Intel, Who Coined The Term ‘Patent Troll’ Makes Deal With Patent Troll To ‘Monetize’ Unused Patents
from the making-a-mockery-of-what-intel-stood-for dept
The pattern is pretty common: young companies innovate, older companies litigate. When you can’t keep up and you can’t succeed by beating the market, you turn to the courts to try to squeeze cash out of those more successful than you. Often this involves patent lawsuits or handing your unused patents off to patent trolls to “monetize” them for you.
Over the years there have been a bunch of “patent aggregation” firms that showed up, offering to buy up patents and then promising to bring in free money by “licensing” them. The most well known of these was probably Intellectual Ventures, which scooped up tons upon tons of unused (perhaps because they were useless) patents, many from universities with loss-making tech transfer offices, which were eager to sell out in order to show they could make some money.
There were others, including one called IPValue, which has been around for a while now as well, and has a history of getting big, lumbering, no longer innovative companies to sell off useless patent portfolios for the sake of “licensing” them. Of course, when no one wants to license totally useless patents, the company has been known to engage in litigation. Like Intellectual Ventures, which came about with high minded talk of building these portfolios to enable new innovation, the reality is that they’re classic trolls, collecting tons of patents to then seek to shake down actual operating companies, not for copying ideas and infringing, but for doing something obvious with the technology that some vague, forgotten patent sorta kinda, maybe could describe if you squint and ignore the fact that patents are only supposed to cover “non-obvious” ideas.
Anyway, Intel recently announced that it was handing 5,000 patents off to IPValue, which (as it does in these kinds of deals) spun up a shell corporation called Tahoe Research Limited to go see who it can shake down over these patents. Usually, the way these deals work is that the company, Intel, gets some relatively modest amount of cash upfront, but also a piece of anything the troll can squeeze out of others. Considering these are basically zero value patents for Intel, the temptation must be great to at least get something out of them.
The Intel IP portfolio is likely to comprise older patents that have not yet expired but no longer represent cutting-edge technologies so the chipmaker likely sees this licensing arrangement as a way of maximizing its revenue from some of its patents by allowing IPValue to handle the legwork in licensing them to third parties.
Of course, the real irony here — which long time patent observers have picked up on — is that the very term “patent troll” was initially coined by two Intel lawyers back in the 1990s. They were frustrated by all these patent owners (early on it was often ex-patent litigators who would set up a shingle, buy up some patents, and shake down firms, before the aggregators “professionalized” the business) demanding they pay up for obvious bullshit patents.
So, it seems notable that Intel is now embracing patent trolling.
Though, perhaps not that surprising. After all, when companies are still innovating and leading the way, they’re the target of patent trolls. It’s only after their best days appear to be behind them, and they’re desperate to keep Wall St. happy that suddenly they turn to trolling. And, Intel*, which spent decades as the top innovator in chips, has lately been looking like it’s completely lost its way. And that’s been reflected in the plummeting stock price. Basically, the company that spent decades doing no wrong… has had a lot go wrong lately.
And, so, the company is now desperate. Young companies innovate. Old companies litigate. Tragically, it looks like Intel (a company I actually worked for decades ago), has moved from one category to the other. It’s shame.