It never fails. Whenever more and more people start discussing what a downright dangerous
company Intellectual Ventures is, and how its massive trolling operations are a huge hindrance to actual innovation, IV's PR people invite some journalists to "take a tour" of the part of the building where they have people "inventing" stuff, hoping they'll talk about what a miraculous special company IV is. It happened two years ago with Gizmodo
, and this year, they had News.com take a tour
. Thankfully, unlike
the piece a couple years ago, News.com doesn't ignore the elephant in the room, and makes sure to point out much of the criticism surrounding Intellectual Ventures. However, it also lets claims like this one slide:
"We think of the problem we want to solve," says Tim Londergan, Intellectual Ventures' senior director of investment strategy. "[We] find great inventions and get them to market."
Um. And how many of them have they been able to "get to market"? The answer is exactly zero
over twelve years
. Despite $5 billion in investment money (using something of a pyramid scheme to get companies to pay up early to get some upside) and 70,000 "intellectual assets" (many of which were bought at fire sale prices from university tech transfer offices who were desperate to prove that tech transfer offices work, and who needed to get them off the books). A grand total of two
companies have spun off, but neither has anything on the market, nor will they for many years. There's something to be said for not rushing ideas, but $5 billion and twelve years... if you're really looking for problems you want to solve and bringing the solutions to market, you'd expect a slightly higher hit rate.
Of course, given that investors in IV are also beginning to realize that their returns suck
, you have to worry that IV is only going to ramp up the one part of its business that actually does make money: either shaking companies down by claiming they violate broad patents, or selling off patents to smaller shell firms that will do the same thing for them.
For all of Nathan Myhrvold's ridiculous talk of doing God's work
, the company can't try to hide the fact that it's become a giant tax on companies who actually innovate, by hiring some scientists to do crazy experiments in fancy offices, none of which seem to have any likelihood of being useful. Innovation is about bringing products to market. Trolling is about forcing actual innovators to pay up for succeeding. IV has never been about innovation and is focused almost entirely on trolling. Having some scientists working on dopey projects that look good for the press doesn't change any of that.