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Patents Your Rights Online

Beware the King of the Patent Trolls 286

superapecommando writes "If you haven't heard of Intellectual Ventures, you may want to check this out. Set up by ex-Microsoftie Nathan Myhrvold, with investments from Microsoft among others, it is basically a patenting machine – filing and buying them in huge quantities. Note that it doesn't actually use these patents – except to threaten people with. In other words, Intellectual Ventures is a patent troll – or, rather the King of the Patent Trolls. So I was interested to come across this extremely positive blog post on the company. That it is so positive is hardly surprising, since the blog is called 'Tangible IP,' and subtitled 'ipVA's blog on adding value through intellectual property.' Nonetheless, it provides valuable insights into the mindset of fans of intellectual monopolies. Here's what it says about Intellectual Ventures: 'They are an invention house, and have adopted and reinvented leading edge patent strategies to create a portfolio of their own IP which, in its own, would be of high high worth.' They don't invent anything in the proper, deep sense of the word; they merely file and buy patents – with no intent of ever making stuff or solving real-life problems."
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Beware the King of the Patent Trolls

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  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:20PM (#31614680)

    Their Wikipedia entry [] implies that they actually do a decent bit of R&D themselves. I wouldn't call a company that does R&D and licenses the heck out of its work "King of the Patent Trolls." Of course, that assumes that the Wikipedia entry is accurate and all that. I can handle a company making money off of pure R&D. What I cannot tolerate is a company that makes money off of patents that it bought from someone else when it has neither a R&D base nor a manufacturing base.

  • by DdJ ( 10790 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:22PM (#31614734) Homepage Journal

    I don't know if anyone else around here remembers the state of slate/pen computing in the mid-to-late 90s, but there used to be a company called "General Magic" that made a touch-based graphical operating system for handhelds named "Magic Cap".

    As the company kinda fell apart, there was an effort by some of the developers to open source it. But their intellectual property had been sold to Intellectual Ventures, because of some agent technology their stuff included. (Basically, imagine setting up a search on the handheld, and then briefly connecting to the internet to let your "search agent" run around inside a cloud, analyzing data and performing calculations. Then you reconnect and your agent comes back to you and presents the stuff on your handheld.)

    Intellectual Ventures never really wanted most of the Magic Cap stuff. But they've made it so difficult to disentangle that the developers eventually gave up. Here's a writeup from one of the people involved. []

    General Magic made a graphical OS designed for handheld touch-based use, not based on a port of a desktop OS. And the people who built it tried to open-soruce it, but were blocked by Intellectual Ventures. If things had worked out differently, we might have had some really interesting work going on in the slate area long before the advent of the iPad.

    (Heck. I'd love to run MagicCap on an iPad. It's the perfect hardware platform for it. I have three MagicCap devices myself.)

  • by MaskedSlacker ( 911878 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:23PM (#31614738)


    Parent post filled with misinformed bullshit.

    The US remains the leading manufacturer in the world by value: []

  • Re:Holy Summary Typo (Score:5, Informative)

    by schmidt349 ( 690948 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:23PM (#31614746)

    I hate idiot grammar trolls who don't understand that International English sometimes works differently from the American dialect. It's confusing to many English speakers from outside the US to use a naked modal verb without an auxiliary, and thus they use expressions like "I can do" or "I might do" rather than "I can" or "I might." In these cases "do" marks the absence of a true auxiliary. It's by no means ungrammatical or even unusual syntax.

  • by ciaran_o_riordan ( 662132 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:25PM (#31614790) Homepage

    Please help document there here: [] is a way to build a wealth of info for when we need it.

  • by beakerMeep ( 716990 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:28PM (#31614846)
    Instead of clicking through to the patent blog, here's the economist article that started the debate. []
  • Re:devil's advocate (Score:4, Informative)

    by beakerMeep ( 716990 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:31PM (#31614928)
    Replying to myself as I found more details in the economist article about the actual trolling activity this company engages in:

    The idea of raising money to invest explicitly in creating patents is not new, Mr Myhrvold notes: that is what Thomas Edison did. But firms such as his will seek to institutionalise the process so it is not dependent only on a single inventor. Intellectual Ventures has 650 employees, not all of them patent attorneys, and as well as buying patents it develops ideas in-house. In 2009 it applied for about 450 patents for its own inventions—more than Boeing, 3M or Toyota—putting it among the world’s top 50 patent-filers.

    Read more in the Economist article. []

  • Re:Holy Summary Typo (Score:3, Informative)

    by Aranykai ( 1053846 ) <slgonser@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:50PM (#31615236)

    Regardless of regional colloquialisms, the entire summary is poorly written. Grammatically correct perhaps, but lacking in readability.

  • by MaskedSlacker ( 911878 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:53PM (#31615298) [] Cites a Federal Reserve Report for last November.

