The Globe and Mail reported yesterday that Canadian smart glasses startup North is in advanced talks to be acquired by Google parent Alphabet for $180 million. That is only about $20 million more than the company has raised in venture capital since its founding in 2012.
Some people might be inclined to see irony in this move given that Google virtually created the smart glasses category with Glass which launched to much fanfare in 2013, a year after North’s founding. Glass never achieved consumer success and shut that part of the business down in 2015. It then reintroduced the product in 2017 as the Google Glass Enterprise Edition. Is Google looking for another shot at the consumer business with North’s technology and design? Maybe, but another story is more likely.
The most valuable part of North is likely the IP it acquired from Intel in late 2018. Intel had built up a sizeable patent portfolio related to the Vaunt smart glasses which never made it past a prototype phase. The report from The Globe and Mail suggests North has sold fewer than 1,00 units so there is no illusion of acquiring an up-and-coming breakout consumer product. Intel’s patents and designs along with similar IP from North could be useful in Google’s enterprise business as well as consumer products if it seeks to reenter that segment. And, it provides another layer of protection against lawsuits.