Intellectual Ventures' Patents Starting To Show Up In Lawsuits

from the the-beast-awakens? dept

Intellectual Ventures, of course, is the Nathan Myhrvold company that has been building up a huge portfolio of patents with which to get big tech companies to pay many millions of dollars to not get sued — and, according to many, to get a cut of future deals as well, making the whole thing sound suspiciously like a pyramid scheme. However, the company has been quite careful to avoid actually suing anyone (despite setting up all sorts of shell companies commonly used in such lawsuits). From what we’ve heard from people who have been in or around IV, this has been a conscious decision to avoid attracting too much ill will and scorn. It lets the company pretend to take the high road, when people point out that its actions seem like the commonly defined “patent troll” on steroids. “But we haven’t sued anyone” it can claim. As if the threat of being sued isn’t a big enough weapon.

But, a year ago, we noted that the company appeared to be getting antsy. While it was bringing in some hefty fees from a small group of companies who bought into the equity pyramid (which neatly lets the world outside be confused over what’s “investment” and what’s “revenue”), there was concern that investors were getting impatient. Pouring billions of dollars into a company that isn’t doing much can make some investors a little anxious. And while we still don’t know of any direct lawsuits, Zusha Elinson has noticed that Intellectual Ventures’ former patents are starting to show up in court, often involving some of the most well known names normally associated with “patent trolling.” Now, it’s clear that IV sold the patent, but what’s not clear is if it still has a financial interest in it. The thinking is that IV may have “sold” the patent, with part of the terms being that it gets a cut of any money obtained via that patent. This way, IV gets to have its cake and eat it too. It still can claim it doesn’t sue anyone, but it brings in revenues from exactly those types of lawsuits.

As Joe Mullin notes in the last link above, this is one of the massive problems with the way patent infringement lawsuits work today. Via different shell companies, those who have an interest in a patent can be hidden to protect their “good name” while still allowing them to actively have companies sued via that patent.

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Comments on “Intellectual Ventures' Patents Starting To Show Up In Lawsuits”

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42 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

While not applicable to the mere transfer of title to a patent by IV to a third party, I do find it (and do believe most practitioners share my sentinemt) very troubling that certain members of my profession seem to have become little more than persons who seek profit from the mere existence of a patent, and not from a third party infringing a patent in a manner that negatively impacts a real business or one trying to create a real business (e.g., an inventor diligently trying to secure the services of others most persons would generally concede as necessary to get a business launched).

Several years ago I happened to read a book entitled “Rembrandts in the Attic” and immediately dismissed it as a work calculated to encourage the likes of persons involved as plaintiffs in the noted lawsuit. It was not about a patentee being engaged in a business and attempting to assert a patent against a business competitor. It was about divorcing patents from business althogether, and then foisting lawsuits on persons/companies who in now way would ever be in competition with the patentee. For example, I am in the industrial equipment business and hold a patent important to my current and future business plans. Lo and behold I learn about a person in a totally different field who is infringing the patent and doing so on products and/or services that never will be a part of the foregoing business plans. Why a business with its eye on the goal of executing its own business plans to allow its energies to be diverted into matters having nothing to do with its business plans totally escapes me.

There are ways to use patents to generate what are clearly win-win business deals, but turning them into little more than “negotialble instruments” designed solely to extract money from non-competitors is in my view certainly not one of them.

How nice it would be if the concepts of “champerty” and “barratry” once more came to the fore within our judicial system and were applied fairly, but with vigor.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

How instructive to hear from two apparent peers, one who eloquently speaks about a desire for reformation amongst his industry….

….and one who’s post is filled with incorrect over-punctuation, missing punctuation, odd capitlization errors, name-calling, and an edited invective that doesn’t even have the correct number of symbolic letters for the word he’s trying to use.

Pssst, Angry Dude, I know you’re having trouble reading that, so I’ll translate:

The one guys was all, like, using big words and shit, and the other punky guy was all like, “Hey, I’m Angry Dude, and you’re a cock sandwhich!”. Dude, it was all like awesome and stuff….

Non-eloquent, add-nothing, awful jackass. Why don’t you invent something to help you out with basic English language. Some kind of Angry Dude Speak And Spell maybe?

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Mudak”

Shouldn’t you have used like 12 symbol letters to call me that 5 lettered version of dumbass?

“english is my third language”

….okay, so they don’t follow similar rules of capitalization and punctuation in Ruskie? C’mon Boris, you can think up a better excuse than ignorance, can’t you? I’m Irish, so I’d just say I was McDrunk. You’re Russian (guessing by the slang), so I’d go with “I was cold and a polar bear was trying to hump me.”

“and when I write to my senator I make sure i use spell checker and do not use the f#$%^^& word”

….why not? I would hope that the people prosecuting our fake war on terror could at least handle an expletive now and again. I just didn’t see why you’d direct it at one of your peers.

