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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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  • Holy Summary Typo (Score:2, Insightful)

    by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <> on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:17PM (#31614622) Homepage Journal

    "If you haven't heard of Intellectual Ventures, you will do.

    That was the first line of the summary. Really, can't slashdot get an editor? Or even someone with journalism experience who would know to read something over before putting it on the front page? This story could not possibly have been so time-sensitive that it needed to bypass some common sense editing.

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:18PM (#31614654) Journal

    There's a middle ground between 'every idea or work of art is free' and 'we've patented inspirating oxygenated air through an orifice, now pay up.' And no, it is NOT how capitalism works, it is how government granted monopolies work, that's about as far from real capitalism as you can get. As intellectual property is imaginary, made up by people using legislation, not the free market, for OUR benefit, not the inventor's, WE get to decide what's acceptable and what's not.

  • by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:25PM (#31614796)

    How about something more along the lines of:

    If I invent something, I should be free to parlay that IP into as much profit as I want to, through whatever means suit me (including selling to an IP house), within some reasonable timeframe.

    Similarly, if I buy somebody else's invention (as an IP house), I should have the ability to control that IP to protect my investment for some reasonable period of time, and so long as I can prove I am actively working to realize value from that IP and I'm not just sitting on it in order to stifle innovation.


  • by magsol ( 1406749 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:27PM (#31614828) Journal
    It's a legitimate issue in the technology sector. All we keep hearing from political pundits and professors in the classroom is that innovation will drive the economy, lead you out of your bankrupt and unemployed community, solve world hunger and cure cancer.

    And yet the patent system is structured in such a way that encourages this sort of corporate behavior, culminating in companies like Intellectual Ventures who, given that they don't produce anything per se, exist almost exclusively to stifle innovation. And they're making a truckload of profit in doing so.

    Yes, there are certainly other issues that still need working out - can software really be patented, is something intangible really able to belong to someone, should monopolies be regulated, WHEN IS THE US PATENT OFFICE GETTING THEIR ACT TOGETHER (sorry, fingers slipped there), and countless others. But this would appear to be the poster child for everything that's wrong with the current patent system.
  • Re:jebus' advocate (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:28PM (#31614854)

    Profit, or payment? They aren't the same thing, you know. Fair payment for honest work is not evil. Unfair profit from someone else's work is at least a little evil. And there is a middle ground between giving it all away and lazy, parasitic, rent-seeking behavior.

    Copyright, trademark, and patent rights are defined by the government here in America. They are not natural rights. Thus, it is up to us to decide how to use them to our advantage. That is why we created them: for OUR advantage, not for the artists and inventors. And certainly not for money grubbing parasites who have spent their lives doing nothing more creative than shuffling numbers in an accounting ledger.

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:40PM (#31615090) Journal

    Wrong. The only reason patents and copyright exist is government intervention. Without that, I could sell someone else's work as my own. We wrote the law, without which, there would be no such thing as copyright or patents. Without a law, real and personal property would still exist as such.

    As a voter, I get to vote for representatives who will define copyright and patents as I think they should be defined. Read the constitution and tell me why we even have patents and copyright? To advance the arts and sciences. Not to profit inventors and artists, that's just a side effect.

  • Re:jebus' advocate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ircmaxell ( 1117387 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:43PM (#31615134) Homepage
    The question I have is how many of these things are down to earth inventions, and how many are just academic ideas that they just decided to patent? When I say academic idea, I mean something along the lines of "Hrm, an observer model would be good for notifying an application about a change in a sensor". Even if nobody had done it before, does that make it an invention that should be patentable? And what about the delineation between method and implementation? You can increase the power band of a car engine by using variable valve timing. Should that in and of itself be patentable? What about the specific method that uses oil under pressure to laterally move the camshaft along a threaded "valley" to alter the timing (Basically Honda's V-Tech)? One is an idea/concept, and the other is an implementation. IMHO, an idea is useless without a specific implementation, and ideas should not be patentable. The problem with this, is that most of the software patents I've seen patent the idea, not the implementation. Now sure, with software the line between idea and implementation is much finer, but that's more of an argument towards the patent-ability of software in general, not what constitutes an implementation...
  • by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:23PM (#31615830) Journal

