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$400 Million IP Experiment Making Some Nervous 262

BrianWCarver writes "IP Law & Business shines the spotlight on Intellectual Ventures, the IP start-up founded in 2000 by former Microsoft chief technologist Nathan Myhrvold. According to some estimates, Intellectual Ventures has amassed 3,000-5,000 patents, with the help of a $400 million investment from some of the biggest technology companies, including Nokia, Intel, Apple, Sony, and Microsoft. As the patent stockpile grows, so does the speculation--and the fear. IP lawyers and tech executives worry that Intellectual Ventures is less interested in changing the world with big ideas, and more focused on becoming an über patent troll, wreaking litigation havoc across industries with its patents."
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$400 Million IP Experiment Making Some Nervous

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  • Political Leverage (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tgrigsby ( 164308 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @05:18PM (#15207870) Homepage Journal
    With the sheer volume of patents they hold, the smart move would be to avoid garnering too much attention from Congress and instead sell advantage to competing companies. In other words, their primary source of income wouldn't come from pure patent protection litigation, it would come from companies paying them to tie up their competitors' product lines with injunctions and patent violation suits. The 800 lbs. gorilla would get richer as a hitman than as a tyrant.

  • Here's how it works (Score:5, Interesting)

    by overshoot ( 39700 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @05:20PM (#15207889)
    Right now, large companies amass huge throw weights of patents. In general, the outcome of a patent war is Mutually Assured Destruction, so they also enter into mutual cross-licensing agreements that in effect create a patent-free zone for the Fortune 500.

    What Intellectual Ventures could do is create a patent pool for the present members of the club.

    It works like this: Microsoft transfers its patent portfolio to IV in return for a license to IV's patent portfolio. This is no loss to MS because they've already cross-licensed everything with Philips, Cisco, etc. -- all of whom do the same. From the POV of club members, nothing changes, except perhaps that they spend much less money negotiating cross-licensing agreements and pay a bit to IV for the convenience.

    On the other hand, now IV has practically all of that throw weight. Anyone not an "Executive Member" of the club will have to pay (dearly!) to use any of the IV portfolio. What's more, Mutually Assured Destruction doesn't work because IV doesn't actually do anything -- they can't be sued for infringing patents when they don't make anything.

    The upside to the club (aside from convenience noted above) is that any of the "little people" who get uppity are now facing the combined throw weight of all of the patents in the world -- and the club members don't have to accept the public-relations liabilities.

    It's a total win-win situation. For instance, if done right Microsoft could keep Linux tied up in court forever without ever themselves taking a PR hit. Sort of like the BSA except for suppressing potential competition instead of keeping customers in line.

  • DDOS on USPTO (Score:4, Interesting)

    by calcutta001 ( 907416 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @05:35PM (#15208003)
    Here is an idea to protest against software patents.

    Create an open source patent organization and start applying for software patents on behalf of open source coders for every little piece of innovation. The idea is to keep the threshold of what qualifies as innovation low to generate a huge list of patent applications.

    Anything useless from "emphasizing email addresses containing a numbers in a word processing document" to "a real fancy way of optimizing inner loops in interpreted languages" to "a memory management code for NUMA architecture"

    The important goal is not to get a software patent but to demonstrate the weakness of the system.

    This will overwhelm the patent office. at best cause a change in thinking of policy makers. at least it will cause a headache for the patent mongers.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @05:39PM (#15208028)
    Alright patent bashing aside ...
    As I understand IV from some people working with them (with the caveat that my understanding is not based on a direct relationship with them, but lunch conversations/rumor):

    1) The $400M is NOT an investment. It is blackmail, like protection money. Company X pays IV for the costs of a patent portfolio with the understanding that IV will not sue Company X based on those patents (i.e. they get a license). So, Company X pays protection money to IV and IV gets new patents paid for to go sue others on.

    2) There is no "speculation" that IV is a troll. As I understand it, that is their purpose.

    3) IV doesn't invent anything. They buy blocks of patents on the cheap (especially if they get other firms to pay) from some other company's firesale. Usually these patents are an unusable mess and require massive clean-up. But, if you buy thousands of patents you'll hit gold eventually.