“have a nice day punky[.]”

I added a period for you since you’re clearly on YOURS….

Вы должны расслабиться, my friend….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Have YOU personally tried, punky ?”

Not sure what you mean.

If, do I have (or at one time had) a patent associated with trying to get a product to market, then the answer is “no”.

If, have I successfully set up arrangements along the lines I outlined above, then the answer is “yes’.

Many years ago TI embarked on a lawsuit campaign against any and all companies that happened to be using something within the scope on one or more patents in its portfolio. Many, if not most, of these defendants would never compete with TI or any of its subsidiaries, affiliates,etc. in any manner. TI’s program was designed specifically to extract “value” from its portfolio, nothing more and nothing less. For a while it was remarkably successful, at one point bringing in approximately one-half of TI’s reported profits.

In the end, however, the program withered away, not because everyone who could be sued had been sued, but because it was eventually realized the program was having a negative effect on its actual products/services base and was making it more difficult to pursue its business plans for the future. A classic “Rembrandts in the Attic” that for a while was a source of much financial joy, but in the end analysis came at a very heavy price that was not appreciated at the time TI embarked on the program of using its legal department as a profit center.

In contrast, I was able to form a team comprising various business disciplines (technical, program management, finance, product suppport, etc.) that actively sought out potential applications of high value technology in non-traditional markets that would NEVER be served by the corporation, to assist in the formation of an independent entitity for using the technology to create products and services for introduction into such markets, to assist in the hiring of highly qualified candidates as its first employess..candidates respected by VC groups who would likely facilitate VC investment, the transfer of needed know-how and show-how, the willingness to perform R&D on behalf of the new entity until such time as it was technically up to speed, on occassion permitting the movement of important personnel from the corporation’s employ to that of the new entity, etc. Easily the most difficult problem I faced with the corporation transferring the technology was to keep the “neer-do-wells” from insisting on management control of the new entity.

The bottom line? Several thrived are are now integral parts of other larger companies. Some fell flat on their face for various reasons. Still others remain as originally formed, but have established reputations in their market niches of being the very best at what they do.

So, assuming your question was directed to the latter of the two possibilities noted above, the answer has to be a resounding “yes”. Patents we not treated as mere paper, but as an integral part of what was used to help the new entity get up and running.

Given the choice between the TI approach and mine, I will opt for mine any day of the week. It represents a win-win for both the original technology developer and the new entity, a quite different outcome than building a business around merely filing lawsuits as a business model.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Just out of curiosity. I have always understood you are a lawyer who practices, inter alia, patent law. Am I correct in my understanding, or do you happen to have a different form of contact with patent law? I am not at all asking you to identify what such an alternative form of contact might be, but merely trying to get a better handle on your perspective of the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Your perjorative term aside, thank you because I now better understand where you are coming from and why some of the articles posted here can easily drive persons such as you up a wall. I am a lawyer and have the very same reaction.

One area that particularly frustrates me is the constant minimizing of the role played by inventors. Yes, other disciplines are needed to take an invention to market, but there is nothing to take to market without an invention in many, many areas of technological endeavor. Moreover, even in areas that are not “high tech”, I have seen lone inventors come up with solutions to long felt needs that literally change an industry and make it prosper.

angry dude says:

Re: Re:

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

You should read US Constitution moro often, my little retarded friend

Just where does it mention any f****** business use?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

AD,

Your is not at all an unusual reaction. Patents in many instances confer significant power is relevant markets.

However, just because one may hold such power does not mean that exercising it to the hilt is necessarily a smart business move for an established business.

Sometimes it is a smart, and perhaps even an incredibly important business move. In my experience, however, more often than not it is not a smart move.

You learn after being in this business for a long while that in most instances it is better to save the “arrows in your quiver” for the really important targets.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Of course you have power. The more pertinent issue, however, is do you have means at hand to enforce it against those few who would try to litigate you into bankruptcy.

I have a very good friend in precisely this situation. Prominent lawfirms representing prominent corporations are engaged in this very tactic. Of course, it helps that my friend’s litigation expenses are underwritten by one of the nations’s largest hedge funds. Disclosure of this during a recent deposition raised the lawfirms’ “pucker factor” to a very high level.

NullOp says:

Scheme

Mikey’s adventures in IP land are going to end badly for him and the company. Eventually the chickens do come home to roost e.g. Madoff. The trouble with the chickens are limited by law in their punishment where scumbags like Madoff are unlimited in their ability to do damage and hurt people. Sounds like it time for some serious reworking of the U.S. business law!

angry dude says:

Re: Scheme

“Mikey’s adventures in IP land are going to end badly for him and the company”

His company is shit anyway

Mikey himself might one day come across some disgruntled garage inventor who will kick him hard in the balls

the rest of the american public could not care less about patent issues and mikey’s shilling

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