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World's Largest Patent Troll Fires First Salvo 189

Posted by kdawson
from the sleeping-under-the-world's-largest-bridge dept.
ChiefMonkeyGrinder writes "Yesterday the biggest software patent troll of all finally woke from its slumbers: Intellectual Ventures filed patent infringement complaints in the US District Court of Delaware against companies in the software security, DRAM and Flash memory, and field-programmable gate array industries. Intellectual Ventures was co-founded by Microsoft's former CTO Nathan Myhrvold, with others from Intel and a Seattle-based law firm." We discussed IV's potential for patent trollery last spring.
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World's Largest Patent Troll Fires First Salvo

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  • by JustNiz (692889) on Friday December 10, 2010 @11:27AM (#34514228)

    Good, I think. Hopefully this will finally cause big companies to fight to get rid of software patents and patent troll companies as a whole.

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Friday December 10, 2010 @11:37AM (#34514340) Journal

      Good, I think. Hopefully this will finally cause big companies to fight to get rid of software patents and patent troll companies as a whole.

      Actually, the response has not been to rid the world of software patents as you so hoped and the threat of Intellectual Ventures has long been affecting companies. From the article:

      The threat posed by Intellectual Ventures helped prompt the rise of firms like RPX Corp. It is paid by companies to buy up potentially threatening patents; the companies receive licenses to those patents, and RPX pledges never to sue over them.

      Think about that for a second. The system for software patents is so screwed up and backwards that it's cheaper to pay someone to buy up a patent and promise to never sue over it than it is for you to build a patent war chest and wait for the big one to hit. It's like patent insurance. Easily the most interesting thing in the article to me. Unfortunately this shows tolerance and a way to move forward.

    • Who makes money from the current patent system? Lawyers, on both sides. We should change the laws.

      What kind of people get elected to Congress?

      http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20071025191741AAnHym8 [yahoo.com]

      Oh crap.

      • by pnewhook (788591)

        Completely agree. Either a massive overhaul or throw out the entire patent system or at least the software part. It does no one any good except for lawyers.

        At the very least, implement something like if a patent has not been actively developed into a product within two years, and/or if that product is not available to the public from five years of patent issue, then the patent becomes invalid and is automatically released into the public domain. This would keep patents to their true purpose - idea sharin

  • by diskofish (1037768) on Friday December 10, 2010 @11:27AM (#34514230)
    You've been troll'd!
    You've been troll'd!
    Have a nice day!


    Troll'd [youtube.com]
    • by angiasaa (758006)

      Oh the weather outside is frightful,
      But the fire is so delightful,
      And since we've no place to go,
      You've been troll'd, You've been troll'd! You've been troll'd!

      It's a bit early, but I could'nt help myself. Merry Christmas! :D

    • by Valtor (34080)

      ...Have a nice day!

      Here in Canada, we say:

      Have an ice day !

  • Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by h4rm0ny (722443) on Friday December 10, 2010 @11:31AM (#34514290) Journal
    Well, it's not good directly, but if the big companies start getting hit by patent attacks, then we might soon see absurd patent laws and approvals get an overdue overhaul. Previously, they've seemed like an advantage to the big players because they form a barrier to entry that keeps out new competition. The big players have armouries of patents and, much like nuclear weapons are supposed to protect through a principle of MAD, they didn't use them on each other much. But it seems there is rampant proliferation and we're seeing patent fights between big players erupt despite this (e.g. Nokia and Apple). So maybe disillusionment with them will creep in. And unlike nuclear weapons, disarmament is simple - big companies can't advocate for a change in the laws of Physics, but changes in the laws of the land, they can do.

    Maybe it's optimistic. Maybe it will all settle down into a cartel and the patent threat to small players will remain. But if the patent trolls are greedy enough to really take a bite out of the hand that feeds them, perhaps not.
    • Re:Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cptdondo (59460) on Friday December 10, 2010 @11:38AM (#34514358) Journal

      To put in the perspective of world politics, the big companies are like Russia, China, or the US. Each has significant assets to protect, making MAD a viable way to protect themselves.

