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Intellectual Ventures
May 26, 2010 12:19 PM   Subscribe

Intellectual Ventures is an invention factory founded by Nathan Myhrvold, who previously founded Microsoft Research and was MS's CTO. Bill Gates raves about IV, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article about the IV invention process in The New Yorker, Newsweek profiled Nathan’s company in April 2010, and this week there was an hour-long TV interview with Myhrvold on Charlie Rose. Take a 6-min video tour of the laboratory.
posted by stbalbach (43 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
One of my personal heroes ( http://docs.google.com/View?id=dcxddbtr_5c3xnpxdk ) is at IV.
posted by rr at 12:38 PM on May 26, 2010


So he's basically an evil, Bizzaro World Dean Kamen? Buying up giant patent portfolios isn't inventing.
posted by ecurtz at 12:39 PM on May 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Buying up giant patent portfolios isn't inventing

That's part of what IV does, to be sure, but there's also a lot of honest to goodness inventing and even practical product development, as seen previously on Metafilter.
posted by jedicus at 12:41 PM on May 26, 2010


Patent Trolls.
posted by delmoi at 12:42 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


(please don't make me read Malcolm Gladwell gush about rent-seeking patent trolls.)
posted by Auden at 12:44 PM on May 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Previous related FPP.
posted by ericb at 12:44 PM on May 26, 2010


But they're patent trolls who go to the trouble of building their own bridges first. Well, designing the bridges at least.
posted by GuyZero at 12:46 PM on May 26, 2010


You missed the part about how Intellectual Ventures is a holding corporation with 1000 shell companies hiding their patent lawsuit activities. Or how it's basically an IP protection racket. Also note calling yourself an "invention factory" does not require inventing any actual working technologies other than the occasional cute demo.

Out of respect for Myhrvold, Danny Hillis, and other principals I'd convinced myself IV was a big joke to demonstrate the fundamental corruption of US patent law. Maybe the joke was just too profitable to reveal the punch line.
posted by Nelson at 12:47 PM on May 26, 2010 [10 favorites]


Here's a not-so-gushing Wired post about IV. It appears he really learned how to operate from microsoft.
posted by mrnutty at 12:49 PM on May 26, 2010


Intellectual Ventures even sounds like a supervillian front name.
posted by The Whelk at 12:52 PM on May 26, 2010


Can someone explain to me why "patent trolling" is a bad thing? If you want more patent-worth ideas, such ideas need to be able to create value. That IV may be acquiring patents that shouldn't have been granted in the first place, which I think is what most of you have issue with, is a problem that should be taken up with the USPTO.
posted by prunes at 1:22 PM on May 26, 2010


The problem is "reduction to practice" no longer means spending ten years of hard work tinkering and refining a concept until you've got a working object. Now it's tossing off ideas at a dinner party while two secretaries sit in the corner making notes. The notes are the reduction to practice for Intellectual Ventures.

The patent system exists to reward inventors for creating novel and useful things and disclosing how those novel and useful things work. Value comes from perspiration, not inspiration. IV exists to claim monopoly ownership of thousands of mild inspirations without any perspiration.
posted by Nelson at 1:27 PM on May 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Can someone explain to me why "patent trolling" is a bad thing? If you want more patent-worth ideas, such ideas need to be able to create value.
The problem is that the ideas don't create any value on their own. They're just ideas.

The "classical" patent troll basically works by coming up with solutions to problems, writing them down, patenting them, and then sticking them in a drawer somewhere. Then you wait for someone else to think up the same solution, and you sue them. That's why its called trolling.

And the other problem is that if you take a company like Intel, or AMD with a huge patent portfolio that also actually makes things, what you find is that if they try to enforce their patents against a competitor, that competitor can probably find patents that Intel is infringing. That's actually happened with AMD and Intel, and they created a "patent cross licensing agreement" which means either one of them can use each-others patents without any concern.

So the patents really just keep out any new entrants.

I think patents should be use it or lose it. If you don't have a product out on the market, if you're not willing to license it at a reasonable rate in, say, X years you should lose the patent. Having technology locked up an inaccessible helps no one.
posted by delmoi at 1:30 PM on May 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


Furthermore, the notion of the "patent troll" is not one who patents something to shape development in any sort of positive way, but wring as much as they can from others who come up with similar ideas in the future. They're out for the quick buck, without the trouble of actually making, marketing and selling anything.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:31 PM on May 26, 2010


Or what delmoi said
posted by filthy light thief at 1:31 PM on May 26, 2010


Can someone explain to me why "patent trolling" is a bad thing?

