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An inside look at Intellectual Ventures 146

Posted by Hemos
from the the-big-bad-world-of-IP dept.
A reader writes"Nathan Myhrvold has started a multi-hundred million dollar firm to develop new inventions and patent them. It has remained a very secretive organization, despite recruiting reclusive geniuses and buying up thousands of patents from other companies. Now Business Week has the scoop: "As his cash-rich firm snaps up thousands of patents, fears emerge that it will become a leader in litigation - not innovation..."
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An inside look at Intellectual Ventures

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  • A vile trade (Score:4, Insightful)

    by andrewman327 (635952) on Monday June 26, 2006 @10:49AM (#15605527) Homepage Journal
    I really take issue with companies whose business models center around taking others to court. This type of business is an insult to the inventors who did not get proper credit for their discoveries. From GMail to Amazon, frivilous suits alleging prior art hurt the bottom lines of legitimate companies that are not out to steal from anyone.


    I hope that this venture exercises some restraint in its persuits.

    • Re: A vile trade (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Black Parrot (19622) on Monday June 26, 2006 @10:53AM (#15605568)
      > I really take issue with companies whose business models center around taking others to court. [...] I hope that this venture exercises some restraint in its persuits.

      Man is an economic animal, and will harvest any niche the law will allow.

      I'm tempted to say we should fix the law rather than relying on restraint, but the most recent patent legislation the US Congress was considering looked like it was going to 'fix' the problem by letting the big guys walk all over the little guys.
      • Re: A vile trade (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Znork (31774) on Monday June 26, 2006 @11:48AM (#15605951)
        In my opinion, the law as it is is unfixable. The very structure of monopoly rights is inherently unbalanced and is an aberration in a free market, one whose costs are huge but unaccounted for, while the benefits in terms of innovation and rewards to actual inventors are dubious.

        Redesign the system as stipend rights instead, conferring, in exchange for disclosure, the right to an actual monetary payout upon a certain level of use of the invention in question. That way the system is automatically balanced; with a standard government budget the costs are controllable (government spending tendencies aside), if too many 'patent stipends' are granted, the rewards for each shrink so all involved parties have an interest in only valid ones being granted. Companies would not need fear litigation; they could browse the patent databases as they please and just note which ones they include, combine and mix and match, etc. The litigation burden would go down; the inventor would not need to sue anyone for using their invention; the more the better, as their payout would increase.

        Financing such a system isnt really that hard, once you accept that the current system isnt as 'free' as it seems, but is actually more or less equivalent to a taxation on new technology (which is _not_ a good thing, as it slows adoption rates even more). A flat 'innovation VAT' rate would be a large improvement, or even better, rates geared towards phasing out undesireable old technology. But above all, it should be accounted for, with measurable economic impact, not the current 'more or less years that does something or the other that we cant really tell to innovation and costs but you dont see it as it's in the price of goods and insurances'.
        • The very structure of monopoly rights is inherently unbalanced and is an aberration in a free market, one whose costs are huge but unaccounted for, while the benefits in terms of innovation and rewards to actual inventors are dubious.

          That's why the monopoly is temporary. As far as the rewards to inventors being dubious, hardly: none of my several businesses would have been possible if I had to fear some giant corporation swooping in and stealing my lunch the second I was done making it.

          Redesign the system
    • I havent seen too many frivilous suits alleging prior art. Seem to be a lot alleging patent infringement though.
    • Re:A vile trade (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TopShelf (92521) on Monday June 26, 2006 @11:04AM (#15605627) Homepage Journal
      I really take issue with companies whose business models center around taking others to court.

      If you RTFA, that's not the business model. It's something they may have to do when patents of theirs (they apply for their own patents as well as buy some up) get infringed and the other party won't agree to license it, but that's no different than any other firm protecting its assets.

      The article summary plays up the litigation angle out of all proportion. Getting a variety of top minds to focus on how to make major technological advances is a worthy enterprise.
      • What do they get? (Score:4, Informative)

        by jkabbe (631234) on Monday June 26, 2006 @11:22AM (#15605750)
        If you RTFA, that's not the business model. It's something they may have to do when patents of theirs (they apply for their own patents as well as buy some up) get infringed and the other party won't agree to license it, but that's no different than any other firm protecting its assets.

        Keep in mind that most patent trolls would rather have a license than go to court. This is particularly true in areas where there are many players. Why spend 2-3 years in litigation when you can hit up 5-10 companies for a couple million each?

        So I still don't see the difference. The big question is, do the investors / licensees get anything out of IV other than avoiding a lawsuit? By that I mean, do they get ideas and technical information that are actually valuable to their businesses? If they don't, then it doesn't really matter what IV claims their business model is - they really won't be substantively different from a patent troll.

        • The big question is, do the investors / licensees get anything out of IV other than avoiding a lawsuit?

          That is the question and we'll probably just have to wait and see before pronouncing them trolls. On the face of it, it seems like it could be a good idea. Kind of modeling after the university research model where they do the research come up with some innovation and just license it to other companies to produce rather than producing it themselves. Where they are more of a think-tank specializing in
          • The real problem is that outside of a few relatively young fields like biotech, we ran out of truly innovative inventions decades ago. Mature industries grow through small, iterative improvements, most of which naturally lead to the next iterative improvement in an obvious way. Unfortunately, these minor improvements end up getting patented. Such patents do not actually benefit anyone, and their very existence is harmful.

