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Does Recent Goodwill Undo Years of Patent Trolling For Intellectual Ventures? 90

CowboyNeal writes "Controversial patent-holding company Intellectual Ventures has been covered on Slashdot before, but a recent CNET article takes a look inside the company, at how they work, and what they have planned for the future. Read below to find out if they are merely a patent-troll, or if their shrewd tactics belie a more noble master plan?"

Intellectual Ventures was first founded in 2000, and since then has acquired an amazing portfolio of patents and "intellectual assets." Even the most conservative of estimates, indicate over 30,000 purchased patents and applications, and over 2000 inventions developed in-house. It's a rather staggering amount of intellectual property for a company that itself does not produce any products.

In the process of collecting the aforementioned patents and inventions, Intellectual Ventures has made itself into a grim spectre haunting the tech industry, garnering it's share of bad press over the years, including a segment on This American Life on NPR, which goes so far as to compare Intellectual Ventures to the mafia, engaging in an IP protection racket. CNET describes the company as having a split personality, in which one part resembles a think tank, where people both create and refine new ideas to solve problems large and small, another part is an "altruistic do-gooder," while the final part is the patent-troll side they've been showing us previously.

During the tour of the company, devices are shown off that include everything from a laser-wielding bug zapper to a microscope for early malaria detection. Intellectual Ventures purports to represent the inventors behind these devices and more, while preparing to spin them off into new companies. One such earlier device, a new nuclear reactor, made headlines again recently as Bill Gates has begun investing in it. A second company has also launched recently. Kymeta, which is also funded in part by Gates, aims to improve wireless broadband access using better satellite connections.

While the inventions that are showcased have a serious cool factor about them, there's still the underlying notion that the invention side of the business is funded by their patent-trolling activities. While no one can really fault advances in fighting malaria or polio, for every new idea they have come up with, there are hundreds of shell companies, such as the infamous Lodsys, who do little but stifle innovation in the industry.

Because Intellectual Ventures and its shell companies have no actual products of their own, they're well-suited to the rigors of patent litigation. Most smaller companies aren't designed or prepared for a patent war. When a company is sued for violating one of Intellectual Ventures' patents, that company now has to divert resources away from making its products, and focus on defending its right to make those products. Just the discovery phase of a lawsuit can bring normal work to a halt, or at the least greatly impede forward progress. Since a company like Intellectual Ventures or one of its shell corporations, is prepared for the suit from the beginning, and has nothing to halt production on, they're much better poised to handle the ongoing work of a court case, and begin the case with a distinct advantage.

So after twelve years, 30,000 pieces of various forms of intellectual property, 1300 patent-holding shell corporations, and a network of 3000 inventors, only two companies have been spun off from Intellectual Ventures. That seems like a rather high price to pay, and a recent Forbes story seems to agree. That doesn't even take into account the damage that has been to industry as a result of the numerous patent cases.

In a recent response to company criticism, Intellectual Ventures has been advertising for a newly-created position, the vice president of Global Good. It seems to me that before hiring another suit, they could easily pull from their pool of around 3000 inventors, and have a few dozen or so just say what their potential products are, and how Intellectual Ventures has helped them on the road to market. This wouldn't exonerate Intellectual Ventures from their patent trolling by any means, but it would be a first step in the right direction. CNET wasn't able to talk to any inventors at length during their tour. Most of the images of inside Intellectual Ventures are of empty rooms, where employees either weren't currently working, or were required to be removed entirely. This renders it awfully hard to put a human face on any possible good that may be going on inside Intellectual Ventures. Reading through past Intellectual Ventures press releases doesn't produce any either. What it does provide, however, is a long list of companies that have been forced to partner with or license rights from Intellectual Ventures. Despite any good intentions they may assert, their track record speaks otherwise. Even if you apply the adage that one has to break a few eggs to make an omelet, they've broken tens of thousands of eggs, and made only a few omelets.

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Does Recent Goodwill Undo Years of Patent Trolling For Intellectual Ventures?

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  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @01:45PM (#41112295)

    Actions speak louder than words.

  • Nathan Myhrvold? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeremiah Cornelius ( 137 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @01:47PM (#41112323) Homepage Journal

    Don't doubt the depths of the evil here. The kind that moralises about the good it does.

  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @02:01PM (#41112473) Homepage

    I don't care if they stand in the heavenly courts and fart choir music, the ends don't justify extortion to fund their business model.

  • Patent Troll (Score:5, Insightful)

    by introp ( 980163 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @02:20PM (#41112715)
    They're still what they were designed to be. They're just investing in P.R. now. Next.
  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @02:23PM (#41112755) Homepage

    It's just the same modius operandi that Bill Gates has used, that Andrew Carnegie and other "robber barons" have used for centuries - make shitloads of money by various immoral / unethical / illegal means and then use 'philanthropy' to gain admission to heaven or at least public acceptance of their previous behaviors. This isn't new, it's not helpful to the world at large and society would be better off if it prevented the immoral / unethical and / or illegal behaviors in the first place.

  • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @02:32PM (#41112847) Journal
    IV is a company set up to exploit the horribly broken patent system to the max. They made their fortune not by merit of effort, but by gaming the system, causing untold economic damage in the process. So yes, they suck big time. And now they are changing their tune? That's a bit like praising a hardened crime boss for donating some of his ill gotten gains to the NY Philharmonic. A nice gesture, but in both cases it hardly means they are turning a new leaf.

    In the end, getting the patent system reformed is a lot better than hating IV. Fat chance of that happening, though.
  • by Jeremiah Cornelius ( 137 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @03:00PM (#41113135) Homepage Journal

    Yes, but you repeat yourself. :-)

    He lies in SO MANY ways through this one, seemingly simple, statement in the article, alone:

    "The set of incentives that go around patents, that's part of how the system works. Inventors should get rich. We should have more inventors. It's good for everybody,"

    Right. What a Satan, disguised in human form. Myhrvold's out there - using his billion-dollar leverage to ensure the Philo Farnsworths and Nicola Teslas of our time get the just and proportional, individual rewards - commensurate with their foundational contributions.


    The "inventors" that he ensures riches for are other large corporations. The "owners" of intellectual "property". He's like a loan shark, claiming that "working stiffs deserve an equal chance a getting a little credit".

    If there's a heart of darkness inside of Microsoft, Myhrvold is one of the Cabal of three or four, who made it so.

  • Re:No (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 24, 2012 @03:04PM (#41113171)

    Oh, do go and get fucked together with other idiots trotting out this wiki link in every article.

    Betteridge's law was meant for headlines that show uncertainity in sources and conclusions by question marks, like "Average /. poster IQ dropped even further?" or "Car analogies to be banned on Slashdot?".

    It doesn't apply to questions presented and discussed in the articles. What the hell, would IV suddenly become better if the headline asked "Are they really as bad as everyone paints them?"

To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. -- Thomas Edison