Nathan Myhrvold Now Capitalizing On Failed University Patent Intitiatives

from the privatizing-publicly-funded-research dept

We’ve discussed, in the past, the infamous Bayh-Dole Act, which tried to push universities to patent more of their research, with the idea that it would make research more commercializable. In fact, the unintended consequences were to significantly harm university research. Universities quickly set up “technology transfer” offices, with the idea of selling off patents for tons of money, but the vast majority of universities discovered that such technology transfer offices cost a lot more than they made, and so they were a drain on university resources (you know, which could have gone to basic research). On top of that, the new focus on patenting everything caused researchers to be much more afraid to share ideas and concepts with colleagues, greatly diminishing the value of research or the ability of researchers to explore other areas where colleagues might have already applied for patents, for fear of “infringing.”

However, it looks like Nathan Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures, which we’ve discussed at length, in the past, is looking to take advantage of this situation. With so many university technology transfer offices losing money, IV has been going around and signing deals with universities. Basically, IV gives those tech transfer offices some money upfront, allowing IV to effectively add each university’s patent pool to its own portfolio that it uses to go around demanding hundreds of millions of dollars from companies to “protect” them against any future lawsuits.

Effectively, the end result is less actual research being done at universities, while some guys who don’t actually build anything get rich. And, oh yeah, the companies that actually do stuff are poorer. Doesn’t something seem highly suspect about this scenario?

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Companies: intellectual ventures

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Comments on “Nathan Myhrvold Now Capitalizing On Failed University Patent Intitiatives”

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14 Comments
Steven Fowler says:

Questions for any Corporate HR Rep

Simply Appalling. Of course, there’s the fact that Students PAY to earn a degree, which usually ends in advance the field of study. Their presence in University should not be to line the University coffers!

But what about recent graduates from an IV-sponsored University? I’ve had some pretty shady professors in the past. If the school entered into a patent assignment agreement with IV, I wouldn’t put it past a shady Professor to scratch out a name and replace it with their own, even if it’s just for notoriety reasons.

But to further compound this, from a Human Resources perspective, if you hire a recent graduate based on previous discoveries and/or work in the field of hire while at an IV-sponsored University, it would seem their academic research may present a new and very real risk of lawsuit to the company down the road. In light of this new legal threat, should the talent be considered a desirable hire?

This is a great example of mortgaging our children’s future, but on a new level- essentially monetizing academic research.

Wow.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Questions for any Corporate HR Rep

“if you hire a recent graduate based on previous discoveries and/or work in the field of hire while at an IV-sponsored University, it would seem their academic research may present a new and very real risk of lawsuit to the company down the road. In light of this new legal threat, should the talent be considered a desirable hire?”

And the other side of that coin –
If a bright student had several good offers to consider, would the fact that one of them has such an agreement affect their decision ?

Rose M. Welch says:

Plus, we paid for it...

You know, there’s that whole part where alot of those students received money from the federal government (meaning you and me) and then participated in this research, in addition to the money that alot of these colleges get directly from the gov’t.

So you paid for this research, got screwed out of the profit in selling the research, and are now paying for the fruits of the research…

It’s just like when NASA sells patents instead of entering them into the public domain… You know, the public that paid for the research.

Anonymous Coward says:

“…that it uses to go around demanding hundreds of millions of dollars from companies to “protect” them against any future lawsuits.”

Perhaps you would be so kind as to identify your sources for the above.

Re B-D, its original purpose was three-fold. First, it was to establish a uniform policy governing “inventions” arising during the course of a “funding agreement”. Before its enactment there were as many policies as there were federal agencies. Second, it was to recognize a basic principle that “inventions” are best left in the hands of the original inventors. Third, it was to help remove one barrier that prevented some companies from entering into “funding agreements” in the first place.

That said, I do hold some concern that B-D may be having an unintended effect in the area of academic research being funded under “funding agreements”.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: morning coffee with a piece of BS from Mikey

It is not that Mr. Masnick “doesn’t want to learn”, it is that taking the time to research a complex subject would reduce his opportunity for a scoop to distribute to the masses who may believe he is an expert in the field.

Actually, considering I’ve spent over a decade researching these areas, this is simply false.

First, I don’t care about “scoops.” The original stories for this post came from a few days ago in one case and a couple months ago in the other case. I do not rush stories out in order to get scoops. Scoops only matter if you think you can own a story. I don’t. I like to make sure I have something interesting to say about it.

Secondly, as I’ve said from the very beginning, Techdirt is about me posting my opinion, and those who have more to add are free to change my mind in the comments. It’s funny, though, how often those who disagree with me don’t even try, but simply throw out insults.

MLS is an exception, though I usually find your statements unconvincing and ill-argued.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: morning coffee with a piece of BS from Mikey

Based upon my intimate familiarity with B-D, including all of the pertinent agency regulations that implement it, as well as how it has been playing out in the real world, I did express a concern that not surprisingly coincides to some degree with your opinion concerning academic research.

It is your constant castigation of IV that I find troubling. Perhaps some day in the future it may take the “dark path” and emulate what some now like to call “trolls”, but there is nothing I have as yet read that even remotely suggests there is any basis to the portion of your article that I quoted.

Anonymous Coward says:

90 day USPTO disclosure requirement for filing

Inventions in Biochem, MD, EE or ME are often the result of collaborating with others in the field. Tools and techniques used often include Social networking, blogs, or other ways to share discovery disclosure. Sometimes this research and disclosure happens across multiple geographies, universities, or even with private industry. It doesn’t pass the sniff test. One exuberant professor to share with undergrads a discovery is also disclosure.

The university would be better off partnering with private industry that sees value in the discovery and could put up money for the patent. This seems to work better than a company whose modus operandi is to later use the dissertation/discovery to sue private industry.

GB says:

Dunno

Of university “tech transfer” offices older than 25 years, over 80% appear to be cash positive. 70% of the top 100 research universities appear to be cash positive on their patent work, and the ones that aren’t generally have programs less than 20 years old–meaning they didn’t rush to set up a patent office right away. Not clear how this is “failed”.

If universities license patent rights, they share royalty income with their inventors, including students–usually between 1/3 and 1/2 of what comes in. Further, what they make beyond costs goes to support research–including (often) student research. Is this horrible? Having industry support research without dictating the work or controlling the outcomes?

Folks have to realize that most university research inventions, if placed in the public domain, mean nothing to the “public”. The primary beneficiaries of doing so are big companies with established products and patent positions. An argument for the public domain for all university research inventions is an argument for helping big companies maintain the status quo, subsidized by government funds. Doesn’t seem immediately like the best argument for innovation, though I can see how it might be attractive.

IV is picking stuff out of university back portfolio–these are patents sitting for five, ten years with no action. If industry had ever wanted these, they had their shot at them. At least aggregated by IV, these inventions have a single point of contact if they ever become relevant–and it’s quite possible most won’t. It appears that IV is *not* suing industry using the university patents it licenses in. And you know who the investors are in IV? Could it be that these include the leading tech companies? Yeah, that makes for an interesting twist.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Dunno

And you know who the investors are in IV? Could it be that these include the leading tech companies? Yeah, that makes for an interesting twist.

Not that interesting, when you know the full story:

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20060626/1011256.shtml

It’s called bait and switch. Get investors based on one plan, then change it. Yeah, that makes for an interesting twist.

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