Hulu owners seeking best sale value, says Disney’s Iger

LOS ANGELES ― Hulu’s current joint owners are seeking the highest possible value in a sale rather than focusing on who a new owner might be, Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger said Wednesday.

The popular online TV video site is jointly owned by Disney, News Corp., Comcast Corp’s NBC Universal and private-equity firm Providence Equity Partners.

The owners have agreed to put the site up for sale. Disney and News Corp recently renewed new programming licenses to aid that process.

Iger said all the owners are committed to selling the site, but declined to comment on the timing of a deal.

“I don’t think it matters to us, we just need to get the best value,” Iger told Reuters on the sidelines of the Allen & Co. conference attended by some of the biggest names in technology, media and deal financing.

The owners have begun preliminary sales talks with about a dozen potential buyers, including Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. a source familiar with the situation said last week. .

Hulu expects its number of paid subscribers to top 1 million by summer’s end, earlier than previously forecast, its chief executive said on Wednesday.

Alibaba’s Ma offers Yahoo some advice: break up

PALOS VERDES, Calif./SAN FRANCISCO ― Alibaba founder Jack Ma didn’t shed new light on his negotiations with Yahoo Inc. and Softbank during an appearance at a conference Wednesday, but he did offer some unexpected advice for Yahoo.

“Separate it…into small pieces,” he replied bluntly when asked how he might manage the struggling U.S. Web portal if he were in charge.

“Running a big company is not easy, then make it smaller,” Ma said on stage at the D9 conference, organized by the tech blog AllThingsD.com.

Yahoo owns 43 percent of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, which it acquired for $1 billion in 2005. The relationship between the two companies has grown strained since Carol Bartz took the CEO reins at Yahoo two years ago.

Ma’s attempts to repurchase some of Yahoo’s stake in his company have been rebuffed by Bartz.

The companies are currently in negotiations, along with Japan’s Softbank , over how to compensate Yahoo for Alipay, an Alibaba subsidiary that was transferred to a separate entity controlled by Ma in order to meet Chinese regulations relating to foreign ownership.

Ma, a former English schoolteacher, said he was optimistic the matter would be resolved, but declined to provide a timeframe or any details about the matter.

He did offer up one other interesting view about Yahoo.

Asked if he would ever consider buying Yahoo, he said he’d “love to, if somebody could lend me the money.”

Micron and Intellectual Ventures sign intellectual property license agreement

BOISE, Idaho and BELLEVUE, Wash. — Micron Technology Inc. and Intellectual Ventures  announced today that they have entered into an intellectual property license agreement.

The agreement provides Micron with access to IV’s patent portfolio of more than 30,000 IP assets. In addition, the companies have the option to buy patents from each other. Micron can acquire patents from IV to help defend against companies that may assert patents against them, and IV has the opportunity to acquire patents from Micron to expand and supplement its growing portfolio of IP assets.

“Building on Micron’s extensive patent portfolio, this transaction provides Micron strategic access to IV’s substantial patent portfolio to help drive future innovation and continued expansion of our award-winning products and leading-edge technologies in addition to opportunities to advance our intellectual property strategies,” said Rod Lewis, Micron’s vice president of legal affairs and general counsel.

“Micron is an innovative industry-leading company and has pioneered various thoughtful and strategic intellectual property transactions,” said Joe Chernesky, vice president and general manager, global licensing sales at Intellectual Ventures. “Our collaborative agreement with Micron further validates the strength of our patent portfolio and the value we bring to technology companies through efficient access to intellectual property.”

Intellectual Ventures engages with companies of all sizes to meet their current business needs and provide strategic guidance on forward-thinking intellectual property. IV combines scale and expertise to structure sophisticated deals designed to help companies strengthen their market position by reducing their current risk and providing access to the invention rights they need to stay competitive. Collaborating with Intellectual Ventures helps Micron protect its core business so it can focus on innovation.

Valvoline maker Ashland to buy chemicals company for $3.2 billion

COVINGTON, Ky. ― Chemicals maker Ashland Inc., known for its Valvoline motor oil, plans to buy privately owned International Specialty Products for about $3.2 billion as it eyes more sales from the high-margin personal care, pharmaceuticals and energy markets.

Covington, Kentucky-based Ashland manufactures a wide range of specialty chemicals and materials for the packaging and water purification industries. Like many of its peers, including Dow Chemical, Ashland has slowly been moving away from the low-margin, cyclical commodity chemicals sector.

Buying International Specialty ― which produces more than 500 specialty chemicals that cater to markets ranging from personal care and pharmaceuticals to energy and plastics ― will take Ashland closer to its previously stated goal of tapping more high-margin markets.

“It (the deal) broadens Ashland’s presence within attractive growth areas like skin, hair and oral care, which are large and fast-growing segments of the $5-billion-plus personal care specialty ingredients market,” Ashland Chief Executive James O’Brien said in a statement.

The deal will also help Ashland cut costs at a time when higher raw material prices have become a major concern for chemical companies. The company will save about $50 million annually by the second year after the deal closes.

The transaction, which is expected to close by the end of the September quarter, should immediately add to Ashland’s earnings per share, it said in a statement.

The deal will be funded through a combination of cash on hand and committed financing from Citi, the Bank of Nova Scotia, BofA Merrill Lynch and U.S. Bank National Association.

If the financing is not available and other conditions are not met, ISP — which serves more than 6,000 customers in more than 90 countries — can end the deal on a termination fee of $413 million.

BofA Merrill Lynch acted as financial adviser to Ashland. Moelis & Company advised International Specialty.

Nestle buys U.S. firm Prometheus Laboratories as part of food pharma drive

ZURICH ― Nestle SA, the world’s biggest food group, agreed to buy U.S. gastrointestinal diagnostics firm Prometheus Laboratories for an estimated $1.1 billion as part of the Swiss group’s drive into health sciences.

Nestle said Prometheus, which is expected to have annual sales of around $250 million in 2012, makes tests to help doctors diagnose conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases  including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Nestle, maker of Nescafe coffee, KitKat chocolate bars and Maggi soup, hopes Prometheus’s sales force will push its hospital nutrition products like Peptamen and Novasource.

While Nestle declined to give financial details, analyst Jean-Philippe Bertschy at bank and asset manager Vontobel estimated Nestle might have paid more than 1 billion Swiss francs ($1.1 billion) for the company.

“The combined entity will be able to leverage the products and geographic presence in gastrointestinal diagnostics. We see that acquisition as a decisive step for Nestle,” he said.

Luis Cantarell, head of Nestle’s health science unit created at the beginning of the year, said the company hoped to develop personalised nutrition offerings with Prometheus’s diagnostics and expected the buy to accelerate its own research.

“We will incorporate the nutrition dimension through existing products and new products we are going to develop,” he told Reuters. “Significant innovations in the next 12 to 24 months will be added to the existing platform.”

As well as making tests for IBD and celiac diseases, San Diego-based Prometheus produces drugs to treat them. Nestle makes a range of nutritional products for feeding patients with the same conditions.

Prometheus cites estimates that 60 million Americans may have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, while about 1.2 million are affected by more chronic irritable bowel disease.

Nestle’s move comes at a time of growing overlap between “Big Pharma” and “Big Food” as many drug companies are investing in non-prescription products including nutrition.

Consumer healthcare is set to become a larger part of revenue for drugmakers as patents on many top-selling medicines expire. The nutritional and over-the-counter healthcare markets are expected to grow by a healthy 5 percent annually to $200 billion by 2015, according to analysts at Morningstar.