      • The model is patenting random science fiction, then taking a cut when other people turn some of it into science fact. "Getting a variety of top minds to focus on how to make major technological advances" is only worthy if you intend to develop those advances quickly, not if you end up holding them back.
      • I really take issue with companies whose business models center around taking others to court.

        If you RTFA, that's not the business model. It's something they may have to do when patents of theirs (they apply for their own patents as well as buy some up) get infringed and the other party won't agree to license it, but that's no different than any other firm protecting its assets.

        If YOU RTFA, that is the business model.

        From TFA...

        Twenty years ago, he notes, software makers--some of whom now flout patents--fac

    • Violence and Patents (Score:5, Interesting)

      by argoff (142580) on Monday June 26, 2006 @12:04PM (#15606067)
      ...I really take issue with companies whose business models center around taking others to court. This type of business is an insult to the inventors who did not get proper credit for their discoveries.

      The problem with patents is way deeper that that. The big problem is not now, but 20+ years from now as society will likely start to enter the replication age and 3d-printer/nano/bio technologies will eventually shift manufacturing away from the factory and back into the home. When this happens, some people will see this as a way to create tremendous wealth by offering creation related services. Unfortunately, others will see this as an opportunity to extract nearly infinite licensing royalities. In sum, manufacturing will become commoditized and there will be this huge pressure for the powers that be to coerce themsleves into every aspect of peoples private lives.

      History teaches that when the labor force became commoditized in the mid 1800's - it blew up the plans of the plantation systems to leverage industrial technology to expand their plantations for unlimited growth and profit. The consequence was the most bloody war in human history - the US civil war. It was considered the most bloody in human history because they were just beginning to figure out how to use these new technologies to kill people, but hadn't developed any adequete defences yet.

      The point is that a similar problem will happen when patents become commoditized, and when those who wish to impose patent controlls resort to coercion to impose them. People don't seem to understand that patents by their very nature are violent and genocidial and could easially lead to the ruthless murder of billions as manufacturing becomes commoditized. In fact, their track record today isn't too impressive: eg, how safety devices in autos were held back 20 years because of patents, and how millions Africans died needlseely of AIDS because people tried to forbid them from making generics by suing in the world court. These are just some in a long list of exanples that have caused millions to die or suffer needlessly, right now most of the ruin is not obvious to us - but it certainly will eventually become so.

      • how millions Africans died needlseely of AIDS because people tried to forbid them from making generics by suing in the world court.

        Tell them I've found a cure - stop having sex with people who have AIDS. Their biggest problem is not access to medication, it's that they belive AIDS is a lie by the "white man" to keep them down or other general ignorances/stupidity.

        • Tell them I've found a cure - stop having sex with people who have AIDS. Their biggest problem is not access to medication, it's that they belive AIDS is a lie by the "white man" to keep them down or other general ignorances/stupidity.


          Their attitudes and how they got AIDS is compeltely irrelavent when it comes to the issue of wheter it is ok to sue their pants off to keep them from providing themselves adequete treatment.

          • I disagree completely. If every time I stabbed myself in the leg with a knife you had to pay for my medical bills, how many stabs would it take before you simply took my knife away rather than pay for my bills?

            These people need education, not treatments...

        • Ohhh... ok, so that explains why the "white man" doesn't get AIDS.
          • by Nurf (11774) on Monday June 26, 2006 @02:34PM (#15607329) Homepage
            Ohhh... ok, so that explains why the "white man" doesn't get AIDS.

            It is perhaps possible that you are not from Africa, and thus do not know that there are actually a lot of blacks in Africa that insist AIDS is a white conspiracy of some sort. The exact conspiracy changes, but the disbelief in AIDS doesn't.

            There are several areas in Africa with 70% + HIV infection rates among blacks. On the whole, the whites dont get AIDS and the blacks do. There has been quite a bit of headscratching about this, and there seem to be several factors involved:

            1) Male circumcision - Recent studies seem to show that male circumcision decreases the chance of a male becoming infected by a factor of around 7. That's a huge factor. A lot of whites are circumcised, but very few blacks are (in the high infection areas I am speaking about).
            2) Social mores and ignorance - Several of the black cultures involved have very different attitudes to sex and safe sex. In many areas its almost impossible for the woman to get the man to wear a condom, because of both ignorance and the low social status of women. There is often basic ignorance of the concept of a germ theory of disease.
            3) Whites tend to have fewer concurrent sexual partners. For those steeped in Western social mores or with a penchant for political correctness, I'm not saying either whites or blacks are heedless and promiscuous. However, I am saying that it is a lot more acceptable to have more than one concurrent stable sexual relationship in many black cultures, and this makes it easier for AIDS to spread than the white cultural tendency to have many partners in succession.
            4) Fundamental disbelief in AIDS - It's hard to get people to take precautions when they think you are talking out your ass. When people die, the disease that killed them is pointed to as the cause of death, not AIDS. So, malaria, tuberculosis, and the flu have been really bad lately.

            This means there are areas with near 100% infection rates in blacks, and very low infection rates in whites. It has nothing to do with race, and probably everything to do with social mores, conventions, and culture.

            I don't claim to be the last word on this, but I came to the conclusions above after speaking to a fair number of people, some of them paramedics, and some of them farmers in remote areas.
            • Your response is low on facts and high on fluff. I did a quick GoogleCheck(tm) and discovered that the studies you are talking about haven't been published in a journal yet. Are you a troll?

