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Nathan Myhrvold and the Business Of Invention 137

Posted by Soulskill
from the ok-let's-run-with-that dept.
elwinc writes "There's a great New Yorker story about Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures company, whose business model is to nurture ideas, write patents, and sell them. Apparently they're filing about 500 patents a year including a passive thorium reactor which consumes waste from conventional reactors. On the lighter side, you can read how Nathan has achieved 'dominant T. rex market share.'" Though we've discussed Myhrvold and his company in the past, the New Yorker focuses more on how incredible it is to have a group of very intelligent people sitting around a table developing ideas.
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Nathan Myhrvold and the Business Of Invention

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  • Ideas (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday May 08, 2008 @07:17PM (#23345002) Homepage Journal
    First of all, the article goes on and on about brainstorming... which is universally known to be a really bad way to come up with ideas. If you have an idea and you want to flesh out what it is good for or, better yet, what it is not good for, then brainstorming is great way to do it, but inspiration does not come from brainstorming - it comes in the shower or when you're walking the dog or whatever.

    Then there's this whole "ideas have value" thing. Their whole business model is based on that tenant. Which is why they're not actually selling these patents to anyone, no-one goes out looking for a great idea to pour money into and create a business from.. investors go looking for *people* who have both a great idea and the technical skills to turn it into a workable business.. you can't just pick up someone else's idea and run with it, no matter how well the patent is written, and there's never written well. So how are they making their money? By litigation. So they're not actually helping progress, they're hindering it.

    All in all, its a dot com era idea for a business.. "let's get smart people together and invent stuff" and leave all the pesky marketing and sales to someone else.. but that's what business *is*, so you're basically saying you want to be in the business of not being in business.

    • Re:Ideas (Score:5, Interesting)

      by explosivejared (1186049) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `deraj.nagah'> on Thursday May 08, 2008 @07:30PM (#23345100)
      Implementations have value. For example, I could probably sit down and write a decent enough patent for a perpetual motion machine to where the patent office would accept it. Now obviously no such machine could be implemented. So here in lies the problem with this company's approach and the general approach of any patent troll, it is easy to come with ideas when you sit there and detach your thinking from the scientific method. Such imaginations make for great novelists and storytellers, but they make for very poor engineers and businessmen. Anyone can look at a problem and identify a solution that would work. The real skill comes in finding a solution that works in reality and then being able to back up your findings by properly and effectively implementing your solution.

      All in all, I agree with the parent, this company is a leech. It sucks value out of the economy while adding none in return.
      • by jd (1658) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Thursday May 08, 2008 @09:05PM (#23345586) Homepage Journal
        Some of the finest storytellers of our time - Alan Garner, Isaac Asimov, JRR Tolkien, for example - applied logic and rational thinking to their novels. Carl Sagan's "Contact", based around very sound scientific principles, was highly respectable. 2001 was more "scientific" and realistic than 2010 - name the book (or movie) with the better reputation. Indeed, many famous artists were also scientists, and many famous scientists were also artists.

        Clearly, there is a branch of storytelling and artistic creativity which is highly in tune with the scientific method and Socratic thought. Not all, sure, or even necessarily a whole lot, but the two are not exclusive. On the other hand, you are correct in saying that no quality science is conducted in a purely creative sense. "Thought experiments" come the closest, being a form of daydreaming and roleplaying, but they are still more entrenched in rational thought than emotional whim.

      • I dunno...patenting an idea which is impossible to implement, such as a perpetual motion machine, or which (more realistically) is wildly unprofitable to implement, isn't any real bar to progress. No one's ever going to implement those ideas, right? So that kind of "business" seems like just a honey pot for impractical dreamers.
        • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Thursday May 08, 2008 @09:45PM (#23345856)
          But since the patent office will now take "patents" on "a system for ..." that pretty much means that anyone can patent anything and then wait for someone to actually invent the device.

          I can patent a perpetual motion machine ... and then claim that a new battery system infringes upon my useless patent. As long as I'm willing to "license" my patent for less than an actual court case would cost, I'll make money.

          And I'll hinder REAL innovation and progress.

          That's the goal with that company. They aren't improving anything. They're abusing the patent system (with the patent system's willing support) to drain profits from real inventors.
          • Apparently you're under the impression that the Patent Office is run by morons.