      The patent trolls are like North Korea or Iran; they have no real assets to protect and nothing of significant value that can be destroyed (assuming you don't give a damn about people or jobs, which they don't).

      So as long as the big companies have something to protect, the North Koreas and Irans of the business world will continue to harass them until the rules change.

      • by h4rm0ny (722443)
        You miss the point that I was making. Microsoft or Motorola can't recommend that the laws of Physics be changed to make Nuclear weapons ineffective (well, they could, but only for the lulz). However, they can quite plausibly bring about patent reform by pushing for changes in the laws of, well, law. ;)

        A few super-powers having nuclear weapons gives them a game advantage over the non-nuclear powers. But when that strategy fails, it is better for them to have everyone disarmed and fall back on their mighty
      • by h4rm0ny (722443)
        Follow-up to my previous reply: I think I slightly mis-read you when you expanded on and improved my analogy. I guess on Slashdot I'm just used to posts following the pattern or Statement - > Disagreement. ;)
        Sorry.
        H.
      • by chrb (1083577)

        The patent trolls are like North Korea or Iran; they have no real assets to protect and nothing of significant value that can be destroyed

        Not really. "The economy of Iran is the eighteenth largest economy in the world by purchasing power parity" [wikipedia.org]. Iran has lots of oil and gas. And the people in charge do have something to lose: power, control, influence, personal wealth. Same thing for the guys at the top of the North Korean system.

    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      The trouble is any overhaul of the system prompted by big business is going to largely help big business only.

      There is a chance our lawmakers could be reasonable, and evaluate things with both big business and the general public's interests in mind, but lets face it, they don't exactly have a history of being calm, rational, and reasonable.

      Take the current tax cut extension debate: The (liberal) democrats want to screw the rich, even if they have to screw the poor and middle class to do it. The Republican

  • swine... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spidercoz (947220) on Friday December 10, 2010 @11:33AM (#34514310) Journal
    Corporate leeches like this are why American capitalism is in the toilet.
    • Re:swine... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by noidentity (188756) on Friday December 10, 2010 @11:45AM (#34514434)
      No, the corruption of capitalism with imaginary property is why these things are in the toilet. It's an artificial monopoly over everyone's (non-imaginary) property.
      • by Rogerborg (306625)

        Most capitalism is and always has been about imaginary property.

        Here, I'll show you. You go build me a car factory, and in return, I'll give you a shiny number of your very own. Then you give some of your number back to me and in return I'll give you a car from my factory.

        • by h4rm0ny (722443)
          But then you can give some of noidentity's number to another person who will give you food and clothing for your children, for example. So you didn't give your car in return for nothing, there's merely a time delay before you get something solid in return for it.
        • Your argument boils down to eliminating arbitrary currency on the basis of it having no intrinsic value. Would you propose we return to a barter system? The only reason currency works is because it has use as a universal exchange medium between arbitrary sets of goods; bartering requires both parties have something the other party wants.

          Faith in the buying power of currency is what gives it value, because without it, the exchange of goods would be so unnecessarily difficult as to significantly hinder the
          • I think that's a good argument to get people to stop calling it "imaginary property". Things like currency and many forms of contract (retainers, rental agreements, etc.) fit under an intuitive definition of "imaginary property" and not under one of "intellectual property".

            Twisting words like that to inject your opinions has always struck me as juvenile. I don't mean to pick on anybody here in particular -- slashdot has its jargon. But imagining this term at the outset makes me think of a grown man heckl

            • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

              You are very much correct.

              We have intellectual property because we decided a long time ago that ideas have value. If they have value, should it not be possible to buy, sell, or trade them? And if they can be bought, sold, or traded, are ideas then not a form of property that can be owned?

              It is certainly very different than ordinary property, and so special rules must apply, but it is most certainly real.