              The extraordinary history of circumcision as a panaceaa [circumstitions.com], and before that as a rite, strongly suggest that latter-day claims of prophylaxis should be regarded with a sceptical, if not jaundiced, eye. Few if any men can be truly neutral about circumcision. The temptation to justify what was done to oneself seems almost irr

              • Am I a troll? No.

                There are areas where the black rate of infection is very high and the white rate is very low. Nobody knows exactly why, but everyone has an opinion. I tried to give all the reasons I have heard that might make sense and that I think are most likely. Note the careful use of words like "seems" and "probably" in selected places.

                The quote I saw about circumcision said there was a massive improvement, and they stopped the test early because it seemed unethical to not allow the uncircumcised par
                • Please read the links I supplied before going on about this nonsense that circumcision prevents AIDS.
                  • Er. Try reading what I said. Does that look like "going on"? Rabid frothing at the mouth? Promises of death and dismemberment if you don't come around to my view?

                    I had a look at the links. The one was a list of all the things circumcision was supposed to help with in the past. Yup. Long list of snake oil there... and totally irrelevant. Yeah, maybe it has been used as an excuse in the past, but that doesn't mean it has to be wrong this time around. Leeches were used for everything not too long ago. Now they
            • There has been quite a bit of headscratching about this, and there seem to be several factors involved:

              Don't forget that bizarre turn-on -- dry sex. Painful for women, but apparently strangely enjoyable for men, it also significantly increases the chance of infection for both. I'm not talking about women who have sex when they aren't in the mood. It is a lot more extreme then that -- some women use chemicals like bleach to remove natural lubricants and irritate the tissue to make it swell up, others actu
        • Yes, the AIDS pandemic in Africa is all to do with those swarthy Africans and their ravenous sexual appetites...

          Of course, according to a UNAIDS overview [unaids.org] there are two million children in sub-Saharan africa living with HIV or AIDS; The "vast majority of children who are infected with HIV" are infected via Mother-to-child transmission [http] or through contact with infected blood or unsterilised needles. The WHO estimates [who.int] that unsafe blood transfusions result in around 5-10% of new HIV infections, and according

      • how millions Africans died needlseely of AIDS because people tried to forbid them from making generics by suing in the world court.
        You're taking the fact that AIDS drugs exist for granted, though. If there had not been any financial incentive for companies to develop and produce the drugs, then they certainly wouldn't have done so. Yes, companies are greedy and the pharmas are (probably) gouging, but there is more to the picture than it seems...
      • A violence-oriented patent pre-surrender disclaimer could be something like this:

        "Owner of patent hereby sells/surrenders all or some percentage or all of his/her controlling interests in the patentable product invention you already reviewed under non-disclosure and non-compete agreements. You agreed/affirmed/acknowledged that you had not, were not, and did not in the immediate future plan to work on any project or product related to the subject of this transfer/sales/co-sharing documents.

        Also, you also agr
      • The big problem is not now, but 20+ years from now as society will likely start to enter the replication age and 3d-printer/nano/bio technologies will eventually shift manufacturing away from the factory and back into the home. When this happens, some people will see this as a way to create tremendous wealth by offering creation related services. Unfortunately, others will see this as an opportunity to extract nearly infinite licensing royalities.

        Within 20+ years, all current patents will have been expired
  • There's one thing I don't understand, patents are a US thing. What if a company develops elsewhere something patented in the US, is that legal? Or will they not be able to market it in the US?
    • by Mindragon (627249) * on Monday June 26, 2006 @10:58AM (#15605592) Journal
      Patents and Copyrights are a right to sue over a particular piece of technology or art. You can "invent" the idea on the moon, file a US patent or copyright and then sue anyone (or everyone in the case of the RIAA/MPAA). All a patent or copyright is a "supposedly" clever piece of legalease that allows "LawYERS" the right and process to sue someone else.

      An invention is an idea to make everyone's lives easier.

      A patent or copyright is an idea to make everyone suffer for it.
       
    • Outside the US's control US law doesn't apply. IIRC OpenBSD is based in Canada for similar reasons, and they just get people to "import" it.
    • by jkabbe (631234) on Monday June 26, 2006 @11:25AM (#15605777)
      Simply put, a patent in the US gives the owner the right to prevent others from making, using, or selling the patented invention in the US. This is generally accomplished through litigation (although threats of litigation sometimes suffice :). A US patent has no effect outside the US.

      • a patent in the US gives the owner

        Ya know, this is probably the biggest problem with our patent system - assignability. A patent should not be assignable. The right to license, maybe... But "buying up" thousands of patents is not any effort to "protect" valuable IP assessts that assist said purchaser against infringement of an invention they had anything to do with.

        Patents are supposed to protect theft of an idea from those that toil away at a process to invent a new... thing.

        Assignability of pate

        • Two small mistakes.

          1. Patents exist in order to motivate people to invent stuff. The exclusive rights gained by claiming a patent is the mechanism by which this goal is reached, the incentive boiling down, through the time-limited monopoly, to "money". It may seem a small distinction but it is an essential one; patents are about financially motivating inventors, not about protecting their ideas.

