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I was only thinking the other day that it has been quite quiet on the Intellectual Ventures front recently when what pops up in The New York Times, but a long piece on the firm and its co-founder Nathan Myhrvold. That said ,there is not much which is very new in it; instead it is a reprisal of the usual stuff that is always written about IV.
So, we have Myhrvold stating that patents should be a distinct asset class, that there needs to be much more transparency in the market place and that big technology companies are a "cozy [sic] oligarchy" that cross-license each other when there are patent problems and trample on the small guys. If IV is successful, states Myhrvold, "the invention capital system will turbocharge technological progress, create many more new businesses, and change the world for the better”.
On the other side of the argument, there is talk of IV's secrecy, its use of myriad shell companies and an accusation from Mark Bohannon, general counsel and senior vice president for public policy for the Software and Information Industry Association, that IV is gaming the patent system "so it can extract licensing fees and investments from technology companies that create jobs, innovate and make products".
As ever when I read articles about IV I think to myself that there is something in both the positive and negative stuff that is said about the firm. Yes, IV is seeking to make money from the patent litigation system, even if this is indirectly so (remember, the firm never sues companies for infringement - though it may do deals with others who will); yes, it is not transparent in its actions (who is?); and, yes, it can cause practical and financial headaches for companies that are, or could be, or may at some time infringe certain patents in certain sectors.
But it is also true that through it actions and its profile IV has probably done more than almost any other organisation to kick-start the market-place for patents. In doing this, it has helped show that patents really can have value and that, because of this, they need to be factored into the strategic thinking of the businesses which own them. Without IV, it is doubtful that all the advances made over the last decade in terms of thinking on IP as a corporate asset would have taken place.
It is clearly the case that, while there is still a way to go, more people use patents in more creative ways than they did in the past - something that has helped nascent patent-related services such as brokerage, aggregation, strategic consultancy and even magazines that are all about the business of IP! You may not be surprised to learn that from where I sit that is all for the good.
Of course there are also probably far more NPEs around today than otherwise would have been the case. I think it would be hard for IV to dispute that, whether the firm likes it or not, other people cite its success as they seek to gain funding to begin their own assertion-based licensing businesses. But is that a bad thing anyway? The companies targeted by NPEs may think so, but in many cases I am not so sure. A recent article by Ron Epstein makes the case for NPEs better than I ever could and is well worth a read.
Sometimes, I think, IV can get beyond itself in making claims about "turbocharging" the invention process and helping lone inventors and SMEs get their just patent rewards from large companies. I would be surprised if the firm had yet made any individual extremely wealthy by helping him/her extract licensing fees due from infringers.
However, I do think that IV has helped lay the foundations for a time when it may be possible for more of the small guys to get the rewards their work deserves. That time is still a long way off, I would argue, but there are now more monetisation opportunities out there than ever before. I think we have IV to thank for that in large part. And for that reason I will always argue that the positives the firm brings to the table far outweigh any negatives. As the IP business market grows, it will be interesting to see whether IV has the wit and the creativity to stay ahead of the game that it, more than anyone else, helped to create.
IP management, Licensing, IP litigation, Patents, IP business