              People get confused by these things often, but the fact that it does not have an physical form that you

              • Yes, ideas like physical things have value. Unlike physical things, they're not limited in the number of users. If I have a grape, I can eat it. If you take it from me and eat it, I can't eat it anymore, and must find something else to eat. If I have the idea of how to double my grape harvest, your using that idea as well doesn't diminish my grape harvest. This is the fundamental difference, and why it's imaginary property. To treat it like real property is insane, because it means I now have control over e
                • by h4rm0ny (722443)
                  It's not the idea that is traded or sold, it is the reward for having or developing the idea. If you suppose that someone should be rewarded for coming up with an original and innovative design or idea that moves the species forwards, then it's arbitrary and incredibly limiting to say that the reward can't be represented as money.
        • by gtall (79522)

          Hardware stores, Sears, auto dealerships, pawn shops, grocery stores, shoe stores, firework stores, doctor practices, etc. That's real property.

          Most of capitalism is not about imaginary property. And if you had a large company that scaled up by employing hundreds or thousands of people only to have (cough) Chinese companies come in an steal your special sauce, you'd suddenly find imaginary property is your hundreds or thousands of employees being laid off. Them are imaginary property.

        • Here, I'll show you. You go build me a car factory, and in return, I'll give you a shiny number of your very own. Then you give some of your number back to me and in return I'll give you a car from my factory.

          Well, who is to blame, the car factory guy, or the guy who voluntarily built it, knowing this is what he would get in exchange (not that this is really all he gets in reality, but I'll play allong with your hypothetical)?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Corporate leeches like this are why American capitalism is in the toilet.

      Well, this is American capitalism at its finest, and it's the logical conclusion of the way they do things. The whole ACTA treaty is so that patent-trolls and IP lawyers can sue every last motherfucker on the planet.

      The American notion of capitalism is the most bloated, fucked up, and protectionist thing you can imagine. For a country that constantly says how much they want the free market and free trade, they do everything they poss

  • these Intellectual Vulture Overlords.

    < / s a r c a s m >

    • by Stooshie (993666)
      <sarcasm>
      those Intellectual Vultire Overlords
      </sarcasm>
      There, sorted that for you! :-)
  • Legal Blackmail (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Infiniti2000 (1720222) on Friday December 10, 2010 @11:38AM (#34514354)
    My biggest gripe about patents is that they're kind of like legal blackmail. "Pay me money or I'll ruin your company in a large number of frivolous lawsuits." Patents were originally intended to protect inventors, but companies like IV have provided an evil twist.
    • by spidercoz (947220)
      Might be a plausible defense against IV under RICO statutes. How crap like this could not be considered extortion is beyond me.
      • by shentino (1139071)

        RICO only applies to *criminal* acts.

        Unless you can prove extortion, RICO won't even be in town, let alone knocking at the door. And since patent infringement is a *civil* matter, good luck with that.

        Thing is that patents are such a mess that it's hard to establish that the lawsuits are frivolous.

    • by bky1701 (979071) on Friday December 10, 2010 @12:18PM (#34514726) Homepage
      Imaginary property like patents and copyright always consolidates power over information into the hands of the few. They do not protect the creators, they make ideas a commodity to be traded.
    • by DRJlaw (946416)

      Patents were originally intended to protect inventors, but companies like IV have provided an evil twist.

      The evil twist being that they buy patents from inventors willing to sell their patents to them?

      How is the intention to protect inventors thwarted by allowing inventors to sell their inventions to a business rather than develop a business themselves?

      How is the intention to protect inventors thwarted by allowing them to sell to anyone who can meet their price, whether the business manufactures something u

      • Why would they bother buying any patent off the inventor when they can just spin off 10 or so trivial patents on any of the even slight variations of the concept?

        They then rip off the concept and sell their own liscences and if the real inventor objects they can just threaten to use their own 10 patents against his 1 and tie him up in court until his cute little startup bites the dust.

        then they buy the patent for a song when his startup fails and is liquidated.

      • Patents were originally intended to protect inventors, but companies like IV have provided an evil twist.

        The evil twist being that they buy patents from inventors willing to sell their patents to them?

        No, the evil twist being that they sit on the patents, not using them, hoping that if someone concurrently develops something similar, they can use any patents of a similar nature to beat the ever-living fuck out of the new guy in court for patent infringement unless he pays them a hefty fee. Thus patents are punishing inventors.

        You're kinda dumb, aren't you?

  • by dmomo (256005)

    I thought the justification for continuing tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans was that it would help the economy, because investment would trickle down through innovation / job creation. Here is a wonderful counter point to that argument.

    If we want to entice the wealthy to use money to create jobs, why don't tie their rewards directly to job creation? These people are actually killing the economy and making people poor by creating a money-sink in the economy where no value is added. They are not onl

    • by microbox (704317) on Friday December 10, 2010 @12:16PM (#34514710)
      These people are actually killing the economy and making people poor by creating a money-sink in the economy where no value is added. They are not only hurting these big companies with their greed, they are helping to force a divide in wealth distribution and indirectly making real people go hungry.

      Your logic is impecable; however, it will bounch straight off of market fundamentalists. The economy of imaginary things is precisely what the new world order stands for, and an expression of the correctness of laisezz-faire capitalism. Railing against it is totalitarian, and will just interfer with wealth creation and freedom. Interesting that wealth is created out of imaginary things that are meaningless, trivial, and detrimental to getting real work done. But, in the words of one venture capitalist: IP is the new gold. The economy has to grow somehow -- and that is the ultimate rationalisation for this madness.
      • by gtall (79522)

        His logic isn't impecable (sic) nor impeccable. His unfounded assumption is that the wealthy are not using money to create jobs. Very few of the wealthy are patent trolls as the gp seems to think. He's arguing that the few examples he thinks he sees allow him to damn a whole class.

        Many of the wealthy got there by investing in companies that produce jobs. Some greedy have destroyed jobs, but one doesn't need to be wealthy to be greedy as legions of Business School Product will attest.

        • No, many of the wealthy got there by knowing how to game the system, or by inheriting their wealth. Why do you think so many freighters and other resources are registered out of the Bahamas, or Indonesia, or place like that, when their owner is the whitest mofo ever, and with no vested interest in the point of registration? Because it's orders of magnitude cheaper. Same with bank accounts and housing. The reason the rich stay rich is they can afford to spend *some* money up front to find the cheapest way to

      • by radtea (464814)

        Your logic is impecable; however, it will bounch straight off of market fundamentalists.

        "Market fundamentalists" aren't even self-consistent. Corporations exist solely due to interference in the free market by the Nanny State in the form of various Companies Acts.

        A "truly free" market would have no corporations, as it would not permit limited liability for individuals. That liability limitation is a huge interference with the legal basis of a free market.

        And because corporations would not exist in a free market, they cannot reasonably expect to operate in one: the state, which protects corp

    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday December 10, 2010 @03:38PM (#34517008) Homepage Journal

      I thought the justification for continuing tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans was that it would help the economy, because investment would trickle down through innovation / job creation.

      "Trickle down economics" is rank bullshit. Wealth doesn't trickle down, it flows up. Wealth is created on the factory floor, the programmer's cube, the fry cook's stove. The wealthy do not create wealth, they control wealth.

      Giving a rich man money doesn't give him any incentive to put it into the economy at all, let alone create jobs. If business is bad and he can't sell many of his wares, no tax break will induce him to hire. The only way he's going to hire is if demand for his product outstrips his capacity to supply it.

      If you want to stimulate job creation, you give tax breaks to the middle clas and poor. Especially the poor, who have to spend that money out of necessity. They spend that extra money on goods that the rich man's employees creates, and if they buy enough, the rich man will have to hire to meet the demand.

      Don't give a tax break to the rich for hiring the poor, give it to the poor themselves.

      Note that most poor in the US are, in fact, workers.

  • by bark (582535) on Friday December 10, 2010 @11:43AM (#34514418)
    The article states that Intel is one of the investors of Intellectual Ventures. The article also says that one of the lawsuits was filed against McAfee, which Intel recently bought. So in this case, Intel is hiring someone else to sue itself - it would be much easier to hold an employee venting day if that's all they wanted to do.
  • by jefurii (210787) on Friday December 10, 2010 @11:44AM (#34514422) Homepage
    From the Intellectual Ventures [mac.com] page on his personal site:

    I work part-time at Intellectual Ventures Labs, which enables me to get out of the house and exercise the nerdy predilections that I used to exercise at Blue Origin. This is a sort of all-purpose science lab and thing-making facility where new inventions are developed.

    • by theodicey (662941) on Friday December 10, 2010 @12:11PM (#34514660)

      I once knew someone who was naive enough to confuse a patent troll operation with a real Menlo Park skunkworks/invention lab.

      She was 22 years old and looking for a job; what's Stephenson's excuse?

      • by Chirs (87576)

        Maybe they actually do research there? From the Wikipedia page, they've done work on a nuke reactor that can burn uranium waste or thorium, the mosquito laser, and modeling of Malaria spread via mosquitoes, among other things.

        Maybe it's something like Microsoft Research (cool) vs Microsoft (uncool).

        • by dachshund (300733)

          From the Wikipedia page, they've done work on a nuke reactor that can burn uranium waste or thorium,

          It's unclear how original their research is, though. From the brief article I read on them a few years ago, they had patented several inventions related to Thorium power without actually developing any prototypes. Meanwhile, there were actual companies in Russia developing real Thorium reactors. It's got to be awfully depressing to pour millions into developing a working prototype only to find that some

    • by noidentity (188756) on Friday December 10, 2010 @01:47PM (#34515616)

      I work part-time at Intellectual Ventures Labs, which enables me to get out of the house and exercise the nerdy predilections that I used to exercise at Blue Origin. This is a sort of all-purpose science lab and thing-making facility where new inventions are developed and then locked away for 20 years.

      There, fixed that for you Mr. Stephenson.

  • Abuses of the law lead to reform.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Abuses of the law lead to reform.

      While I'm sure your world is all shiny and pretty, and I don't want to spoil it for you ... I'm not convinced what you say is true.

      "Intellectual Property" is what America is betting the whole farm on -- I fail to see how it would be possible to rein in the law with regards to copyright, patents, and what-not.

      Do you see anything falling into the public domain that was ever published by an American company? Do you see anything to do with "fair use" being upheld? Do you see a

  • Intellectual Vultures more like.
  • They don't do any good anymore. Little inventors cannot even hope to sue a company like Intellectual Ventures unless they can find a lawyer willing--and able--to last years of litigation against the kind of legal resources such a company can focus on them. God help the poor SoB if IV retaliates by claiming infringement on half a dozen of its patents in the process of creating your own patent.

    The reason people still support them is "fairness." It's not "fair" that people have great ideas but someone else mon

    • by zQuo (1050152)
      While I think that patents can sometimes be a good thing, (e.g. pharmaceuticals where new drug development is extremely risky), the current patent system is so bogged down scrapping patents entirely may be better than what we have now: a gradual continual strangling of tech innovation. The cost and legal risks of tech innovation in America keeps on going up.

      There will be no sanity from the Patent Office while they directly benefit from patent renewal fees, fees that are the bulk of the PTO revenues. Th
  • It's obvious what their company theme song should be: Never Gonna Give You Up

  • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Friday December 10, 2010 @12:30PM (#34514834) Homepage

    Below are links to background info, but keep in mind that trolls create a tax, but they're not the big problem. They're generally not the patent holders that break standards or exclude free software projects. They're just after money, so they are parasites to the rich. The MPEG-LA patents, for example, are much more harmful (they blocked HTML5 from including a standard video format) and are held by "real" software companies.

    swpat.org is a publicly editable wiki, help welcome.

  • If any entities deserve some punitive taxation, these people and their lawyers should be it. They produce nothing and simply suck capital from the producers. How about a 90% tax rate on lawyer fees from lawsuits. Let's see how long the lawyers stick around. Oh wait - lawyers write the tax code, shit.
  • Maybe they should sue Rambus, who from what I can hear is suing everybody again.... seems like their patents might infringe on some of these patents.

  • by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Friday December 10, 2010 @02:16PM (#34515890)
    Intellectual Vultures
  • Well, we need more than that, but starting with an anti-troll law would be a great start. Such law might go something like this:

    The Jeff Foxworthy "You might be a Patent Troll"

    1. If you own a patent and have no intention of actually making something with it, ...
    2. If you have a bunch of patents and are trying to extract a bunch of money from a bunch of companies, ...
    3. If you ...?

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