            Fair enough, you're entitled to whatever POV you like. But there's no way to argue logically with you, since your assumptions are so fantastically different from mine.

            FWIW, I assume the PTO is run by pretty clever people who do the best they can, given the general difficulty with predicting the future, and who have a pretty decent -- albeit not perfect -- track record over the past 200 years, and who would normally see right thr
            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward
              Pretty decent track record? When companies who hold thousands of patents agree that the patent system is broken, then there should be general consensus on this point. They've made some improvement on the processing time and quality of review, but we still have too many things that should be unpatentable receiving a patent. The assumption should be against the patent, unless the application is persuasive and complete. Sometimes it seems like they rubberstamp it, letting interested parties fight it out in cou
              • Pretty decent track record?

                Yeah. Check your immediate surroundings. See any cool devices (iPods, personal computers, Internet) that use technology recently invented in the United States? Call up some of your older friends and family. Any using medical technology (knee replacements, cholesterol-lowering statins, heart-attack preventing stents, implantable pacemakers) that was invented here? Clear evidence, if you're actually paying attention, that there's been no slackening in the pace of innovation and
            • by anandsr (148302) on Friday May 09, 2008 @02:30AM (#23347252) Homepage
              The whole concept of patents is so 1900ish. There was a time when people could create something and then keep it under wraps, and nobody could discover what they were doing under the hood. Mostly because mostly people with the knowledge were not near the devices.

              This allowed a lot of ideas to get lost. Patents were specifically designed to prevent this act. But now in 2000 and the internet this idea is totally useless. There will be always people who can reverse engineer to find out how the thing works. So that particular reason for Patents is patently lost.

              Now there is another use of patents to allow people to invest into projects that have a very high risk value. Pharmaceutical companies do have these kinds of projects. I would think there is some use of patents for these sort of companies.

              But for the rest of the market Patents are an abomination. They should be abolished. Software industry definitely does not need patents. They already can use copyrights, to control their creations.

              One thing that the patent office should do is to require a working prototype. No prototype no patent. And the complete plan should be made open.
            • It's not about competence, it's about money.

              When a big corporation submits a patent application they use highly paid pros to slide it through. It's cost-effective for them, as they do it fairly frequently. If you or I submit a patent app, it's probably on a shoestring and will be something we do rarely. This results in a totally different process.

              Big Corporations are patenting ideas at an alarming rate these days. It's analogous to the big real estate scamming which began in the 1980's and has resulted i
              • Uh huh. Sure. And your proof would be....?

                Sounds like generic mindless Big Bidness Been Bery Bery Bad Tuh Me sloganeering to me. Try thinking for yourself. Much harder, but more rewarding in the end.
            • FWIW, I assume the PTO is run by pretty clever people who do the best they can, given the general difficulty with predicting the future, and who have a pretty decent -- albeit not perfect -- track record over the past 200 years, and who would normally see right through any such transparently bogus scam...

              Here's an oldie-but-goodie to refute your operating assumption: Patent 4022227 [uspto.gov].

              United States Patent 4,022,227
              Smith , et al. May 10, 1977
              Method of concealing partial baldness

              Abstract

              A method of

        • by Lonewolf666 (259450) on Friday May 09, 2008 @06:22AM (#23348252)
          The problem is with ideas that are are easy to think up but hard to implement. Say, the passive thorium reactor mentioned in TFA. The idea of a thorium-based breeder reactor is not new, and the abstract on ScienceDirect reads more like marketing than like science. As in "lots of promises but little about HOW it is done".

          If the rest of the "science" article has the quality of the abstract, that particular patent application is a classic example of patents that should be denied for lack of useful contribution.

          To prevent this, I think patents should only be granted when an implementation is also described, with the possibility of overturning the patent if the implementation does not actually work.
      • by mpsmps (178373)

        Implementations have value. For example, I could probably sit down and write a decent enough patent for a perpetual motion machine to where the patent office would accept it. Now obviously no such machine could be implemented.

        Actually, the US Patent Office "has made an official policy of refusing to grant patents for perpetual motion machines without a working model. [wikipedia.org]" The patent system is f****d up, but not that f****d up.

      • by jafac (1449)
        au contraire!

        It adds TONS of value to the economy!