    4) As a troll, if you don't have deep pockets, IV doesn't care about you (unless you have something to sell). This is cincontrast with real companies that often use their patents to prevent a second company from making a product. IV just wants money.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @05:40PM (#15208035)
    The stink of the NTP/RIM debacle is still fresh. Legislators are starting to pay attention.
    http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?typ e=politicsNews&storyid=2006-04-05T234837Z_01_N0534 4856_RTRUKOC_0_US-CONGRESS-PATENTS.xml&rpc=22 [reuters.com]
  • by moochfish ( 822730 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @05:50PM (#15208098)
    You make an interesting argument, but I don't know if I fully agree. Let's say Microsoft wants to keep Linux buried in litigation through this organization. Well, the problem is that it has other members with very likely competing interests. For example, Nokia might not like seeing its patent troll baby being used to quash one of its own business partners [slashdot.org]. So what happens when this sort of conflict of interest arises? And it will.

    I find it hard to believe this troll group will be used for the evil people seem to be claiming. More likely, it will be used as a massive reserve for defensive patents. Much like a defensive alliance between nations, you won't see members picking fights and suing people actively, but instead the group exists to allow for a collective means to *defend* from REAL patent trolls.
  • Re:Patent Bashing (Score:-1, Interesting)

    by user317 ( 656027 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @06:01PM (#15208159)
    A company of this size and portfolia could litaerally drag the entire economy to a standstill if allowed to patent everything. It's one thing to have a whole bunch of different companies pushing competing patents, but when several large (and supposedly competing?) firms get together and pool their patents into one collossus, then you can be certain noone else will be allowed to enter any market remotly connected. This is not a good thing.

    Or this company could spur the next tech boom. Patents allow companies to invest their resources into research, and allow those companies to release their findings to the public under the protection of the patent system. Without patents, there is no insentive to share technology, and there is full insentive to hide your technology and obfusticate your products against reverse engineering. just like without copyright there is no insentive to open source your software.

    Also working around patents is a great source of innovation, since technology improves and becomes cheaper with every iteration.

    if anything, patent laws should become so strict that reverse engineering is no longer nessessary and companies can openly release every detail of their innovations without fear of being ripped off.

    That would mean that nvidia could release all the specs to their drivers and we could write open source drivers :), and I can have a pure open source workstation.

    Think about what would happend if there were no copyright protections for writers, they are able to flourish today because copyright protection for writers is far more strict then patent protection for technology. Abstract things like style, plot and characters is protected by copyright law.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @06:10PM (#15208224)
  • by twiddlingbits ( 707452 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @06:13PM (#15208243)
    Not very fsking likely, the US is the biggest market in the world for Asian products. Just look at the Trade Deficeit.
    If everyone cross licenses patents, then this isn't an issue anyway. Depending on the $$ in the market they may be giving up too much, then they just pay the patent fee. Open source software is a possible solution to the issue but thats not immune from silly-ass lawsuits (see SCO vs IBM). Besides in the USA, software is only copyrighted not patented (yet).
  • by P3NIS_CLEAVER ( 860022 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @06:58PM (#15208504) Journal
    Making money off patents casts you as a pariah in the business community. I think this company will be mainly used for defensive purposes. There are just too many legitimate ways for these companies to make money.
  • by Savantissimo ( 893682 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @07:48PM (#15208772) Journal
    The term "patent trolling" is just name-calling. Patents are supposed to be used by the people who invent things to get money from the people who use those inventions to make products. There is no reason to expect people only to invent things that they themselves are capable of bringing to market, and to impose that expectation would reduce the ideas being published in patents and give no incentive to invent or to disclose.

    Focus instead on the real problems with the current parent system:

    -companies and their engineers are discouraged from using or even looking at existing 3rd party patents due to a stupid interpretation of the willful infringement rule

    -it is too expensive to apply for patents, especially for individuals

    -it is far too expensive and time-consuming to get legitimate judgements against infringers

    -obvious or prior-art patents are routinely granted, and the examiners' incentives encourage this

    -patents are often issued that either do not work or do not fully and comprehensibly disclose how to implement the invention

    -there is no automatic licensing scheme (as for public playing of music) or overall royalty % cap to asuage the fears of companies that they'll get nibbled to death by various IP holders for acknowledging all the patented technology that goes into making a state-of-the-art product.
  • by failedlogic ( 627314 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @07:57PM (#15208826)
    Here's a video interview with him on CNET: http://feeds.bignewsnetwork.com/redir.php?jid=2185 46b58b244f4f&cat=52079c37c3706e15 [bignewsnetwork.com]

    Basically, his rationale is that because companies don't permit engineers to check patent portfolios and many companies don't actively check patents against their own products a lot of companies are in trouble.