          2. As such, an inventor should be free to reek that financial benefit in whichever way (s)he can. If one privately
    • Despite what others may tell you, US patent laws are applicable outside of the United States...indirectly. It has nothing to do with lawsuits or payoffs, though. It has to do with US Trade Policy. It is the policy of the US that we require our trade partners to respect the patents of US companies. Now, granted, trade policy is as full of holes as shotgunned swiss cheese, but foreign countries do have to abide by US patent laws if, for no other reason, it is only to give them one more bargaining chip on

      • I don't agree.

        In 1999 the last time I had to deal with patents. You had to buy patents for every single country where you plan to make business. An extremely expensive operation. Most young firms prefer to concentrate their capital on key markets such as the US, Japan and the European Union. I knew firms which proposed a world package for patents. But it doesn't change the fact that legally you have to buy patents for each market.

        see: http://www.grain.org/briefings/?id=26 [grain.org] Today, all patents in the wor
  • by pablomarx (860587) on Monday June 26, 2006 @10:50AM (#15605545) Homepage
    Andy Hertzfeld strived to open Magic Cap at the time of the GMGC bankruptcy. If I remember Andy's explanation correctly, Nathan Myrvold, formerly of Microsoft, used the bankruptcy process to capture the IP after Andy Hertzfeld working with Andy Rubin had won two previous decisions to get the Magic Cap IP. Nathan mostly wanted the Telescript agent patents for his dead startup patent collection, though.
    Afterwards, Andy H. continued to work with Nathan to pry the Magic Cap IP loose, since Nathan allegedly didn't care that much. But Nathan kept putting more and more restrictions on Magic Cap's use to the point that few would have been able to use the Magic Cap technology for anything practical or interesting even if it was open source. So Andy finally stopped trying.
    The bottom line is that even though no one is using Magic Cap, we can't make it available as open source. And thus, and incredible amount of creativity, investment and hard work is effectively lost to the world (except for what people remember in their heads).
  • Old Idea (Score:4, Funny)

    by should_be_linear (779431) on Monday June 26, 2006 @10:52AM (#15605554)
    See them in court if they try to get around my patent 3404987: "Method of starting a multi-hundred million dollar firms for establishing new inventions and patenting them".
    • Re:Old Idea (Score:4, Informative)

      by Jerry Coffin (824726) on Monday June 26, 2006 @12:18PM (#15606186)
      See them in court if they try to get around my patent 3404987:

      I know this was meant to be funny, but it brings out a frequently ignored point. The real patent number 3404987 expired in 1985. What it covered (a food preservative) was the exclusive property of Procter and Gamble for a while, but it's now in the public domain, so anybody can use it. Furthermore, the patent gives anybody who cares directions about exactly what it is, how to make it, and how to use it.

      The point is that patents expire, and when they do, whatever they covered becomes public domain, guaranteed to be usable by anybody. Furthermore, they often disclose more than they actually covered -- and whatever they disclose is public domain as well.

      For quite a while, the patent office didn't accept applications for patents on software at all. That meant (among other things) that when they did start to accept such patents, it was hard to see the benefit because no such patent was going to expire for a long time, and it often looked like they'd all be obsolete long before they expired. That's clearly not the case. There are now quite a few expired patents on truly useful things. Obvious examples include LZW compression and RSA encryption.

      Right now we're seeing an explosion in the number of patents on what we currently consider high-tech inventions. These, however, are starting to expire. Somewhere on the order of 1000 patents expire every week -- and that number is rising. In a few years, we can expect to see a couple of thousand inventions come into the public domain every week -- and they'll all include directions about how to build them, put them to use, etc. Without the patent system, or something very similar to it, we could not expect such a thing to happen.

      • Re:Old Idea (Score:2, Insightful)

        And then the big companies will lobby to have patents extended, just like copyrights.
        • No, because an extension hurts everyone equally. If my patents get extended, so do other peoples. Copyrights don't hurt big companies, so that is why they want to get them extended all the time.
        • Re:Old Idea (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Jerry Coffin (824726)

          And then the big companies will lobby to have patents extended, just like copyrights.

          The first US patent law was passed in 1790, and gave a term of 14 years with the possibility of a 7 year extension. In 1836, the possibility of an extension was removed, and the original term was extended to 17 years. It stayed at 17 years until 1995.

          Up to that point, the term of a patent was measured from the time the patent was granted. In 1995, the law was changed so the term of a patent is measured from the time

      • Right now we're seeing an explosion in the number of patents on what we currently consider high-tech inventions. These, however, are starting to expire. Somewhere on the order of 1000 patents expire every week -- and that number is rising. In a few years, we can expect to see a couple of thousand inventions come into the public domain every week -- and they'll all include directions about how to build them, put them to use, etc. Without the patent system, or something very similar to it, we could not expect

        • It's an insult to humanity to say that patents are the only way people can share their ideas to improve their surroundings.

          I've never heard anybody say they're the only way. Quite a few different methods have been tried, however, and patents do appear to be one of the most effective. If, however, you look at the systems that were in place before patents came into use, they were mostly aimed at confining knowledge, not sharing it. There's pretty solid historical evidence that under the old guild system

      • Yeah, thank the world for the patent system!!! I am already so excited for the moment microsoft's 'IsNot' patent [slashdot.org] (2005) will expire, I'll be eager to use the directions mentioned in it to create my own free program! I guess it's only 19 years still, but I can wait.

        Or wasn't there this patent which says I can open/buy stuff by clicking one [slashdot.org], two [slashdot.org] (2004), three times with a mouse, or whatever. Using a progress bar in an application [slashdot.org] (1990). Really, in one or two decades will see a big leap forward in computer

    • You forgot ON THE INTERNET.

      Patent application denied. Please resubmit. Do not forget your "revision review" fee.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 26, 2006 @10:52AM (#15605564)
    There will be no R&D or manufacturing business in the US shortly.
    Only lawyer and lobbying firms.
  • by MosesJones (55544) on Monday June 26, 2006 @10:53AM (#15605569) Homepage
    As his cash-rich firm snaps up thousands of patents, fears emerge that it will become a leader in litigation - not innovation...

    If you have a lot of money right now and are looking for the next easy buck you don't get much better than IP ownership at the moment. You know that Congress, Senate and the President are all gunning for greater IP protection and longevity, and you know that a large and growing proportion of the current patent stock are for either obvious ideas or taking of "real-world" ideas and putting an "e" infront of them.

    Its hard to critisise it as a money making venture, but as low-life pond scum go its right up there with being a convicted monopolist.
    • At least the government appears to be handling the monopoly issue (Not satisfactory perhaps). In this case, they're preparing to more or less protect them..
    • You know that Congress, Senate and the President are all gunning for greater IP protection and longevity...

      Look, our Congress, Senate, and President all realize that Intellectual Property is all that we have left to bring to the global market. We cannot compete globally in manufacturing anymore - our labor force is just too expensive. One of the last products we can create and sell are [b]ideas[/b]. Of [b]course[/b] they are going to protect this - it is our last marketable asset! You could even argu
  • Isn't this along the same lines as the fears of Google snatching up all the best and brightest of the Computer Scientists from Apple and Microsoft?

    While yes, such a concentration of bright people can really lock down the rest of the industry (although not likely), it's also something completely unique that we should really give a chance.

    Inventions help people, yes, as with any business involving intellectual property, there is room for abuse, but there is also room for incredible progress. At how many
    • Isn't this exactly the same?

      I don't know, is the article really correct about this being a super-secret operation? It's hard to license out your patents when nobody knows you exist and you're not helping people find out about them.

      I can see how this is similar to Apple or Microsoft plunging millions of dollars into R&D but I don't see where they are licensing their technology out to other companies.
      • They'd be stupid not to.

        While, as the RIAA has shown, a business of litigation can be successful, Microsoft as well as other tech based companies have shown that it's much easier to make insane amounts of profit through licensing of something versus any other method.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 26, 2006 @11:11AM (#15605676)
      What's the difference between Apple or Microsoft plunging millions of dollars into R&D and then licensing their technology out to other companies? Isn't this exactly the same?

      The lack of millions of dollars in R&D. This company is doing two things: 1) it buys up patents or cross licenses them from other companies or 2) just have people brainstorm ideas and patent them. There's no actual invention going on here. Invention requires coming up with an idea and making it work. The making it work part is the most important. What they are doing is screwing over those in the future who will make it work by patenting it now.
    • by Tim C (15259) on Monday June 26, 2006 @11:29AM (#15605819)
      What's the difference between Apple or Microsoft plunging millions of dollars into R&D and then licensing their technology out to other companies? Isn't this exactly the same?

      Well, for a start, MS and Apple are likely to implement the inventions themselves, as well as licensing them to others. That's much, much more important than it may seem at first - by implementing them, it quickly becomes obvious that the patent exists. If you patent something and sit on it, then someone else has the same idea, it's a lot less likely that they'll spot the patent, if they believe they're the first to have the idea. That allows for much greater scope for surprise litigation.

      Wake up people, fear mongering about this company is completely misdirected, they have a good opportunity to do a lot of good, the true fear that should be exposed here is the ability to abuse the intellectual property laws in america, IV has nothing to do with it.

      I agree, up to a point. They do have a good opportunity to do a lot of good, but they also have equal opportunity to do a lot of harm. Until such time as they show their hand one way or the other, you'll have to forgive me for being suspicious of them.
    • by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Monday June 26, 2006 @11:35AM (#15605869) Homepage Journal
      Mod points and a contrarian karma whore... *sigh* I hate giving the benefit of doubt.

      Your appeal is misdirection. The entire point of the article is that the company is engaging in a pattern that should invite scrutiny. Microsoft and Apple's primary focus is to create products which they sell. They invest in research to give them a competitive advange, to increase the value of their products, and to acquire patents which would lock out smaller competitors. An idea farm such is this exists solely to exploit the patent system, for good or ill, but with the system rigged the way it is now, which would not have happend if powerful interests didn't want it that way, the propensity for ill is far greater than that of good.
    • "Isn't this along the same lines as the fears of Google snatching up all the best and brightest of the Computer Scientists from Apple and Microsoft?"

      No, its a lottery, if the best and brightest which attent these "Invention Sessions" get their name on a patent, and somebody else comes up with the same idea and actually produces an invention from the idea, IV turns their lawyers against said invention producing company to collect a fee and the bets and brightest who have their name on the patent get a pay da

  • by damburger (981828) on Monday June 26, 2006 @10:54AM (#15605575)
    If somebody patented frivolous litigation, these guys would be screwed.
  • Inventor's viewpoint (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 26, 2006 @11:00AM (#15605606)
    As someone who has done a number of patentable ideas and put them into the public domain, I can say I wish I had patented them instead. At least with patents, you have some form of leverage. Ever try to cross license something in the public domain with some corporation's patent? Doesn't work too well. Having your own patents work better.

