The co-founders of Layar, the Dutch augmented reality company that was sold to Blippar five years ago, are preparing a bid to buy their intellectual property back from the collapsed company.

Raimo van der Klein, co-founder of Layar, told Sifted he was putting together a consortium of investors and engineers to mount a bid for parts of the Blippar business, which was put into administration in December. Regaining the Layar brand and its technology platform would allow van der Klein and his co-founder Maarten Lens-FitzGerald to relaunch Layar as an independent business.

“We are all motivated to finish the story we started with Layar 10 years ago,” van der Klein said.

Layar, founded in 2009, was an early pioneer in AR with its mobile platform one of the first to hit the market. It was sold to Blippar in 2014 for £4m. The Dutch company helped bolster Blippar’s technical underpinnings with a number of AR-related patents, and it also brought with it some 45 million users.

Layar, which had come pre-installed on smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S series, had always had far higher customer download numbers than rival Blippar. The Layar business is thought to have continued to make a small profit even as the rest of Blippar fell into deepening losses, burning through the nearlty $150m it had raised.

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“We are all motivated to finish the story we started with Layar 10 years ago.”

This is not the first time van der Klein and Lens-FitzGerald have tried to take Layar back. The pair broached the idea informally with Blippar back in 2017 but were rebuffed. This time they may face competition from Nick Candy, the property tycoon who owns 49% of Blippar shares, and Dan Wagner, the CEO of collapsed tech company Powa, who is rumoured to be considering a bid for the business.

Would there be room in the AR market for an independent Layar, however? Despite ambitions to be the world’s visual search engine, Blippar failed to make headway in an AR market dominated by the tech giants such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft. It has been a struggle to find a consumer business model based on AR, beyond a few advertising campaigns.

“Nobody has really cracked the market on the consumer side yet,” said Dirk Groten, former CTO at Layar and VP of engineering at Blippar until 2016. “AR really doesn’t work well on a mobile phone – you need glasses, and it has taken much more time than I thought to create glasses that work. 10 years on we are still waiting.”

Florida-based Magic Leap did bring out a headset in August 2018 but, bulky and expensive, this was targeted more at developers and artists than the general consumer market. Rumours have circulated for some time about Apple getting ready to launch AR glasses this year, but nothing has yet been confirmed.

“AR really doesn’t work well on a mobile phone – you need glasses… 10 years on we are still waiting.”

Van der Klein remains convinced that, once AR glasses arrive, a viable business model can be created.

“We are on the brink of augmented reality glasses becoming mainstream products and that will unlock new ways to present information and new content forms,” he said.

He said a relaunched Layar would focus on the user experience rather than on AR technology itself. “Knowing which content to show which user” is still very difficult and not being done well, said van der Klein. His plan is to work on indexing the data that exists about places and objects – the history of a city landmark or a review of a nearby restaurant, for example – and finding better ways to show these to users.

The Layar assets are unlikely to realise anything like the £4m they were sold for – van der Klein said any bid would be just “a fraction” of that price. “No one will pay what was paid in the past,” he said.

But van der Klein seems determined, one way or the other, to return to the AR market. If the consortium he is gathering fails to buy the Layar IP, there is a plan B.

“The narrative of that we are continuing Layar is nice but if we fail to get the brand back we can continue with a different name,” he said. Watch this space.

Image: Raimo van der Klein, co-founder of Layar. Photo credit: Guido van Nispen 

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