        By sitting on patents, and stifling innovation, new competitors are discouraged from entering in practically any market, which preserves existing oligarchies and pricing models, allowing Corporate Citizens to continue to charge monopoly prices for products, increasing Corporate profits! Our economy will just GROW AND GROW!

        That's why innovation and invention must be stopped at all costs!
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rishubhav (1192083)
      What the parent seems to be missing is that as the article points out inspiration often comes from something outside your normal field of study and expertise - a different view of things. That's what this provides by bringing together people who are not just smart, but people who come from a variety of disciplines
    • by jpellino (202698)
      tenant?

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by lawn.ninja (1125909)
      I just came up with 8 pages of single spaced inventions too, while I was taking a shit. Anyone want to know what my inventions were composed of?
    • Re:Ideas (Score:5, Informative)

      by kesuki (321456) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @08:56PM (#23345550) Journal
      "So how are they making their money? By litigation. So they're not actually helping progress, they're hindering it."

      evidence to this light is found here: http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/node/348 [cosmosmagazine.com]

      a company by the name of thorium power, is designing a real thorium based fuel that would run in a conventional Russian atomic reactor, and along comes this patent troll company trying to eat up the US thorium reactor patents... which will mean Russia and China may be using thorium reactors while America finds itself unable to because 'the patent troll drove the cost too high'
      • Re:Ideas (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 09, 2008 @02:59AM (#23347376)
        Yup. Interestingly, that's exactly what happened with the Wright brothers.

        We think that they invented the world's first aircraft (untrue, but let's not go into that now). They thought their big advance was solving the problem of aircraft control (which they had, but in a cumbersome and essentially dead-end way, with wing warping).

        Did they advertise this for the benefit of humanity, like Santos-Dumont did? No, they patented it and tried to force all aircraft designers to pay them money. Of course, this only worked in the US, so before long France, Britain, Russia and Germany were designing all kinds of aircraft, while development in the US had ceased.

        When WW1 came we had to buy fighters from the French - we had no industry of our own.

        I sometimes laugh at the plaudits offered to the Wrights, when the only thing they really did was SUPRESS American development of aircraft for 15 years.....
      • Re:Ideas (Score:4, Insightful)

        by FreeUser (11483) on Friday May 09, 2008 @03:25AM (#23347490)
        a company by the name of thorium power, is designing a real thorium based fuel that would run in a conventional Russian atomic reactor, and along comes this patent troll company trying to eat up the US thorium reactor patents... which will mean Russia and China may be using thorium reactors while America finds itself unable to because 'the patent troll drove the cost too high'

        It serves America right. Currently we believe we can grant ourselves a monopoly on most ideas, business models, and software, and then use our economic, diplomatic, and military muscle to force the rest of the world to eventually adopt laws enshrining such patents into their legal systems, and thereby hard code a medium-term economic dominance over everyone else.

        What we didn't count on was George W. Bush draining our economy, diluting our military strength, and devistating our diplomatic influence using our nation to prosecute a pernsonal and family vendetta against the Hussein family.

        As a result, we are no longer in a position to dictate our agenda to the rest of the world (this is in most ways a good thing for everybody, including the US, even if we don't know it), and lo and behold! The rest of the world has chosen not to enact business method and software patents, and isn't too keen on granting patents for vague ideas the so-called "inventors" have no intention of actually building. So if that means the rest of the world ends up with cheap, clean power, and the US economy flounders or even impldoes, well, our own greed and lust for dominance brought it upon ourselves, and we deserve it.

        And maybe, just maybe, our falling behind every other developed nation in just about every field will be the catalyst we need for real patent and copyright reform. I'm not betting on it--we seem to have developed a talent for burying our heads in the sand--but there is an outside hope such change might eventually happen, someday.
      • A bit off topic, but I was under the impression that we don't burn up our nuclear waste simply because it would allow our military to mine it for plutonium in the future. If true, the thorium reactor may not have much of a market in the US anyway.
      • by Prune (557140)
        How large would be the theoretically smallest fission reactor that could be created? (not bomb but controlled fission) I know it's a bit offtopic but I didn't know where else to ask
    • by Dirtside (91468)

      brainstorming... which is universally known to be a really bad way to come up with ideas
      It... is? Perhaps you could link to some of the undoubtedly numerous peer-reviewed scientific articles that prove your claim? Because I guess in the universe I'm in, this "fact" isn't universally known.
      • by mapkinase (958129)
        I cannot believe your perfectly legal question gets modded down. GP makes exorbitant claims, P asks for evidence, gets modded down.