    To me, what separates "patent troll" from "people with cool ideas and patents on them" is that one of them markets their product to people interested in developing them, and the other waits until someone else develops their product and jumps out and says "surprise!" More accurately, trolls try to claim the treble damages reward for "knowingly" infringing on the patent, despite the fact that the first anyone heard of the patent is the C&D after the product is already done and on the market. To keep the suspense up, trolls typically stretch patents in ways that nobody could have anticipated, and usually rely on the brain dead patent "continuation" mechanism to keep a patent application alive while adjusting it to fit what would otherwise be called prior art (PanIP's legendary rampage through the e-commerce sphere at the turn of the century was based on a patent "filed" in 1994 that was a continuation of a patent filed in 1984, meaning that all prior art had to be dated before 1984, even though the patent claimed to have invented things that were in use by others in the decade between).

    I don't know how this company does their business, but [] links to a blog at [] when you want to find out more about their patents. I'm sure if I put "shoot mosquitoes" or "mosquito laser" into google, I'll find that they've invented this, even if I have to "research" past the first page of hits (heck, they're even on the first page for "mosquito zapper").

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:29PM (#31615940) Journal

    You don't understand the difference between rival and non-rival goods, do you? How can you share your invention and protect it from everyone, everywhere around the globe, who will copy it? Please try to think these things through before wasting my time with silly arguments that simply don't work. I only have to protect one house or piece of land. I have to protect every copy of my art or invention from everyone who ever sees it.

    I'm not going to explain economics 101 to you just so we can have an intelligent debate. Patents are not the physical thing being patented. Copyright is not a book. Selling a book is different than selling the copyright on that book.

    It's easier for you to steal my car than bootleg my albums? WTF? Why would it even be a problem bootlegging my albums? Will, I don't know, THE GOVERNMENT come and do something about it? You aren't even trying to be rational now. You are just throwing words around, hoping I'll get bored or frustrated and wander off, aren't you?

    It is not 'merely' the constitutionalist viewpoint, it is the supreme law of the land, sorry. If you want to change the constitution, you are welcome to try.

    To be more clear, the legitimacy of governance derives from the agreement of the people being governed. Without that agreement, there is only tyranny, not governance. "Less decisions by the masses" means more tyranny and less freedom, why would the masses agree to that?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:35PM (#31616028)

    Indeed, there are ways to "add value" that don't involve scarcity. For example, pasteurizing milk adds value, and not through "making raw milk scarce".

    However, the grandparent still has a good point in that there are industries and business-plans that revolve around creating scarcity or cornering a resource.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:38PM (#31616072)
    Nathan Myhrvold is a friend of Bill Gates. They wrote a book together, The Road Ahead [].

    It seems to me that abusiveness is their business. They feel they have to be against something to make money. They scrupulously avoid doing something positive.

    The book was an example of that. It was amazing. It seemed as though several editors went through the book carefully and removed any information that might be of interest. I say that because I don't think anyone could write a rough draft of such a long book that was entirely free of anything useful.
  • by time961 ( 618278 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:42PM (#31616154)
    I haven't crossed paths (yet) with IV, but I do believe that they are fundamentally evil. They're a natural consequence of bad laws and legal practice.

    They like to describe their model as "Hey, Mr. Inventor, we'll buy your patents, or help you patent your stuff, and even pay you to work on it". This approach is appealing in principle, and to be sure, it does put some money in the hands of those inventors.

    The problem is that what the Patent Office treats as an "invention" is almost completely unrelated to what constitutes an "invention" in the real world of commerce. A patent-office invention is just an idea. It doesn't have to be manufacturable, it doesn't have to be a viable product, it even doesn't have to work. It just has to be interesting and complicated enough that a relatively unskilled patent examiner cannot find a good reason to deny a patent. And since the examiner has only limited time (small number of hours) to examine each invention, and he's goaled on patents issued, not denied, well, pretty much anything can be patented.

