The company’s thinking seriously about it — so much so that it hired Evercore Partners to explore a sale of more than 800 patents and consider other strategic options, Bloomberg reports citing “three people with knowledge of the situation.” They also tell the news service that private equity firms Providence Equity Partners, TPG Capital and Silver Lake are trying to interest AOL in a plan to go private. The news about the patents follows CEO Tim Armstrong’s comment at an investor conference two weeks ago that AOL’s portfolio is like “beachfront property in East Hampton.” He added that “when we were spinning out of Time Warner this was a huge negotiation.” The patents involve a wide range of Internet-based activities in areas including e-commerce, travel navigation, and search-related advertising. But last month Starboard Value, which owns 5.2% of AOL, said in a letter to the board that the properties have been “unrecognized and underutilized.” The portfolio “could produce in excess of $1 billion of licensing income if appropriately harvested and monetized,” the investor group said. AOL shares have been steadily recovering from a steep drop in August when it reported that its investments in new ventures, including local news service Patch, contributed to quarterly earnings that were far below analyst expectations. AOL’s -7.4% over the last 12 months, but it’s +22.5% since the beginning of 2012.