        To the mod who did that: why don't you go and kill yourself?
        • by Dirtside (91468)
          Yeah... I've always hated the overrated modifier, since it's entirely subjective.
    • There are ideas, there are engineers, there are marketing and sales people... Companies, let alone *people*, rarely do it all. This company is simply placing its focus on the idea part of business, which is a completely viable thing to do. Whether they will succeed is another story, but to argue they are BS is BS.

      Are they patent trolls? Maybe. But ideas do have value, as long as patents have value. Litigation can only happen if patents are being violated, and that is why IP management is so important. The s
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Are they patent trolls? Maybe. But ideas do have value, as long as patents have value. Litigation can only happen if patents are being violated, and that is why IP management is so important.

        Ideas have value, but what they don't have is natural ownership. By unnaturally imposing ownership on them through patents, the value they have for the community of producers is reduced, while the value they have for legal leeches who produce nothing is increased. And that's a disastrous tradeoff for community.
        • Unfortunately the system is already in place, and so patents in business become a necessity, and the emergence of a company such as this is only natural.

          Although I hate patent trolls as much as everyone else, at least these guys are "inventing" are they not? Even in the worst case senario where they hog all their inventions, once the patent expires they're public domain. They also claim otherwise:

          Our current focus is on developing our invention portfolio. Over time, we intend to market our portfolio on a broad and non-exclusive basis through a variety of channels including spin-out companies.

  • patent troll (Score:5, Insightful)

    by biot (12537) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @07:19PM (#23345016)
    Developing ideas? Give me a break, they buy patents and sell licenses. It's your basic patent troll outfit.
    • by Frosty Piss (770223) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @08:36PM (#23345470)

      Developing ideas? Give me a break, they buy patents and sell licenses. It's your basic patent troll outfit.
      But they're really smart people and they are brainstorming and they are nurturing ideas and they are from Bellevue Washington where all the real Microsofties live, so they must be innovating...
    • That's like saying a software company like Microsoft just a copyright license for what developers produce, bundles together their work and sells licenses to that bundle to customers. It's true, but it misses the fact that that company is actually providing a service to both the software engineers and the customers who buy software.
    • by mollymoo (202721) *

      TFA didn't mention them buying patents. They have a bunch of absurdly clever, motivated people from different disciplines who get together and invent (conceptually) things. Those ideas are passed on to a bunch of merely extremely clever people who do the detail work and, if in the end they come up with something workable, they patent it and license the patents. That's a somewhat different process to merely buying and licensing patents. It's inventing without aiming to be the end producer, which is exactly

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by liquidpele (663430)
        10% is inspiration, 90% is perspiration.
        Just because they think it up shouldn't mean they get a monopoly on the idea, it's only hindering companies that are actually doing all the work imho.
  • Slave masters (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dotancohen (1015143) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @07:19PM (#23345022) Homepage

    Though we've discussed Myhrvold and his company in the past, the New Yorker focuses more on how incredible it is to have a group of very intelligent people sitting around a table developing ideas.
    Developing ideas? No, they are not developing ideas. To develop an idea one must nurture it into a product or service that helps humanity. What these people are doing is enslaving ideas. They are taking what could possibly benefit you and I, and encumbering them in chains.
    • by maxume (22995)
      Society is encumbering the ideas. Their paper isn't magic, it gets its meaning from the legal system.

      That doesn't change the fact that it sucks.
      • by Chmcginn (201645)

        Society is encumbering the ideas. Their paper isn't magic, it gets its meaning from the legal system.

        This is true, but the system in place is one that a lot of people feel is necessary to some extent. For the basement developer who comes up with an idea and makes a prototype working weekends in his home workshop, getting a patent for something useful is the end result of years of hard work. But getting a patent for 4 hours of sitting around brainstorming, and coming up with an idea that may not even be

  • An idea pimp!
    • by explosivejared (1186049) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `deraj.nagah'> on Thursday May 08, 2008 @07:51PM (#23345214)
      Personally, I think you give these guys too much credit. Pimps are the epitome of coolness. Fancy, flamboyant suits, canes, and ostentatious jewelry are great. Plus, pimps are cultural hearths. The language of my generation was pretty much developed entirely by pimps and their siblings, "playas". These guys the article is talking about are more like the white cracker, slavemasters of ideas. In short, they are totally not cool.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by mcmonkey (96054)

        Pimps are the epitome of coolness.