The canonical patent troll doesn't actually produce anything, and they don't seek licensees for their inventions. They seek out companies that are producing and issue threats of litigation.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:33 PM on May 26, 2010


Over at Intellectual Ventures they sit around inventing stuff. Bill Gates stops by from time to time and he invents stuff too. Bill Gates invented a way to control the weather, the electromagnetic engine, and a high tech keg. It's fun inventing stuff.

But neither Bill Gates nor Nathan Myhrvold invented the giant robot, the electric rifle, or the triphibian atomicar. That was a different boy.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:36 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Somebody remind me what the difference is between these guys and your neighborhood stoner "big dreamer" type??

Oh, right. The patent lawyers. And the self-promotion.
posted by Nahum Tate at 1:48 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


The patent lawyers. And the self-promotion.

And the PhDs.
posted by GuyZero at 1:53 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Author and MeFi favorite Neal Stephenson is/was a member ca. 2006.
posted by griphus at 2:06 PM on May 26, 2010


The Gladwell article was, to my eyes, shockingly uncritical, and made me look askance at everything else he'd written that I'd previously enjoyed. I never found him revelatory, but usually stimulating, and most definitely not stupid. That article, though, does come off as terribly naïve, as it neglects to even touch on the possible downsides of enterprises like IV. And the downsides are (IMO) a lot more newsworthy than the potential benefits.
posted by $0up at 2:08 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think patents should be use it or lose it. If you don't have a product out on the market, if you're not willing to license it at a reasonable rate in, say, X years you should lose the patent.

Several countries do this, actually (Turkey and India, for example). It's called a working requirement. It's problematic to implement effectively because very often there are external reasons why a product or license scheme is unavailable. For example: running safety and effectiveness trials on a drug; getting government approval for a drug; working out manufacturing and distribution deals for a product; developing a cost-effective, scalable manufacturing technique for a new product; needing an upstream company to bring down the cost of inputs used to make the product; getting the capital required to start production; waiting out a recession; etc, etc.

So you end up with really watered down working requirements that amount to "use it or lose it, unless you have some vaguely plausible reason why you can't use it yet."
posted by jedicus at 2:17 PM on May 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think patents should be use it or lose it. If you don't have a product out on the market, if you're not willing to license it at a reasonable rate in, say, X years you should lose the patent. Having technology locked up an inaccessible helps no one.
posted by delmoi at 4:30 PM on May 26


If the invention in the patent isn't being used by anyone, what's the harm in it? It seems your only complaint is that someone may come along later and reinvent what these guys already invented. Oh well. Early bird catches the worm, etc.

By definition the patent is the right to exclude others from making or using your invention. It is utterly nonsensical to require an inventor to grant others the right to use the invention, or else they will lose their right to exclude others? And who says what is reasonable?

Secondly, 95% of new products fail in the first year on the market. They fail nearly always because of marketing. Marketing has nothing whatsoever to do with inventions or patents.

Furthermore, take a look around. Do you see people lining up at machine shops to apprentice? Do you see factories sprouting up everywhere? We don't make anything here, and we don't want to. The combination of NIMBY, environmental, and labor regulation has made operating a factory in the US cost-prohibitive.

On the other hand, we have a lot of universities, and a lot of sharp people. I can think of no better way to leverage this country's strengths than to have these people thinking up ideas that they own, and to have all those factories in China pay a license fee to the thinkers for in order to exploit the ideas.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:27 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


god damn, some people here should go invent some shit themselves the attitude they're coping... sour effing grapes
posted by nathancaswell at 2:41 PM on May 26, 2010


god damn, some people here should go invent some shit themselves the attitude they're coping... sour effing grapes

But if I did invent something and attempted to do anything with it, I'd be scared of a lawsuit from Intellectual Ventures or one of its shell companies! That's the whole point!
posted by naju at 2:58 PM on May 26, 2010


Actually the whole purpose of patents is for us, the public, to benefit from the creativity of the inventor. Intellectual Ventures falls down real fucking hard there.

I'm pretty biased in regard to patents, but only after being exposed to a long litany of the silly shit that is happening because of our current patent mess.

The actual stated purpose of the USPTO is to "promote the progress of science and the useful arts." Tell me truly, does it seem like patents today are promoting progress or stymieing it?
posted by BeReasonable at 3:10 PM on May 26, 2010


I was approached by a headhunter a couple of years ago about a position with IV. I'm under NDA (don't know if it still matters) but they were trying to do the patent lockdown thing on some new technology that I personally believe should be in the public domain. Or at the very least, actively developed.