    Oh, and if you think putting something in the public domain prevents some company from patenting it, think again. Sun has a patent application on stuff I put into the public domain 3 years ago. People have suggested I write to the USPTO or something. Wake up! I don't make any money from open source and it's not me who's being impacted. It's the people who would use the open source software who would be affected and *they* need to do something if they want to use it. If the public doesn't want to protect their own rights, then the public be damned.

    • Why should the public be expected to police this sort of behavior? Doesn't the USPTO have a responsibility to refuse patent applications for things like public-domain/prior-art?

      Saying the public should police patent activity is like saying that I should have my own tanks, soldiers, guns, and bombs instead of letting the US military do its job.

      There needs to be accountability at the USPTO. Rubber-stamping every patent application that crosses the door is no way to run the patent office.

      -ted
      • by Agripa (139780)
        The patent office only checks selected published material for prior art so lots of it gets missed. This is especially bad for software because usually the source code is not openly published making it impossible to review. In theory open source should solve that particular issue but I am not aware that the patent office is even aware of it at a level where it would matter.
    • Oh, and if you think putting something in the public domain prevents some company from patenting it, think again. Sun has a patent application on stuff I put into the public domain 3 years ago. People have suggested I write to the USPTO or something. Wake up! I don't make any money from open source and it's not me who's being impacted. It's the people who would use the open source software who would be affected and *they* need to do something if they want to use it. If the public doesn't want to protect the

  • by mccalli (323026) on Monday June 26, 2006 @11:05AM (#15605637) Homepage
    It has remained a very secretive organization, despite recruiting reclusive geniuses...

    Hmm. Perhaps if it had recruited a few extrovert genuises instead...?

    Cheers,
    Ian

  • The only news .... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Aceticon (140883) on Monday June 26, 2006 @11:05AM (#15605644)
    These kinds of companies are hardly new:

    Since patents reward being the first to come up with an idea, not being the first to come up with a way of turning that idea into reality, getting a couple of industry-specialists/bright-people in a room and asking them to imagine what kind of things there might exist in the future is a very good way of getting a lot of patents, some of which will become money makers - some companies have already made it their business model to get patents this way, sit on them until somebody does de actual work of truning them into reality, and then squeeze those people for all they can.

    I wouldn't be surprised to find out that somebody out there is picking ideas from Science Fiction books and patenting them ...

    The only news here is that Business Week has picked this up - hopefully this is an indication that there is a growing awareness in business circles of how broken the patent system really is.
  • by btarval (874919) on Monday June 26, 2006 @11:21AM (#15605738)
    I've always wondered why the EFF doesn't promote a similar thing, but with an Open Source version. That is, helping individual Open Source developers patent new software patents, as long as the software is (say) released under version 3 of the GPL.


    Or in otherwords, imagine a Beowulf Cluster (pardon the phrase) of Open Source patent filers. Intellectual Ventures wouldn't stand a chance.

    Personally, I'm very opposed to Software Patents, as the EFF is. However, I can really see no other way of effectively changing the system in the near term other than this. Especially if, every so often, one files a suit against a closed-source company, and ends up with hundreds of millions of dollars to fund futher suits (E.g. What happened with RIM and their Blackberries).

    I can well imagine that, if you make the big companies scream loudly enough, by hitting them where it hurts, they will end up running to Congress for protection. And, if done right, the only protection is eliminating Software Patents.

    Aside from the distastefulness of dealing with Software Patents, I can so no reason why this type of strategy won't work. If anyone can spot what I'm missing from a strategic view, I'd appreciate knowing about it.

    • I left out that, yes, I'm familiar with the Patent Commons effort at OSDL. [osdl.org] This is not what I'm referring to.

      The problem with the current implementation of the Commons is that it's passive, not aggressive. What I'm referring to is a handholding effort of helping developers through the Patent Filing process. I.e. a clear step up from the NoLo Press book on how to file a patent.

      This is as opposed to the current Commons project, which is mostly just a collection effort of existing patents.

      • Alas, no. See my other comment above, on this thread.

        The problem here is that none of these efforts offer a developer help in Patenting an idea. They are all after the fact. I.e. if you get a Patent, they'll gladly take it from you; but none of them offer you any help at all in getting the Patent in the first place.

        My point is that developers can be a rather creative lot, and we should tap into that creativity. The only way to do this is by offering them legal support in actually getting the patent don

  • POOR CAMEL... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 3seas (184403) on Monday June 26, 2006 @11:22AM (#15605748) Journal
    Sounds like they plan on breaking the system, the camels back, with a mass of sudden weight.

    good!
  • The worst thing that I see about companies like this is that they don't actually produce anything with their ideas. They wait until someone else intelligent has one of their ideas and actually does something with them. They make money off of someone else's business without contributing anything to help them in the first place.
    • So if you invented the lightbulb, but lacked the capital to do anything about it, would it be OK if someone else came along and invented it after you who did have the capital to bring it to market? If you invented it, why shouldn't you get the benefits for your hard work and insight?

      If only the people with the means to fully develop ideas have the right to Intellectual Property protection, the little guy with new ideas will perpetually be screwed.