        I was like you once. Young, idealistic.

        Now, how do I get these dead fish out of my shoes?

  • by arthurpaliden (939626) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @07:23PM (#23345056)
    I always thought that a working model was required in order to patent a 'thing'. How can they possibly know that it will work or what other patents are required in order to impliment said patent if all they did was to sit around a table and discuss ideas found in other papers?
    • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday May 08, 2008 @07:33PM (#23345114) Homepage Journal
      huh? Where have you been for the last 100 years dude? Yes, this is a good example of why the patent system is broken.. but its been that way for quite a while now.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Kjella (173770)
      Uh, the basic idea with the patent system was that you'd get a patent so investors with money couldn't just take your idea and run with it themselves.

      No patents:
      1. Come up with good idea
      2. Talk to investors about idea
      3. Investors run with it themselves
      4. No profit

      Patents:
      1. Come up with good idea
      2. Patent idea
      3. Talk to investors about idea
      4. Make the product with investors
      5. Profit

      Least, that was the idea with the big engineering patents at least. With the "soft" patents that are basicly done the moment yo
      • If they did ABCXYZ that's ok - they can do that and in fact write a new patent for it. The problem is that these companies are getting the equivalent of the 1. X 2. ??? 3 PROFIT! patents where they figure out A..Z, someone comes in with BCXY and they get the shit sued out of them. The problem lies with the patent office granting bad patents and courts upholding them. And of course, that doesn't even get into business method/software patents where this stuff really comes into play.
      • by QuantumG (50515) *
        Yawn, that's what non-disclosure agreements are for.

        The purpose of a patent is so that you can keep your competitors from adopting your newest innovation, thus giving you an advantage in the market place for a limited time in return for disclosing how your invention works.

        Originally patents were a means for attracting skilled immigrants to come set up shop.
    • by kesuki (321456)
      "How can they possibly know that it will work or what other patents are required in order to impliment said patent if all they did was to sit around a table and discuss ideas found in other papers?"

      Well if another company named 'thorium power' had been developing a way to make thorium/uranium/plutonium rods... the plutonium to activate the thorium the thorium to create energy and activate the uranium, which creates energy and keeps the thorium going..

      and they didn't patent every single idea that was possibl
    • Perspiration (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday May 08, 2008 @10:33PM (#23346180) Homepage Journal
      That's the problem with these types - they do the 2% inspiration, but skip the 98% perspiration. If somebody else does the 98%, they sue.

      So much for "promoting science and the useful arts..." - ergo, IMHO, unconstitutional.

      • Here's a standard that would help fix the kind of behavior which, as you point out, does the opposite of the founding fathers' intention with patents.

        When you show up with your idea that you think deserves protection, the patent examiner's first duty is to look at what evidence you provide that this idea has been economically feasible for 20 years, and no one has done it yet.

        If it has been feasible for 20 years, then there is a market that could support it, and there are big players in that market, and the
        • Why would you innovate with new technology then, if BigCo can just come in and copy it? I think your proposal is just another way to encourage major corporations to sew up the markets, much as the current system does. Might as well drop the R&D department entirely, and just do pure manufacturing, copying suckers' plans.

          Another hard problem to solve is that often the value of a patented invention is that somebody finally thought to ask the right question. If you ask the question, the answer isn't all
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by darthflo (1095225)

            Your patent troll's 500th patent of the year costs $6.54678121579228e+152 to file. Even Bill Gates is starting to think that's real money.

            I like that general idea, but it just wouldn't work:
            - Patent trolls like Intellectual Ventures could simply start tons of shell companies. If the cost of creating one of these was, say, $1k, they'd get themselves some 167 "independent subdivisions", getting the price down to $800 per patent.
            - Some giant companies may actually come up with lots and lots of ideas. The l

            • You're quite right, and I probably misspoke. It would need to apply to the inventors, not necessarily the assignees. If they're committing fraud with non-inventors names on a patent then that's grounds for invalidation.
          • by msouth (10321)

            Why would you innovate with new technology then, if BigCo can just come in and copy it? I think your proposal is just another way to encourage major corporations to sew up the markets, much as the current system does. Might as well drop the R&D department entirely, and just do pure manufacturing, copying suckers' plans.