The whole concept still irritates me, even though [maybe because ...] one of my distant cousins is one of their patent lawyers.
posted by Araucaria at 3:46 PM on May 26, 2010


If the invention in the patent isn't being used by anyone, what's the harm in it? -- Pastabagel
Uh what? The fact that people aren't using it is the problem. Some great invention or useful technology could be sitting on a shelf somewhere instead of being used by the public. That circular saw with the capacitive breaking system is one example, where the people who issued patents weren't willing to license the technology cheaply enough, so it wasn't used. Now they are going to manufacture it on their own.
It is utterly nonsensical to require an inventor to grant others the right to use the invention, or else they will lose their right to exclude others? And who says what is reasonable?-- Pastabagel
There are hardly any original ideas. If person A thought of solution B while trying to solve problem C, then it's likely that someone else (let's call them person X) might also think of B. Of course, there's a lot more testing and experimentation that ought to be involved in order to go from the drawing board to production.

But if person A thinks up idea B and patents it. Then person X won't bother to actually do the work to make that happen, because they'll see it's already patented. Or worse, person X does all that work, then A sues them because they came up with a similar idea.
Furthermore, take a look around. Do you see people lining up at machine shops to apprentice? Do you see factories sprouting up everywhere? We don't make anything here, and we don't want to. The combination of NIMBY, environmental, and labor regulation has made operating a factory in the US cost-prohibitive. -- Pastabagel
Meh, this line is total bullshit and always had been. 2008 saw more manufacturing in the U.S. then ever, although obviously it's dropped since then. It's just that the stuff we make is far more expensive then the cheap crap from China, and our manufacturing is far more likely to be automated, resulting in less work. This canard sprouts up all the time and it's soo annoying.
But if I did invent something and attempted to do anything with it, I'd be scared of a lawsuit from Intellectual Ventures or one of its shell companies! That's the whole point! -- naju
Exactly. If you came up with the "idea" for something and just patented that and didn't do any work, you'd be fine. But if you actually came up with the idea, and did all the research and tuning to make it work and put it into production, then a patent troll might try to shake you down for "Stealing" their idea.
posted by delmoi at 3:54 PM on May 26, 2010


I think patents should be use it or lose it. If you don't have a product out on the market, if you're not willing to license it at a reasonable rate in, say, X years you should lose the patent.

That circular saw with the capacitive breaking system is one example, where the people who issued patents weren't willing to license the technology cheaply enough,

Pretty subjective qualifiers. Who should set the rate? Based on what criteria? Not saying it can't be done, but it's pretty can of wormy.

Anyway, more problematic for the start-up is not the patent troll shaking one down but the large corporation with deep pockets that has a similar product, does not want competition and can crush you with the cost of defending yourself in court.

After which, if they choose, they can buy up the patents on the cheap.

Ugly business, tech.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:17 PM on May 26, 2010


Nathan Myhrvold is a bad person.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:55 PM on May 26, 2010


Patent trolls. They patent vague descriptions of things other people may make in the future. Years later when real inventors actually make cool stuff, these bastards say "you're infringing my patent!".
tldr = A bunch of assholes who put "dibs" on everything.
posted by w0mbat at 8:35 PM on May 26, 2010


Intellectual Ventures even sounds like a supervillian front name.

The only intellectual Ventures are Thaddeus and Jonas Jr. and they are heroes who get arched by rather less than super villains like The Monarch and Phantom Limb.
posted by juiceCake at 9:16 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Patents cost money to maintain and are actually quite exspensive when dealing with multiple countries. IV registers about 500 a year, a tiny number in the world of ideas, yet very costly for them to maintain. IV produces product and R&D and works with real inventors. The term "patent troll" sounds like something Frank Luntz invented, like "death tax", it skews the readers image to something evil and bad for PR purposes when reality is actually much more complex and nuanced.
posted by stbalbach at 9:22 PM on May 26, 2010


IV registers about 500 a year, a tiny number in the world of ideas, yet very costly for them to maintain. IV produces product and R&D and works with real inventors.

Perhaps they file about 450 applications a year - only 91 of which have been approved so far, by the way - but let's not get distracted by the "invention factory" smoke & mirrors. The main reason they exist is acquisition, not invention, and they've acquired 30,000 patents and counting in 7 short years. That is a staggering amount.

(source - dated May 16, 2010)

"patent troll"... it skews the readers image to something evil and bad for PR purposes when reality is actually much more complex and nuanced.

I'm a patent lawyer, so I'd like to think I'm relatively aware of the complexity and nuance in this field. If you're not really scared of Intellectual Ventures and what they represent, you're either not paying enough attention or you're working for them.
posted by naju at 10:54 PM on May 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


BeReasonable: Actually the whole purpose of patents is for us, the public, to benefit from the creativity of the inventor.