    For the year 2008, the Federal Reserve estimates that the value of U.S. manufacturing output was about $3.7 trillion (in 2008 dollars). If the U.S. manufacturing sector were a separate economy, with its own GDP, it would be tied with Germany as the world's fourth-richest economy. The GDPs are: U.S. ($14.2 trillion), Japan ($4.9 trillion), China ($4.3 trillion), U.S. manufacturing ($3.7 trillion), Germany ($3.7 trillion), France ($2.9 trillion) and the United Kingdom ($2.7 trillion).

    More data from the same Federal Reserve report from last November: []

    Manufacturing has seen the same changes over the last forty years that agriculture saw over the previous two hundred: Productivity per worker rose so much that fewer and fewer workers were needed to produce just as much stuff. This freed those workers to do other things, increasing the wealth of society. So manufacturing jobs have fallen--but we produce more than we ever have, and more than anyone else, including China. This is a GOOD thing, because it frees those workers to do other things, producing more goods and services for society as a whole.

  • by Jer ( 18391 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:00PM (#31615414) Homepage

    Don't forget, though, that patent protection is a government intervention into the free market for a specific social purpose that society has deemed to be important (i.e. spurring innovation by rewarding innovators with a guarantee of return on investment). They are not natural outcomes of a free market system, they are in fact a specific counter to a problem that the free market creates (i.e. tragedy of the commons). As a government-granted construct they need to be watchdogged very carefully because they are ripe for exploitation by individuals and corporations who would subvert their intent (spurring innovation) to maximize their own profits (as the market model insists that they should).

    That's what this article alleges - that companies (and this company in particular) are subverting the implementation of the patent system in the US to maximize their own profits. This isn't a natural outcome of the free market, this is the exploitation of a particular social-engineering tool historically used by governments to manipulate markets in a way that is seen as beneficial to society as a whole.

  • Re:devil's advocate (Score:3, Informative)

    by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:50PM (#31616314)
    I don't know the numbers for the US, but in Europe, the average lifetime of a patent is 8 years - US numbers are probably not that different, as it costs an increasing yearly fee to keep patents alive. Patents do not suffer from repeated lifetime extension like copyright does. The maximum duration of 20 years for patents is only realized for really profitable stuff. If you want to rally against endless IP protection - target copyright.
  • Lucrative business. (Score:3, Informative)

    by MaWeiTao ( 908546 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:57PM (#31616438)

    Owning patents is a very lucrative business beyond merely patent trolling. I've worked with a number of clients who own a bunch of patents, ranging from a handful up to a few hundred. They're routinely traded, sold or licensed. Sometimes I'm left with the impression that it's like trading Pokemon or baseball cards. Its basically trading in information. In one particular case the patents all fall under a range of related of technologies and services which the company is actively developing. In other cases it seems like investors pick and choose patents they consider to have potential and develop the technology to a point where it can be sold off for a hefty sum to another company.

    To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about it. In many of these cases they end up doing something with the patents but there's something about this that leaves me with the impression that it's violating the spirit and intent of the patent system. But one thing is certain, we're unlikely to see any substantial and profound changes in the patent system because too many people have too much to gain from the system in its current form. And I think one of the underlying problems here is the litigious nature of this country. Perhaps we need a loser-pays system introduced?

  • by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @04:05PM (#31616580)
    Sorry, you are mistaken here - you think of trademarks, which have to be used. There is no such clause for patents. (Disclaimer: Currently working at a patent law firm in Germany. IANAL, and especially not yours, this is no legal advice;)
  • by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @04:08PM (#31616648)

    Whenever a capitalist talks about "adding value" or "creating wealth", they're really talking about creating scarcity.

    Yes, that's true for companies that build "brands", rather than making a better product.

    But, for Adam Smithites, anything you do to a product to make it more salable is "adding value."

    For instance, you could grow trees, but most people don't have a use for a full grown tree. If you cut it into firewood, you've added value to the tree, and more people will pay you more money for the firewood, than for a full sized tree. If you instead turn the trees into fine furniture, you can get paid even more.

  • by Magnus Pym ( 237274 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @04:33PM (#31617146)

    These numbers are bogus. They include products made abroad by nominally American companies. All the cars produced by GM in China are counted as part of this. If you remove the offshore production, the GDP and manufacturing has been in decline for more than a decade. This has been exposed multiple times in the business press. BusinessWeek had an excellent article on this about a year back.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @09:43PM (#31620786)

    You misunderstand the objections to patents. Your argument is that they stifle innovation in the short-term in return for more innovation in the long-term, and if you were right, it would indeed be a silly complaint. But that isn't true of a lot of patents these days. They ONLY stifle innovation — the theoretical effect of spurring R&D doesn't happen in a lot of cases. In fact, they retard R&D by making it increasingly risky. These patents aren't meant to protect the owner from copycats, but from people who unknowingly make something even vaguely similar to the idea behind the supposed "invention." These patents don't merely grant you protection from somebody copying your invention, but from anybody creating practically anything in the same market for the lifetime of that patent.

The moon may be smaller than Earth, but it's further away.