            No, the R&D dept would be working on real innovation. In new technology, it's a free-for-all--if you can keep it secret (Coca Cola formula), fine, if not, weigh the risk of someone c

      • by mollymoo (202721) *

        That's the problem with these types - they do the 2% inspiration, but skip the 98% perspiration. If somebody else does the 98%, they sue.

        How do you know how much perspiration they (the company) put in? Have you read the patents? As it happens, they do actually perform R&D, though how close they come to finished products I don't know.

  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @07:42PM (#23345156)
    ..only an implementation?

    Patentable Subject Matter. Assuming the criteria described in the next section are also satisfied, any new and useful process, machine, manufac- ture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement of these things, can be patented. These cate- gories are quite broad, but the courts have identified certain types of subject matter that cannot be patented, including laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas.

    (from Can You Patent That?" [ftc.gov])

  • MICHAEL (CONT'D)
    This month is going to be bigger. It's
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    we've ever had. We've got a new issue
    I want to talk to you about. It's
    called Med Patent. They've just
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    This is not going to be an alternative
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    better. So I want you all to go out
    and buy yourselves a new car, or a
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    debt. You will make a million inside
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    -- from Boiler Room movie script.

  • What Myhrvold demonstates is that helping run a monopoly is a great way to make enough money to hire people to create patent monopolies to make more money to make more patent monopolies.

    Great idea, but Myhrvold didn't invent it. Luckily, he can't patent it, either.
  • New Yorker is a pathetic tribal mouthpiece that would celebrate anybody with the name Nathan.
  • not that the NY times is very credible, but all the SMART people are actually out there making things work, not just sitting around like a bunch of stoners cooking up 1/2 baked idea's.
    • The chance of people being assholes is wholly uncorrelated with their intelligence. As far as risk/reward/effort goes patent trolling is a better deal than being an engineer in a start up.
  • by oodaloop (1229816) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @07:55PM (#23345246)
    "the New Yorker focuses more on how incredible it is to have a group of very intelligent people sitting around a table developing ideas."

    Hey, maybe the place where they THINK could be called a TANK. I can't believe no one's thought of this before!
    • by Alex Belits (437) *
      I modern usage the term "think tank" is most often applied to organizations [wikipedia.org] issuing authoritatively-sounding opinion pieces on controversial topics for propaganda purposes, so even patent trolls don't want to be associated with it.
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @08:09PM (#23345328) Homepage
    I saw a post on the blog Technology Liberation Front that pointed out that most of their ideas don't pan out. They just don't even work. You know what many of those "inventors" sound like?

    The same sort of person who would fit in well with "social scientists." It's great that you are smart and have ideas, but I could give a shit less about your "ideas" if you cannot make a functioning prototype of them.

    Our society should have precious little tolerance for people who only come up with ideas on paper, without being able to put them into practice.
    • by maxume (22995)
      I like novels just fine thanks.
    • by RobBebop (947356)

      Our society should have precious little tolerance for people who only come up with ideas on paper, without being able to put them into practice.

      I disagree. If somebody is good at thinking of innovative ideas, power to them. I fully support the right of these people to establish themselves within an industry where their ideas are suitably marketable so that they can earn a living.

      What I disagree with is the fact that these bastards seem like they are being greedy about it. There is no need to pretend they are making positive contributions to the world when their goal is to milk the business community for their hard earned cash.

      • Indeed... Everyone seems to have their own ideas on patent reform, and while I'm more in favour of some of the "bigger" measures, a simple "little" measure that would probably help would be to say that if you have no business plan to actually use your patent, and someone else does, then they have a defacto right to purchase the patent from you.

        It would stop this kind of patent troll that patents ideas and then nickle-and-dimes others out of their cash. The "idea companies" (as this one claims to be) could

        • by darthflo (1095225)
          In a similar discussion, not too long ago, somebody had the idea of adding a patent tax and (re-)valuing patents in an auction-style fashion every five years or so.
          The five year period would give startups ample time to capitalize on the idea and gather enough cash to assign some value to their patent and pay the taxes for the next few years.
          Licensing probably would have to be thought over as patent ownership would be fluctuating a lot, but given a well thought out system, a lot of the new patent tax could
    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      Yeah, because less tolerance is what society really needs right now -- That will solve things.
    • by spicate (667270)

      Our society should have precious little tolerance for people who only come up with ideas on paper, without being able to put them into practice.
      You think we should get rid of all the theorists in physics, chemistry, biology, etc., not to mention philosophy and literature? Good thing you aren't the one making the decisions!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    English majors who write on scientific matters for laymen seem to delight in such unexpected phenomena as near-simultaneous discovery and invention by geniuses working independently.