    Personally, though I'm not quite convinced. I believe it is a way to squeeze out the small players in the market. There's something about this guy that after seeing the video demonstrates one thing: not trustworthy. His body language and voice show through right away.

    I wonder how much it costs to join the "club" and I wonder what kind of contract you have to sign to get in.
  • by Prototerm ( 762512 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @08:43PM (#15209064)
    Back in the late 80's, I was contacted by the lawyers for Commodore Computer. They were looking for potential witnesses in a lawsuit someone had brought against the company. It seems someone had patented the XOR instruction as it was applied to on screen graphics, and claimed that an enhanced BASIC program for the C-64 violated that patent. At the time, I was a C-64 software developer with some friends in West Chester (C='s HQ).I was never called, more's the pity since it would have involved a trip to San Francisco, all expenses paid. I think the lawsuit was dropped eventually, but still, that sort of thing really sucks. The lawyer told me that Apple had already settled with the guy to avoid their own lawsuit.
  • by j_dot_bomb ( 560211 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @08:58PM (#15209121)
    If you are technically smart and invent something but you try to create a patent your self for low cost you are likely to be screwed by lack of knowledge of legal drafting. So you have high upfront cost to pay for that language or figure it out yourself.

    If you are an IP lawyer with not much technical skill, its ok if your idea isnt really new. It does not cost you much to submit more than one application, and the wording on some makes it new. But that is determined later. You have low upfront cost.
  • by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @09:55PM (#15209389) Homepage Journal

    Making money off patents casts you as a pariah in the business community.

    Is IBM a pariah? IBM makes more than $1B per year from patent licensing.

  • Paper or plastic? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by patio11 ( 857072 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @12:55AM (#15210115)
    For paying the patent application fee, that is. Assuming you qualify as a small entity (guessing thats pretty easy if you're an open source project with genuinely independent developers, as opposed to the typical major open source project with most of the heavy lifting being done by folks who are paid by IBM et al to do it), thats $75 for each DDOS patent that you file [uspto.gov]. I think you'll break your bank account before you break the "server"'s capacity.

    Now, if you could figure out how to turn other people into robo-zombies who you could direct over IRC to pay the $75 for you, you might actually be able to work things out. Or you could do an algorithmic complexity attack: figure out how the patent office sends claims to examiners, target an examiner in particular, and pre-calculate your patents to just overwhelm him. Of course, thats not likely to be nearly as effective in real life, because the Patent Office (unlike most hash algorithm) can probably load-balance without appreciably affecting the speed of their systems (it helps that hash algorithms are assumed to be fast, and the Patent Office... ha, ha, ha).

  • by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @04:06AM (#15210603)
    If the US is not their principle market, then they will just pull out - sell their products everywhere except the US.

    To all the naysayers, this already happens. A company I worked for in the mid-90's decided to stay out of the US market and concentrate on China instead after receiving a threat of a patent lawsuit from one of our competitors. The idea was obvious, and we'd actually implemented it before the US based patent holder, but it wasn't worth fighting it.

  • implement-me (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 27, 2006 @07:06AM (#15210935)
    I would rather like to see a public database/wiki where I could easily and at no cost file ideas or inventions, thereby turning them officially into prior art.

    So if you think of something obvious, you just file it. I'm of course thinking sort of public domain here.

    Some practical problems:
    -A published idea would have to have enough details to establish prior-art. Yet simple, otherwise people won't bother to file.
    -Disclaimers needed to make clear that the idea might already be published, patented or even implemented. Normal people can't be expected to hunt for this.
    -A working filing system to be able to find ideas within categories.
    -The database would probably have to become a recognized source of prior-arts. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prior_art [wikipedia.org] links to one db, but that one costs money and felt quite stiffer than what I'm proposing)
    -Printed publication may be a requirement for prior art.
    -Editors probably needed in practice.
    -Should others be allowed or improve upon ideas?

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus