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Intellectual Ventures' Patent Protection Racket 152

David Gerard writes "Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures doesn't sue people over patents, because that would be patent trolling! No, instead they just threaten to sell the patent to a known litigious patent troll. So that's all right then. Timothy Lee details how using patents to crush profitable innovation works in practice, and concludes: 'In thinking about how to reform the patent system, a good yardstick would be to look for policy changes that would tend to put Myhrvold and his firm out of business.'"
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Intellectual Ventures' Patent Protection Racket

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  • by RichardJenkins ( 1362463 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:59PM (#29358921)
    I suppose to my mind, a patent troll is a person/company that acquires broad or general patents with the intent to extort money from companies, or who creates patents to sit on them in case they become applicable to something widespread and popular. Seems to fit the summary nicely.
  • I wrote that text and it was passed unaltered, so blame me for the pissed-off tone.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @07:25PM (#29359247)

    But do remember, this is the guy that thought that Microsoft should (by virtue of being Microsoft evidently) take a cut of every internet transaction. Evidently now he thinks that "intellectual ventures" should do the same. Looks to me like just another intellectual property leach who wants a cut of pretty much everything just because he thinks he's so smart he deserves it.

  • by Kalriath ( 849904 ) * on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @07:39PM (#29359397)

    ** It's off-topic I know, but I always felt like forcing the entirety of the Windows source code to be public domain would have been the best punishment for Microsoft after they were convicted of abusing their monopoly. What better punishment for an abusive monopolist than to give anyone and everyone the ability to directly compete with them on their own turf? It's certainly a neater solution than meaningless fines or any of the proposals to split them up into multiple companies.

    It's actually relatively on-topic. Anyway, what you're suggesting would almost certainly violate the Berne Convention. And I'm pretty sure your government is legally obliged to adhere to international treaties.

  • Re:Shorter lifetime? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @07:48PM (#29359489)

    Patents before 1995 expired 17 years after issuance, not 20 years from filing as is the current model, so your math is off. Depending on the patent, Bell could have had laser patents with terms well into the 80s and beyond using Lemelson's submarine technique (which is why patent term-basis were adjusted)

  • Re:All talk... (Score:5, Informative)

    by scamper_22 ( 1073470 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:09PM (#29359647)

    The order of importance:

    Government workers > Lawyers > corporations > citizens

  • Re:Shorter lifetime? (Score:5, Informative)

    by RingDev ( 879105 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:21PM (#29359753) Homepage Journal

    Which is still a poor point, as per your own example, 22+ years expired between the creation and the popularization of the invention. Even under modern patent law with a 20 year monopoly, the patent STILL would have expired before the could recoup the R&D costs.

    The purpose of IP isn't to secure the long term viability of corporations, it is to give a short term market advantage to invetors in exchange for the knowledge to become part of the public domain. The goal at the end of the day is to increase the size of the public domain, not the pocket book.


  • by ducomputergeek ( 595742 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:55PM (#29360157)

    I'd say more like 3 - 5 years, because it can take 3 years of R&D to take an idea and actually make a functioning product, let alone figure out how to mass produce said product. We have something like that we developed 3 years ago as a prototype. It's taken that long to build a functional unit at the size we wanted that was throughly tested and we're confident that it will work as advertised. That includes going down a couple paths that turned out not to work in practice.

  • Re:All talk... (Score:4, Informative)

    by russotto ( 537200 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @10:02PM (#29360765) Journal

    Never, because all the "discussion" is being done in a gigantic echo chamber that makes it get louder and louder, with no dissenting voices

    Plenty of dissenting voices. But since they've either got to defend ridiculous patents by claiming they're not ridiculous (often by insulting anyone who claims the patents are obvious extensions of existing technology), or claim the ridiculous ones are an aberration (which flies in the face of the evidence), they don't have much credibility.

    Patents were never meant to cover the raw output of brainstorming sessions. Just about any patent obtained that way is going to be non-novel, obvious, non-disclosive, or some combination of the three. But since the patent office approves them anyway, they form a barrier to getting things accomplished.

    This is exactly the sort of thing Justice Bradley was referring to when he wrote:

    "It creates a class of speculative schemers who make it their business to watch the advancing wave of improvement, and gather its foam in the form of patented monopolies, which enable them to lay a heavy tax upon the industry of the country, without contributing anything to the real advancement of the arts. It embarrasses the honest pursuit of business with fears and apprehensions of concealed liens and unknown
    liabilities lawsuits and vexatious accountings for profits made in good faith." (Atlantic Works v. Brady, 1017 U.S. 192, 200 (1882)).

  • by H4x0r Jim Duggan ( 757476 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:37PM (#29361513) Homepage Journal

        The Supreme Court's review of Bilski [] is the first time since 1981 [] that they've decided to look at the patentability of software. The Supreme Court needs facts, studies, and opinions (but only if they're
    from very respected people, which includes Timothy B. Lee). You can help gather and document these things on the public wiki:

    This is our big chance to fix the problem!

  • by IBitOBear ( 410965 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @03:02AM (#29362697) Homepage Journal

    AT&T did, in fact patent _ALL_ of their research. The difference was in another area...

    The grant of monopoly to AT&T, which funded Bell Labs, basically _forbade_ them from selling _anything_ (and so on). So AT&T made telephones and rented them as part of the service, and they licensed their Bell Labs patents for trivial amounts and so on. In particular the reciprocal in-perpetuity licensing that let Unix grow from nothing via return contributions from Berkley and Apple and everybody else would never have been, in any form, were it not for the fact that AT&T was legally prevented from being "business like" about making their developments secret. The deal was "cushy monopoly money, but everything it gets you as a company is more-or-less public because we paid for you to exist rather dearly."

    The license fee for the transistor patent was, if memory serves, one dollar ($1.00) U.S. and so on.

    And life was good until the breakup.

    See, with absolutely nobody at AT&T knowing how to _sell_ anything at all to anybody, once AT&T was no longer a state sanctioned monopoly, they had all this stuff (like UNIX) and no idea how to actually perform a "sale" via this "marketing" thingy that all the kids were so up about. Hence things like "the Unix PC" and really bizarre buy-your-phone offers and the disappearance of the _indestructible_ telephone handset. Time was, you could beat a person to death the receiver of your phone, and use the body to break their bones into neat little pieces, and not damage the thing so much that you couldn't still call someone to get together for a nice alibi party. (AT&T leased those things, so they were build to outlive the customers 8-). What we got next was cheap plastic crap that broke when you dropped it. etc.

    The only thing that the breakup did to _help_ AT&T was it let them fire a whole bunch of _useless_ and _incompetent_ union labor that had collected in their ranks. The Lilly Tomlin line "we don't care, we don't have to, we're the phone company" was very, very true and it plagued operations. Its amazing how many do-nothings got unloaded on the "baby bells" or lost their jobs outright.

    Still, it would have been better for us all if the breakup never happened, were there then some way to have the internet revolution while still having a monopoly phone company. But that would have been a fine hair to split and not have the whole thing stall.

  • More of the Story (Score:2, Informative)

    by pablos ( 122458 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @04:54AM (#29363245)

    I work at the Intellectual Ventures Lab [] where we work on inventions. While the patent system isn't ideal, we're certainly not the paragon of evil Timothy Lee makes us out to be. The invention we've invested the most in is a reactor powered by nuclear waste. We have over 30 scientists working on that now. We are developing many inventions to help eradicate malaria and have a team devoted to epidemiological modeling for that.

    Intellectual Ventures has already paid over $330MM to inventors from its licensing work. We're inventors & we love invention. We're trying to create more ways for inventors to succeed at what they're good at. - Pablos.

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