      Steve
      • Yeah, pretty much. If someone else invented the lightbulb independently of my work, why should I get to make money off their efforts? To put it from the other perspective: So if you invented the lightbulb, but someone else had patented glowing glass bulbs, should he be able to prevent you from selling your idea to others? If you invented it, why shouldn't you get the benefits for your hard work and insight?
        • Yeah, pretty much. If someone else invented the lightbulb independently of my work, why should I get to make money off their efforts?

          Because you invented it first. Without this kind of protection, why bother inventing anything? Just wait for other people to invent it, and then manufacture their invention. No matter that you spent your entire life savings and untold years coming up with the idea.

          To put it from the other perspective: So if you invented the lightbulb, but someone else had patented glo
          • Perhaps you didn't notice the nice bold Independently that I put in my comment there. Perhaps you deliberately ignored it. Either way, I don't feel that I have a right to profit from any work other than my own. If they copied my design, then they are profiting off my work, and I probably deserve a share of the profits. If they independently came up with something similar, they are not profiting off my efforts, and I don't deserve any of their money.

            Independent invention occurs all the time. I remem
            • >Perhaps you didn't notice the nice bold Independently that I put in my comment there. Perhaps you deliberately ignored it.
              >Either way, I don't feel that I have a right to profit from any work other than my own. If they copied my design, then they are
              >profiting off my work, and I probably deserve a share of the profits. If they independently came up with something similar, they are
              >not profiting off my efforts, and I don't deserve any of their money.

              I didn't address it because it doesn't matter.
              • Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it. Likewise, ignorance of intellectual property is no excuse for violating its protections. If you are doing truly innovative work, then you are probably, or should be, aware of prior art.

                1. Actually, Ignorance of the law- especially non-obvious laws- is usually a great excuse for breaking it. It won't let you avoid punishment, but it usually gets you a lighter sentence. Some intellectual property, like copyright infringement, requires knowledge of the
      • If only the people who have the means to build up huge patent libraries have the right to Intellectual Property protection, the little guy with new ideas will perpetually be screwed.
        • "If only the people who have the means to build up huge patent libraries have the right to Intellectual Property protection, the little guy with new ideas will perpetually be screwed."

          While it is true that in order to for a patent to do you much good you must be able to defend your patent in court, fortunately IP laws protect the big and small fish alike.

          Steve
  • Actually, I've already started such a company and patented the notion. I'm just waiting until they've had a few big payouts before I pursue legal action for infringement.
  • by caesar-auf-nihil (513828) on Monday June 26, 2006 @11:27AM (#15605798)
    I read the article and I can tell you right now that this guy has the patent system figured out exactly, and, he just got several more patents for free.

    The patent system in its current form gives the patent holder the right to prevent others from using the patent - not protect your invention. It's a subtle legal argument that makes the patent system the broken form it is today. By preventing others from using your invention, you have the ability to make others either pay you to use your idea legally, or, give you the right to practice something that the other patent holder is preventing you from doing.

    So, this guy, by patenting ideas, no matter how bogus they may be, will gain a lot of ability to stop anyone and everyone from practicing anything he comes up with. In effect - he'll be rich without every actually producing any working product - just patenting all sorts of new potential ideas that may or may not come to be.

    What is really slick was how this guy just milked several geniuses for idea, and he won't have to pay them for it. The whole "meeting" where he's asking top notch people in their field to come up with improvements on state of the art - this was his way of getting all the ideas to patent, and he doesn't have to reward any of it back to the people who came up with the ideas since they probably, (and stupidly) gave it up to him by coming to his "innovation conference". Notice how all of it was getting recorded? This will be his "proof" of when the idea was come up with, giving whoever owns this the right to the patent. Even if let's say he does allow the person who was in the room who came up with the idea - I guarentee that the patent will be assigned to his corporation since he "reimbursed" that "inventor" for their time with payment - i.e. whatever he paid them to come to his innovation conference.

    This person knows exactly what he's doing and is playing the patent game perfectly. At this rate, he will win, or his antics will slow down the ability for new ideas to actually be produced, and heaven forbid, laws may have to be written to stop this type of behavior. I doubt the latter will come to pass.
    • Some corrections. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by maillemaker (924053)
      What is really slick was how this guy just milked several geniuses for idea, and he won't have to pay them for it. The whole "meeting" where he's asking top notch people in their field to come up with improvements on state of the art - this was his way of getting all the ideas to patent, and he doesn't have to reward any of it back to the people who came up with the ideas since they probably, (and stupidly) gave it up to him by coming to his "innovation conference"."

      From TFA:

      The goal wasn't just incre
      • I read the article as well - and the "compensation" wasn't clear of course. Some of the people in the room, especially if they were US government researchers, are prevented by law of accepting any type of compensation, and so their ideas would be "free", if they were foolish enough to give them, and I'm betting that they were snookered into it.

        I agree that typically when you file a patent you do have to give prior art that you're improving upon, but the word "typically" comes into play here. This assumes
    • "The patent system in its current form gives the patent holder the right to prevent others from using the patent - not protect your invention."

      No, from uspto.gov...

      The right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute and of the grant itself, "the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling" the invention in the United States or "importing" the invention into the United States. What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, b

  • Warren Buffet (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Snorklefish (639711) on Monday June 26, 2006 @11:35AM (#15605871)
    Wouldn't it have been refreshing for Warren Buffet to set aside a few billion to fund a non-profit IP organization? I'd have them buy copyrights, patents and other IP... then turn-around and release the rights to the world.
    • Oh come on. We all hate the current patent fiasco, but how does it really compare to the immediate problems they have in the developing worlds?
  • Men in Black (Score:2, Informative)

    by Insomnia Slim (979625)

    Sorry, this exchange from Men in Black just entered my mind as I read this:

    J: How do you guys fund all of this?
    K: Oh, we hold the patents on a number of important innovations. See this? This will replace CDs soon.