    At least one researcher has come up with a more prosaic explanation [amazon.com] for the coincidental telephone patent filings - he believes that Bell bribed a patent office employee to show him Gray's filing, after which Bell returned to his lab, completely revised his approach, and soon re-filed with a description of his triumphant "inven
  • Good not evil? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @08:26PM (#23345434)

    Though we've discussed Myhrvold and his company in the past, the New Yorker focuses more on how incredible it is to have a group of very intelligent people sitting around a table developing ideas.
    Filing about 500 patents a year...

    Oh, I see, these are good patents not evil patents. Yes...

  • by Awptimus Prime (695459) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @08:32PM (#23345456)
    While this shit may sound good for some of you, I recently began doing research on a project to build water transportation using alternative energy.

    Well guess what? One guy ownes ALL rights to the most common sense approaches, yet refuses to bring his product to market. Prior to my investigation, all my 'original' ideas have already been thought of , registered, and accepted. The only way I could move forward would be to pay someone who didn't do anything to help my work some money for every sale. That is, if he'd even respond to inquiries.

    It gave me an edge for the future. If the system is going to be bound by such things, I am going to register every stupid thing I come across that hasn't been registered yet. If I can't invent without being stifled, why should anyone else?

    • by timmarhy (659436) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @09:08PM (#23345604)
      this is the problem i have with the patent system as well. it doesn't reward people for being productive. drastic change needs to happen
    • It gave me an edge for the future. If the system is going to be bound by such things, I am going to register every stupid thing I come across that hasn't been registered yet. If I can't invent without being stifled, why should anyone else?

      Fortunately (for Russia & China), unfortunately for the West, such a future won't come about. It's a bad idea to base your entire economy on something which is easily copied by people who don't care about the artificial constraints you put on yourself, and at the

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by eobet (959982)

      If I can't invent without being stifled, why should anyone else?
      How about finding a way, doing the right thing, doing it for humanity?

      I mean, if you won't and instead do what you said you would, you're no better than the loathesome trolls and in that case, what do you contribute to society?

      Sadly, not many are willing to put in the effort required to do great things, so it becomes even harder for those few who try.
    • by Phat_Tony (661117)
      Richard Feynman was on to this patent-troll problem with the system back in the early 1940's. He recounts his experience with patenting the obvious while working at Los Alamos on pg.181 of "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"

      What had happened was, during the war at Los Alamos, there was a very nice fella in charge of the patent office for the government, named Captain Smith. Smith sent around a notice to everybody that said something like, "We in the patent office would like to patent every idea you have for the United States government, for which you are working now. Any idea you have on nuclear energy or its application that you may think everybody knows about, everybody doesn't know about: Just come to my office and tell me the idea." I see Smith at lunch, and as we're walking back to the technical area, I say to him, "That note you sent around: That's kind of crazy to have us come in and tell you every idea." We discussed it back and forth -- by this time we're in his office -- and I say, "There are so many ideas about nuclear energy that are so perfectly obvious, that I'd be here all day telling you stuff." "LIKE WHAT?" "Nothin' to it!" I say. "Example: nuclear reactor... under water... water goes in... steam goes out the other side... Pshshshsht -- it's a submarine. Or: nuclear reactor... air comes rushing in the front... heated up by nuclear reaction... out the back it goes... Boom! Through the air -- it's an airplane. Or: nuclear reactor... you have hydrogen go through the thing... Zoom! -- it's a rocket. Or: nuclear reactor... only instead of using ordinary uranium, you use enriched uranium, with beryllium oxide at high temperature to make it more efficient... It's an electrical power plant. There's a million ideas!" I said, as I went out the door. Nothing happened. About three months later, Smith calls me in the office and says, "Feynman, the submarine has already been taken. But the other three are yours." So when the guys at the airplane company in California are planning their laboratory, and try to find out who's an expert in rocket-propelled whatnots, there's nothing to it: They look at who's got the patent on it!

