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Intellectual Ventures puts 33,000 of its patents up for full and unfettered inspection

In a major development in the debate about transparency of patent ownership in the US, Intellectual Ventures has today launched a database that will provide details of around 33,000 patent assets that the firm currently owns and manages. Since 9.00 am PST (midday EST, 5.00 pm London), interested parties have been able to visit the new Patent Finder page on IV’s website to access a fully searchable directory that gives in-depth information on 82% of the firm’s entire portfolio. This is a big step from IV, which has often been accused of a lack of transparency in the past.

More than that, though, it is a significant breakthrough for patent transparency generally. To my knowledge, apart from Microsoft no other major patent owner in the US (or anywhere else for that matter) has made it so easy to take such a detailed look inside its portfolio of rights. The move comes at a time when transparency of patent ownership has become a big political topic, with the US Patent and Trademark Office focusing on the issue, and both the Innovation Actrecently passed by the House of Representatives – and legislation tabled in the Senate demanding that there be much greater disclosure around who has interests in patents being asserted through the courts.

Previously, details have emerged about companies and other entities that have invested in IV, while last year a website published details of what it claimed were over 2,000 holding companies used by the firm. The new database, though, is the first time that IV itself has directly and publicly embraced this level of openness. My understanding is that making this move has been under discussion at Bellevue for a while; and that although there is recognition that making the database public will invite critics to search it for ammunition with which to attack the firm, there is a strong belief that, as a source told me: “This is the right thing to do.” A Q&A that was published at the same time as the database went live, explains:

As one of the largest global patent holders in the world, we are often the subject of curiosity. Customers want to see what is currently available to license or buy and others are curious about our holdings and our intentions. While much of this information is available through various global patent office databases, we have decided to assemble the majority of our portfolio in a single place, providing our customers and others who are interested a convenient, publically available list of our assets.

Of course one thing that critics will immediately pick up on is that IV is holding back information on close to 20% of its portfolio. The Q&A states:

The list is a snapshot. It may lag behind our actual holdings due to the time it takes to complete the intake of newly acquired patents and to protect our current and emerging investment strategies. The list also excludes patents where public disclosure poses confidentiality concerns such as contractual obligations we owe to sellers or licensors. Potential customers who are interested in learning more about our portfolio can do so by contacting our licensing team.

My source told me that over time IV expects (though cannot guarantee) that the percentage of the portfolio out in the open will rise. But in any case, the thing to remember here is that 82% is a whole lot more than 0%. IV is under no obligation to release any information at all. Serial critics will always find reason to criticise, but others will surely recognise that this is a significant step to take. They may also ask whether it is time for other big patent owners to do the same thing – especially those that  espouse the importance of openness.

This blog has consistently argued that there needs to be as much transparency around patent ownership as possible. Putting vital corporate assets up for detailed inspection and letting people know that you own them in the first place is never going to be an easy thing to do – and can also pave the way for things such as re-examination requests and declaratory judgments – but for the patent system to thrive it needs societal buy-in. You get that through openness. What IV is doing today should be applauded. It should also be emulated. Frankly, if Intellectual Ventures can do it, so can everybody else.

Joff Wild
IAM Magazine
16 December 2013

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IP management, Licensing, IP politics, Patents, IP business

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