    Ownership is 9/10 of the law... and owning innovative products and techniques make for lucrative cash cows. It's worked for the pharmaceutical companies for years. A friend of mine is a patent attorney; one of his jobs is to figure out how to re-patent a medication once it reaches the 9 ye

    • Well, the pharmaceutical company probably did spend somewhere between $400 and $800 million on the original development of the drug, so if it did not recover its R&D costs yet (and many drugs do not, not before the patent expires) then they may have a moral case.

      I think this would be a good principle, if it could be generalized: Link the expiry date of the patent to the investment in it, or better to the return on investment. Say, minimum five years from the day of filing, plus a year extra for every

      • You ever see some of the accounting tricks companies pull to show how little profit they showed when it comes to tax time & then how much profit they made come investment prospectus?
        A very nice and an eminently reasonable suggestion, if we add that a request for an extention is also accompanied by a forensic audit by the govt to prove you haven't turned a profit yet.
  • by loose electron (699583) on Monday June 26, 2006 @12:33PM (#15606331) Homepage
    The patent system has a lot of problems, especially considering the nature of many patents not being understood, even by members of the patent office.

    From what I have seen (applying for patents) is that if the patent application is not totally off the wall, it gets granted, after a cursory inspection. (Perpetual motion machines, and "the wheel" tend to be disallowed, but not much else.)

    Due to that, the patent serves as a placeholder (legal record of date and content) in time, until it gets challenged in court. When it gets challenged, then it (might!) be examined on its merits.

    Even there, it is a bit of a joke. Juries are not qualified to review a lot of intellectual property issues. Any Slash-Dot reader would be thrown off a patent trial because their technical knowledge would be too great to consider them "impartial" - the court wants ignorance, or a "blank slate" for a juror.

    IMHO - A proper "jury of peers" for intellectual property law would be a group of scientist and engineer types. However, that does not happen.

    There are a glut of patents out there that will never survive court challenges, even with a jury of non-technical types. A pile of patents on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell phone chips all are in direct conflict with each other. Nobody will bother to sort that out.

    The alternative is "trade secrets" which was the method we used in the disk drive world. Things changed so quickly there that by the time you got a patent, the product would be obolete anyhow. Product life cycle of a disk drive is 3-6 months, and a patent takes 2-3 years to issue.

    http://www.effectiveelectrons.com/ [effectiveelectrons.com]

  • Who is funding the troll ?

    Who would be so stupid to give hundreds of millions to sue people.

    I hope he loses his shorts
    • What very big company with enormous cash reserves is facing growing competition from open source software, and would find it convenient if said OSS got closed down by patent lawsuits, but would prefer to avoid the anti-trust prosecution that might result if they did it themselves?

      Q. Why does a rabbi always answer a question with a question?
      A. And why should a rabbi not always answer a question with a question?
  • Helpful suggestion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by adminispheroid (554101) on Monday June 26, 2006 @01:16PM (#15606684)
    To sustain this business model, this company is going to have to make sure nobody closes the huge loopholes in patent law on which they depend. So they're going to need to spend a lot of money on lobbying, and especially on the usual astroturfing and fake-think-tank PR firms. Here's a suggestion. Don't go around hiring the same old ones, because everybody knows they're fake. Especially don't hire the ones that have been outed by the tobacco lawsuits. Instead, start your own. How much can a dozen fake grassroots organizations cost? Seems like each one will only need about one employee, so you can have the whole dozen for well under $2 million a year. And here's another suggestion: set them to work doing plausible campaigns for whatever their ostensible purpose is, then they'll look more credible when they go to work on your issue. That way they won't come out looking like Americans for Tax Reform -- you have to look hard to find those Americans reforming any tax other than the tobacco tax.
  • even when they are "responsible" patents. Because some other company can make the same type of product and just do it differently or simply ignore the patent because the litigation is just too damn costly.

    Even though the menu patent by creative / apple is stupid. It shows how useless having a patent is. It didnt change anything and wont ever matter but will result in millions of dollars down the drain via lawyers.
  • by gregor-e (136142) on Monday June 26, 2006 @02:22PM (#15607238) Homepage
    I think the idea probably isn't so much to charge royalties or make money via litigation as to have a tempting body of IP to exchange with other companies who agree to cross-license their IP to all members in the Myrvold keiretsu. If the IP stockpile grows large enough, members could have a huge advantage over non-members. Kind of like an open-source club that's only open to members and that charges massive dues. Of course, membership is a double-edged sword, since your cohort are now also your direct competitors against which you have no IP shield. So it'd make sense for everyone in the keiretsu to buy ownership of each other. Maybe pool shares into a keiretsu mutual fund as a condition of membership?
  • Require companies to show that they have/or had the intent to develop the technologies they patented. These patent trolls would have a hard time showing that they actually intended to develop these technologies and thus their patents would be useless. On the otherhand, startups (and other inventors) would be able to use the system as it was intended to be used by disclosing their ideas in a protected way.

If a thing's worth having, it's worth cheating for. -- W.C. Fields

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