      Any smart person could sit around a brainstorm up a hundred obvious things that were patentable in a day, and then when someone else actually wanted to do it, they were held up by the existing patent. It was all the same back then. Except now, the patent office lets you patent ev

  • >> Nathan Myhrvold

    Gesundheit
  • by jo42 (227475)

    how incredible it is to have a group of very intelligent people sitting around a table developing ideas
    Anyone can sit around a table "developing ideas" - the hard part is making them into reality.
    • Anyone can sit around a table "developing ideas" - the hard part is making them into reality.

      Your reality and theirs is different. Reality for these guys is something profitable, which given their chosen business model, means something patentable. But it doesn't have to be practical, doable, or reasonable, or any of the other considerations us less motivated folks would consider necessary in our reality. Think about it - their competitors are fools like you and me, so of course they will win with that approach!

      And a couple of other points to consider:
      1) It's easier to make money by NOT being orig

  • ...Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.
  • They are parasites (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HEbGb (6544) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @09:29PM (#23345732)
    I was going to jump in and describe this company as being a bunch of parasitic patent trolls, who create zero value for the world, but instead suck value from people doing REAL work.

    But it looks like plenty of people have already made that point. Excellent!

    These people should not be glamorized, they should be roundly criticized for being lowlife parasites.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 08, 2008 @09:45PM (#23345858)
    And don't forget, this is the Nathan Myhrvold who asserted (while working for Microsoft) that Microsoft deserved a cut of every transaction made over the internet.
  • by argoff (142580) * on Thursday May 08, 2008 @10:07PM (#23345990)
    http://yro.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=168820&cid=14072468 [slashdot.org]

    Bottom line, patents are anti free-market, they are not property, they are not incentive, they are not protection. Rather brought to their logical conclusion they are genocidal.
  • There's an rather insightful comment by Mike Masnick at techdirt.com [techdirt.com] about this New Yorker story.

    As he notes, the story first tries to show that many important ideas are invented simultaneously by multiple parties ... but then completely fails to ask the obvious question: If such ideas' "time has come", so to speak, why are we granting a legal monopoly to someone who has no intention of developing them?

  • decadent science (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Goldsmith (561202) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @10:27PM (#23346124)
    There definitely is value in getting different kinds of scientific people together to talk about specific problems. I've been to some conferences like that, and it's great. ... but I won't patent the hoped for results of the experiments I'd like to do over the next ten years. Most of us in science can't get away with that kind of stuff, we can't afford it financially and we value the respect of our peers too much. Most of us can't afford to put a T. Rex skeleton in our living rooms, or have lawyers around to record our dinner conversations either.
  • Why is having a geek-board tank thinking of problems and patents wrong? I mean, it is certainly better than paying millions to a lobby group to ban alcohol. I know, some people in I.V. worked for Msoft. Some may not have great credentials, but seriously, why flame them when at least they are trying to find ways to develop technologies that can help us? In any way you think of, it is a laudable enterprise by people like the /. public. I don't think the criticism here is helpful.

    there's another thing, somew

  • I was about to post, encouraging people to write the author of that column, but the idea struck me: what if there was an open source "community" for ideas?... and that's when I realized that that is pretty much how the patent system was originally meant to function.

    There should be a website where people can make known to the world their ideas. At least might that act as some prior art and save an idea or two from the patent trolls?
  • This company is typical for Myhrvold. Read about Myhrvold's "cool idea for image compression" here [washingtonpost.com]. Trouble is: he hadn't done his homework, and this stuff had been invented several times before. But, hey, he is a physics Ph.D. who studied with Hawking, he must be so much smarter than everybody else that it isn't necessary to do his homework, right?

    His patent troll company is likely to do the same thing: reinvent a lot of stuff that people already know, and get a bunch of patents that nobody who actually
  • "Intellectual Ventures company, whose business model is to nurture ideas, write patents, and sell them"

    No, that should be buy up old, out of date and defunct patents, reregister them, wait for a real company to make something (like Blackberry) and then extort revenue from them under threat of litigation.

    "the New Yorker focuses more on how incredible it is to have a group of very intelligent people sitting around a table developing ideas"

    Are you s******g me, I'm sorry but since when did SlashDot bec

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