Let's jump right into it. Here is my take on Utah's Top 10 Technology Stories of 2003:
10. Leavitt Joins EPA Walker Named Utah Governor.
There is no question that Michael O. Leavitt was one of the most technically savvy governors in the United States before being named head of the Environmental Protection Agency this year. Certainly he was Utah's geekiest governor ever. And how does Governor Olene Walker rank in technology circles? That is yet to be determined and why this ranks as the tenth most important tech story in Utah in 2003.
9. Rubicon Medical Cuts Deals with Boston Scientific.
It is extremely rare that I ever cover a client in this column, but in this case, I feel I have to make an exception. Salt Lake City biotech firm Rubicon Medical entered into a series of agreements this year with biomed giant Boston Scientific, landing Rubicon $17 million in the process. The deals give Boston (NYSE: BSX) the rights to acquire Rubicon (OTC BB: RMDC) and its Rubicon Filter at up to $3.50 per share (north of $200 million if everything goes through). No guarantees, but this puts both Rubicon and Utah's growing life sciences industry in the international spotlight.
8. Symantec Buys PowerQuest.
When Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec announced this fall that it was buying PowerQuest for $150 million, it signaled the end of nearly a 10-year run for the Orem-based software firm. Founded by serial entrepreneur Eric Ruff, PowerQuest had evolved over the years from a company focused on applications for individual desktop machines to software designed to help manage entire enterprises. With Altiris (Nasdaq: ATRS), LANDesk and Novell (Nasdaq: NOVL) each based here, the Symantec (Nasdaq: SYMC) acquisition of PowerQuest brings even greater emphasis on Utah as the worldwide center for enterprise software management tools.
7. Merit Medical Emerges As Firm to Watch.
For an interesting exercise, go online and lookup a chart that tracks Merit Medical's stock price during the past three years. What's even more interesting is that Merit (Nasdaq: MMSI) has had four stock splits in that same time frame, two this year alone. Coupled with rising sales and profitability, MMSI is now valued at more than $500 million. On top of that, CEO and founder Fred Lampropolous is running for the Utah governorship. Look for more exciting news and events out of this South Jordan-based biotech firm in 2004 and beyond.
6. TenFold Resurrected? Yup!
I admit it. I thought South Jordan-based TenFold (OTC BB: TENF) was dead for sure, destined for the DotCom dustbin like so many other high-flying companies launched in the mid-1990s. Not so fast, Politis, as not only is the company delivering on its promise of rapid application development technology, but it's also gotten most of its financial challenges fixed during 2003. In fact, TenFold announced last week that it had closed on a $10 million round of private equity funding commonly known as a PIPE (Private Investment in Public Equity). Hmmm, do I even venture where TENF will be next December? Nope.
5. Fund of Fund Legislation Passes and Is Cleaned up in November.
After a lot of hard work by a number of individuals and entities, the Utah Legislature passed H.B. 240 early this year, formally known as the Venture Capital Enhancement Act, but generally known as the Fund of Funds. Signed into law by Gov. Leavitt in April and then "cleaned up" during a special legislative session in November, H.B. 240 makes it possible for entities that typically do not invest in venture capital deals to participate in a venture fund backed by contingent tax credits. Similar arrangements in other states have been quite successful, and the expectation is that this Fund of Funds will be up and operational (with funding in place) by mid-2004, potentially providing an additional $100 million in VC dollars for Utah-based enterprises.
4. Novell's Transformation.
When a company like Merrill Lynch says a company is "back from the dead" (as it did on Dec. 15 about Novell, setting a price target of $13 per share for the firm), people tend to sit up and take notice. Novell has done so many things right this year, it's hard to keep track. Gone are the on-again, off-again marketing initiatives. Here to stay is an apparent embracing of the Open Source software movement in general and the Linux operating system specifically. Novell acquired Linux software company Ximian in August and announced it was acquiring Germany-based SUSE LINUX for $210 million in November. NOVL also got IBM to pledge a $50 million investment once the SUSE deal closes, and it's capitalizing on the spotlight focused on The SCO Group (Nasdaq: SCOX) by claiming SCO doesn't actually own certain UNIX intellectual properties. 2004 should be fun for Novell.
3. ClearOne Mess Nearly Done.
What a year for ClearOne Communications (Pink Sheets: CLRO), starting with the January bombshell that the Securities and Exchange Commission had filed a complaint against the firm and two of its executive officers. The allegations? Simply that during an 18-month period the firm, its CEO/President and CFO had "engaged in a program of inflating the company's revenues, net income and accounts receivable by engaging in improper revenue recognition." Just some of the negative events that hit CLRO during the year included its delisting by Nasdaq, the loss of its auditor, Ernst & Young (who also withdrew its favorable support for ClearOne's 2001 and 2002 annual reports), the termination of the executives allegedly responsible for the channel-stuffing, a several-month trading halt in its stock and getting slapped with a class action shareholder lawsuit. As of today, CLRO has apparently settled its SEC and shareholder lawsuits, pending court approval in early 2004. No official word yet on the status of the outstanding SEC complaints against the former CLRO executives.
2. NPS Pharmaceuticals Sets Merger, Then Calls It Off.
Take one of Utah's largest life science companies, NPS Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: NPSP), throw it into a $1.6 billion "merger of equals" with Enzon Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ENZN) that takes Wall Street by surprise and leads to a 37 percent erosion in NPS valuation, and you've got the makings for calling off a wedding. Today NPSP is trading at more than $30 per share and has nearly a dozen drug candidates in development, with two on track for possible marketing clearance from the FDA in the next 12 months. The company also had nearly $350 million on hand as of the end of its most recent quarter (ended Sept. 30). In my opinion, NPS is definitely better off today on its own versus being part of a merged company.
1. SCO, SCO, SCO.
How can one company make so many people so mad they can't see straight? It's easy. Tell 'em that their baby (the Linux operating system) is ugly and that it's not really their baby.
Not that the SCO Group has said Linux is ugly, simply that IBM (NYSE: IBM) and others have misappropriated UNIX software code into Linux over the years and are therefore violating SCO intellectual property rights. Which (if it's true) means a lot of companies owe SCO money, and in some cases, it's a lot of money.
SCO's stock has gone from a low of $1.09 per share back in mid-February to a high this year of more than $22 per share in mid-October. In the meantime, SCO has sued IBM for a now $3 billion for contract violations, been sued by Red Hat (Nasdaq: RHAT), gotten into a number of legal rumblings with Novell, threatened to sue major Linux users, raised $50 million in a private placement, and generated its first annual profit ever.
Not only has SCO thrust itself to the front of the technology news line in Utah, it has also entered onto the international stage in a very big way as its claim strikes at the very core of the Open Source and Linux adherents everywhere, making SCO the No. 1 technology news story in Utah in 2003.
Best wishes to all "Utah Tech Watch" readers for a very happy and prosperous 2004.
David Politis leads Politis Communications, a public relations, investor relations and marketing communications agency specializing in the high-tech and life science markets.