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.

Filed Under: lawsuits, nathan myhrvold, patent troll, patents, raymond niro
Companies: intellectual ventures


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2009 @ 11:13am

    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.

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