMW, Audi and Daimler, agreed to acquire HERE Global (Nokia’s map business) for $2.8 billion. Reuters reported that HERE’s primary competitor is Google Maps, and that the automakers outbid Uber and Baidu.

Why would the automakers pay billions for an alternative to Google Maps? What is “driving” this acquisition?

A search of the U.S. Patent Office reveals that HERE has 43 recently issued patents and 49 pending, published patent applications. Many of these patent applications are directed to “map features,” but several of them are directed to self-driving cars.

Part of the likely motivation of the automakers was to keep the patents out of the hands of rivals. Reuters reported that the CEO of Daimler said: “With the joint acquisition of HERE, we want to secure the independence of this central service for all vehicle manufacturers, suppliers and customers in other industries.” In other words, the automakers didn’t want someone else to get patent rights that would place obstacles and added costs to bringing self-driving car technology to market.

This transaction illustrates the vital importance of intellectual property, like patents, in commercializing new technologies.

Considering that the potential return on IP investment can be exponential, every emerging company should have an IP strategy that falls in line with its overall business plan and budget. For example, an IP landscape study can help a company understand what companies have rights to different technologies in their industry. An IP audit can help a company understand what rights it has and what risks are present for potential infringement of the IP of others.

For further information on this topic, check out our recent LinkedIn article here.