    (When I refer to examiners as "relatively unskilled", I don't mean that they're dummies--but rather, that they are generally less practiced in the art of patent management than the high-powered patent attorneys who craft the applications they're reading. Indeed, an awful lot of good examiners end up turning into those high-paid attorneys, after taking a few yeas of "training" at the Patent Office.)

    A real-world invention, on the other hand, has to be something that makes money. It has to work. It has to be manufacturable. It has to be sufficiently well-developed as a product that people want to buy it. And getting to there from the idea stage requires real resources: money to pay engineers, money to advertise and market, etc. And ultimately, of course, a real-world invention has to make a profit: the costs ought not to exceed the revenues.

    So what IV is mostly doing is creating or buying patent-office inventions and using those to extract money from entrepreneurs and companies that are trying to create real-world inventions. They're a tax on the real resources that are required to turn an invention into a product, and in that role, they far more often prevent useful products from reaching the market, by increasing their development costs too much for a profitable result. Sure, there are a few poster-child inventions where IV has invested their own resources, or where someone else's profit is feasible even at IV's royalty rates, but those cases are rare--and exist for press releases.

    IV's costs are minimal, because they mostly just get smart people together to brainstorm. The ideas are copied down by patent attorneys, turned into applications by IV's legal team, and pushed through the Patent Office. Once issued, a patent is presumptively valid, and fighting it is a crapshoot. So if IV comes to you, you either license or fold, because they have more and better lawyers. They generally do nothing to turn an IV patent into a real-world invention, and they bear none of those real costs.

    It is a brilliant business model. At minimal costs, IV exploits a fundamental and likely unfixable problem with the patent process, namely that most modern inventions are too sophisticated, complex, and interrelated for the process to address--yet the government guarantees a monopoly, so you have to play within the system, or be subject to patent litigation that is completely unpredictable (except for its multi-million dollar cost). The patent "reform" proposals floating around just nibble at the edges; the system itself is fundamentally broken.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:49PM (#31616286)

    Look at our standard of living in the U.S. How did it get so high?

    By blatently ignoring all the european and british patents and copyrights 100 years ago :-)

  • In the hierarchical world-view, it is not about how much you have. It is about how much more you have relative to everyone else. In a hierarchical world view, there is no such thing as 'win-win' because that keeps the relative positions unchanged, and that is a loss. All their are, are winners and losers. The game is played in order to force the losers into admitting they are losers, and acknowledging the winners. It is not played to accumulate wealth, that is just a means to an end.

  • by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @04:19PM (#31616814)

    They *paid* money to someone for their invention. Someone, supposedly, figured out something interesting, and, for whatever reason, decided to take his money and run rather than let the invention stagnate.

    Did they pay more than the cost of getting the patent in the first place? Can someone make a living selling patents to companies like IV?

    Why this matters: If you can make a living creating stuff, then selling the patents to people who actually build stuff, then the patent system mostly works. If they are only finding almost dead patent holders, crushed by the system, offering them pennies on the dollar, then the system could use some tweaking.

    An amazing number of inventors died penniless and insane. Even Thomas Jefferson died deeply in debt. What does that say about our society that the people who make the most profound impact on our lives are often the least rewarded.

  • by Necron69 ( 35644 ) <.jscott.farrow. .at.> on Thursday March 25, 2010 @05:01PM (#31617572)

    Ok, so per your argument, Apple hasn't "created wealth" with the iPhone, they've really just created an "iPhone scarcity"? Someone had better tell Steve Jobs and Apple shareholders this...

    While I'm not a fan of patent trolls, economics is not a zero sum game and wealth is most definitely something that can be created (or destroyed). Here's some reading for you to start fixing your woeful lack of education on this subject: []


"Yeah, but you're taking the universe out of context."