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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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  • devil's advocate (Score:1, Interesting)

    by FuckingNickName ( 1362625 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:15PM (#31614570) Journal

    Someone invented something which otherwise would not have existed, and in return they got paid money in a chain of payments which ended up with this company. That's how capitalism works - the free trade of commodities.

    The problem lies with the original inventor, if you want: the guy who wanted to be paid for an idea, rather than giving it to the public domain. How many good ideas have you given to the public domain, reader?

  • Information Economy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by oldhack ( 1037484 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:16PM (#31614598)
    Information economy only works if you have mega army to enforce it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:19PM (#31614672)

    Sorry that you went in that direction. You are already fucked since this won't work in the long run.

  • Yet another reason (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pnewhook ( 788591 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:23PM (#31614736)

    Yet another reason to completely scrap the patent process as the original intent of patents has been completely corrupted by lawyers.

  • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:23PM (#31614744) []

    And, and a tip of my hat to Microsoft "innovation".

  • by magsol ( 1406749 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:30PM (#31614888) Journal
    This might be naive on my part, but I would argue that the spirit of patents is to protect the inventor's innovation, which in theory would take the form of some sort of product. The protection would allow the inventor to reap the benefits of his/her brilliance.

    Essentially, making the invention process more "fair". But I think what we have instead is a system that's far from the spirit in which it was created.

    I'm not necessarily saying that's the right way to do things (Nietzsche would have a field day). I'm just saying that's how I see the current system trying to work...and failing miserably.
  • by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:31PM (#31614912)

    Whenever a capitalist talks about "adding value" or "creating wealth", they're really talking about creating scarcity. "Intellectual property" is the purest form of artificial scarcity, restricting the use of ideas, which otherwise can travel freely from mind to mind with negligible actual cost. A more mundane example is the way building houses drives up the cost of property by reducing the pool of available (or at least desirable) undeveloped property. (The housing bubble pushed this past the point of viability by building more houses than there were buyers for, but between inevitable population growth and the physical decline of abandoned houses, the situation will eventually return to normal.)

    We end up with deceptive terms like "creating wealth" because few people would be enthusiastic about creating scarcity except, of course, for the people who already own the commodity being made scarce. Everyone else just ends up paying more for less. Intellectual property is particularly egregious in this sense because the scarcity is completely artificial, as opposed to real estate, where there really is a limited supply of raw material. Ideas, even good ones, are cheap and plentiful and very seldom actually unique; "ownership" is rather arbitrarily awarded to the company that has the resources to afford the patent process and gets it through the door first, with a strong incentive to do so as vaguely and broadly as possible so as to throttle as much actual creativity as possible.

  • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:36PM (#31615008) Journal
    I'm not defending IP hoarders, and I think the general idea that Intellectual Ventures is pursuing is abhorrent, but they do indeed make things. Two weeks ago, Slashdot had a front-page article about a mosquito-killing laser system [] intended to be placed remotely and autonomously wipe out mosquitos, in an attempt to reduce malaria. Intellectual Ventures designed and built the functional system, which they've displayed in several places.

    If anyone would like to read a somewhat middle-of-the-road (neither "IV IS GREAT!" nor "IP is the DEVIL!") discussion of Intellectual Ventures, The New Yorker did a somewhat in-depth article on them last year [] that I thought was interesting. I (being of the IP is the DEVIL! mindset) don't think he addressed the problems to society at large with having companies that primarily chew up intellectual advancement space by pre-emptive patenting. But, on the other hand, patents are time-limited, and if they patent lots and lots of stuff that just isn't feasible given current tech, in 20 years when it IS feasible, there will be prior art and the areas won't be patentable, so that could be a plus.

  • What if... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:42PM (#31615114) Homepage

    What if you could only own a patent if you manufactured something that used it? That would mean old unused patents would become public domain once they weren't needed (as determined by the market - if nobody was buying things that used it, and nobody made anything that used it, then the inventor could not hold the patent) Similarly, it means no one could buy a patent unless they were actively using it. It would remain with the original owner, or revert to the public domain if they went out of business.

    I guess you might need protections then, to keep companies from just destroying another company to force the patents into the public domain. That could get sticky.

    Could we do this with copyrights too? Ex: If you stop selling a book or piece of music, or stop selling a piece of software, it becomes public domain. That would help a lot with old video games. Hmm... what about art, where the artist doesn't want to make copies. Hmm....

    Thoughts anyone?

  • by Absolut187 ( 816431 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:53PM (#31615308) Homepage

    It's a legitimate issue in the technology sector.

    I strongly agree.

    Obviously the intent of my post was to poke fun at the level of discourse here on /., not to discourage discourse altogether. As a patent attorney, I find the level of discourse here is usually comprised of knee-jerk, anti-patent rhetoric that is not particularly well thought-out.

    Intellectual Ventures who, given that they don't produce anything per se, exist almost exclusively to stifle innovation

    Look. Patent law 101:

    It goes without saying that patents stifle innovation in the short term. So it would be nice if people would stop saying that as if they expect a cookie. Its obvious. Everyone knows that. All a patent lets you do is sue people. That's it. Sue people. Nothing else. One government-issued right. It doesn't even guarantee you the right to practice your invention. Just sue people. That's it. I get it. I really do.

    A LONG time ago, people realized that good inventions will be copied.
    Also, R&D is expensive.
    SO, why do R&D when you can just copy?
    If you let everyone copy, nobody does any R&D.
    Or maybe they do some reduced amount of R&D and try to keep it secret.

    The founding fathers put the Progress Clause in the U.S. Constitution for a reason.
    The realized that innovation is generally good for society in the long-term, so they wanted to incentize R&D, and incentivize public disclosure of inventions. Inventions increase the size of the pie. Look at our standard of living in the U.S. How did it get so high?

    Sometimes the government offers cash prizes. But how much should we offer? Which inventions should have cash prizes? How can we offer cash prizes if we don't even know what the next invention is?

    Turns out, government is really bad at predicting and valuing inventions. So they decided to issue patents instead, and let the free market figure it out. So we just give people the exclusive right to their invention for a short time (i.e. the right to sue) and we let them sell or license the inventions. Even to "patent trolls."

    That's the patent system folks. A short-term pain in the arse for a long-term net gain.
    20 years from filing, which usually results in about a 17 year enforceable term.
    Then it becomes public domain and anyone can do it.

    So please: stop pointing out that it is a (short-term) pain in the arse as if that were insightful.
    It's not.

    Not that any mods will actually read this far down, but feel free to mod me -1 troll now.

  • by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted AT slashdot DOT org> on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:54PM (#31615312)

    I don’t know how it is in the US, but in Germany, if you don’t actually use a patent, then after a specific time, your patent automatically becomes void.
    This is to stop people who aren’t serious about doing something with it. Because then, the original point of the patent goes away.

  • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:57PM (#31615358)

    Unfortunately the "reduction to practice" requirement was completely gutted in 1995 by an absurd bit of legal fiction called "constructive reduction to practice." Constructive reduction to practice: "[O]ccurs upon the filing of a patent application on the claimed invention." Brunswick Corp. v. U.S., 34 Fed. Cl. 532, 584 (1995). In other words, as soon as you write it down and file it, no matter how loopy/insane/impossible it may be in the real world, you have "constructively reduced" your patent to practice.

    Sometimes legal terms are obscure because of long history and obsolete words; sometimes legal terms are obscure because of outré definitions of common words; and sometimes legal terms are batshit crazy.

    This is one of the latter times...

  • Re:devil's advocate (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Arthur Grumbine ( 1086397 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:59PM (#31615406) Journal

    Reasonable timeframe, reasonable period of time?

    Heck, since we're using weasel words anyway, let's just reduce all laws to:"You are free to do anything as long as it's reasonable.

    I agree with you about the ambiguity of the parent's proposal. How about - the life of a patent is halved with each transfer of ownership? This is unambiguous and severely cripples any potential for patent re-selling, while still retaining significant value for the 1st buyer to make money off of (allowing for inventors to sell their inventions and continue to invent instead of being forced to produce their invention themselves), if the buyer is actually ready/capable to bring the technology/product to market.

  • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:02PM (#31615458)

    What does that site offer that Wikipedia lacks? On a wiki about software patents I would expect to find a list of the patents companies hold, for example. That appears to be encyclopedic information, which is exactly what Wikipedia is. I've seen a couple links to it posted here, by you or someone else, so I'm just curious what it brings to the discussion that isn't already there.

  • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:11PM (#31615626)

    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.

    I don't have a problem with patent-only companies. Or rather, I dislike patent-only companies and hate patent trolls, but that's only because of the issues I have with patents more generally. As long as patents exist and are legal, it makes perfect sense (and is completely legitimate) for companies to spring up that deal exclusively in patents. In the same way that since stocks exist, are legal, and are ascribed value, it makes perfect sense for companies to spring up that deal only in buying and selling stock, without "actually making" anything in particular. The law ascribes value to patents, so companies trading in that particular value are legitimate. In principle, secondary (non-research/non-manufacturing) companies purchasing patents is just a way that the patent system achieves its goal of incentivising invention: inventors are more likely to invent/patent when they know there is a market for their invention/patent.

    So the question really becomes whether the legally-protected constructs (stocks, copyrights, patents, etc.) are really legitimate things in the first place. I think a pretty good case can be made for stocks being a good thing (within a regulated framework). I think patents are, currently, way out of control... but that's not the fault of patent-holding companies per se. Too much value is being put in to really weak patents. The law needs to tighten-up the definitions and grant far fewer patents. So let's keep up the pressure for patent reform... but direct that pressure towards the patent office and lawmakers. It's wasted effort to be mad at companies for doing what they will always do: making as much money as possible based on existing laws and regulation. (The ability of companies to actually change the law is a huge problem, mind you... but a discussion for another day.)

  • by sysut1 ( 1200969 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:23PM (#31615834)

    If you let everyone copy, nobody does any R&D

    Ah, but this is not even remotely certain. Actually, several economic papers give documented facts about how patents actually discourage innovation. (I remember that one of them was linked to in a recent discussion, but I don't have the time to search now)

  • by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:28PM (#31615932) Homepage Journal

    ``I wouldn't call a company that does R&D and licenses the heck out of its work "King of the Patent Trolls.''

    What is ARM []'s business model again? Are they intellectual property trolls? They certainly seem to be helping to bring a lot of good technology to the world.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:34PM (#31616024) Homepage

    The book mentioned is copyrighted: []

    © Michele Bouldrin and Daniel K. Levine 2008.
    This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exemption and the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:43PM (#31616184)


    Information economy NEVER works. It was complete bullshit. Manufacturing is everything.

    If you were alive during the Fall of 2008 and cannot see that, then please do not vote, do not procreate, and do not communicate with anyone else's children.

  • Re:What if... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Absolut187 ( 816431 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @04:50PM (#31617432) Homepage

    So you're ok with that.

    OK, now pretend that the manufacturer tells me to "fuck off" stops making royalty to me.
    Under your rules, I'm not allowed to sue them for patent infringement because I don't actually manufacture anything, correct?

  • No soul required. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @05:53PM (#31618312)

    The main requirement for entering this business--inventing things--is a complete lack of a soul (or conscience, if you'd rather).

    It is pure greed and power mongering the way things stand and in the end the result is LESS innovation.

    When I was 20, I used to do Q/A for a company that made lancets (a device to prick the skin to draw a drop of blood for analysis, usually blood sugar levels). One day I realized that there was a better way. The device I was inspecting daily had over 30 parts and ended up costing the retail customer around $35. They still had to purchase disposable tips that were one-use only and had to be safely discarded so as not to infect others.

    In less then a week I had a flawlessly-working prototype of a disposable, single-use device that not only was sterile (didn't rely on packaging to achieve), but also cost less then $.10 to make and had ONE moving part (for a total of three parts in its entirety) and was completely safe to simply throw away (the needle that did the actual pricking was drawn back inside the case after it did it's thing), making it particularly attractive to hospitals.

    I tried to shop the idea to my employer who seemed totally unimpressed and never brought it up again. I then tried to shop it to Becton-Dickenson (the worlds largest maker of syringes) and was pretty much told they didn't accept submissions from outside their own R/D dept.

    A few months ago my mother hands me one. The device I designed. It turns out the doctor she saw that day had used it on her and she decided to keep it and show it to me. It was essentially my design with the sterility factor removed. They relied on the packaging to keep the device sterile until used.

    After some research, it turns out that not only did my ex-employer have his name on the patent for it, but also the guy I spoke to on the phone at Becton-Dickinson. They had somehow both found out the other knew about the idea, waited 7 years to patent (since I did not patent it in that time) then simply co-submitted the patent, then went into production. They sell it to this day.

    In short, they could have written me a check for $5k (I was hurting for tuition back then and could REALLY have used it), had full rights to the idea and not had to wait 7 years. Instead, they CHOSE to simply fuck me over. Nice guys.

    Now, I ask you slash-dotters, what fucking incentive do I have to EVER bother trying my hand at inventing again? The knowledge that my idea at least made it to people that can use it?

"My sense of purpose is gone! I have no idea who I AM!" "Oh, my God... You've.. You've turned him into a DEMOCRAT!" -- Doonesbury