Exactly.

Patents do not make people creative, they do not create an incentive to invent, the whole point of patents is to create a business model for inventions. A patent gives an inventor the incentive to invest in bringing his idea to the public.

I license patents for a living and I work with inventors and creative people every day of my life. Inventors are a paranoid bunch. They have this crazy tin-foil hat fear that Microsoft or Apple or someone else would take their brilliant idea and put it into their products and they would get nothing at all. Crazy isn't it? Why would Microsoft or Apple want to use someone else's idea?

Anyway, that's how inventors think and because it is so bloody expensive to obtain a patent, more than a few inventors just say the hell with it and their great idea never sees the light of day.

It is really not more complicated than that.

Intellectual Ventures falls down real fucking hard there.

This I don't see. Isn't IV in the licensing business? Isn't their business model (at least partly) based on earning royalty income from licensing out their patents to companies who will do something to bring the idea to the public?

The only people who hate trolls are the hungry goats who want to cross the troll's bridge for free and who are too fat and lazy to find another route to the meadow.
posted by three blind mice at 1:33 AM on May 27, 2010


Patents only last 18 years after all. In a way, by "front-loading" a bunch of time into the patent by filing well before anyone actually licenses it, they are accelerating the process by which those ideas enter the public domain forever. Unlike bullshit ever-extending copyrights.
posted by atrazine at 3:52 AM on May 27, 2010


Patents only last 18 years after all.

In the US, utility patents (what you normally think of as a patent) last for 20 years from the date of filing, plus potential 'term adjustments' to extend the patent term to make up for Patent Office delays (usually on the order of 100 days or so). Utility patents filed before June 7, 1995 have a term of 17 years from the date of issue. As you might imagine, there aren't too many of those left, and they'll basically all be gone in a few years. The terms for design patents (patents on the ornamental, non-functional design of a product) and plant patents (a narrow patent that applies to a specific variety of newly-bred plant) are different.
posted by jedicus at 8:11 AM on May 27, 2010


The only people who hate trolls are the hungry goats who want to cross the troll's bridge for free and who are too fat and lazy to find another route to the meadow.

Except in your fairy-tale the troll doesn't own the bridge he owns the idea of a "process for crossing a structure for access to consumables." The troll extorts money from the goats, the villagers, the field mice, and anyone else he can think of doing anything vaguely related. If they don't pay the troll goes to the King who either does nothing at all, or chops off the offender's head, depending on what sort of mood he's in.
posted by ecurtz at 8:24 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Unlike bullshit ever-extending copyrights.

"Patent trolls - at least we aren't Disney."
posted by ecurtz at 8:29 AM on May 27, 2010


The main reason they exist is acquisition, not invention, and they've acquired 30,000 patents and counting in 7 short years. That is a staggering amount.

It's "staggering"? Well lets see, "A total of 440,000 patent applications were filed with the USPTO in the year 2006."1. Lets extrapolate by 7-years is 3,080,000 patents. 30,000 is roughly 1 percent. Is 1 percent "staggering"? And what is wrong with acquisition anyway? Most of the patents they acquire need development which is why they have a huge laboratory with scientists developing the patents.

I'm a patent lawyer, so I'd like to think I'm relatively aware of the complexity and nuance in this field. If you're not really scared of Intellectual Ventures and what they represent, you're either not paying enough attention or you're working for them.

Your profile says your 28. Maybe it's because I'm older, I just don't get too excited when someone tells me to be scared, and suggests I work for the company, when in fact I'm in agreement with any number of people in this thread including the post by 'three blind mice' above.
posted by stbalbach at 8:43 AM on May 27, 2010


stbalbach, you're looking at the number of applications filed, not the number of patents issued. Based on this USPTO chart it's more like 2.5%. Do I think ownership of 2.5% of the big ideas of the past 7 years is staggering. Yes, I do. And of course, they're all cherry-picked to be relevant to trends in tech and other important industries, and analyzed to make sure the language is broad enough to make an infringement claim (frivolous or not). In contrast, the (major) software company I'm working with has a few dozen patents to its name. And yes, it's had to face trolls, of course. I dare you to find evidence of a major tech company that hasn't. The bald-faced extortion of these companies is seriously damaging honest businesses. If you think it's "strictly licensing", well, I don't know what to tell you. Look, I may only be 28, but I've already seen the extortion first-hand more than once.
posted by naju at 9:17 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Patent troll blue.
posted by rbs at 9:38 AM on May 27, 2010


The only people who hate trolls are the hungry goats who want to cross the troll's bridge for free and who are too fat and lazy to find another route to the meadow.

Yeah, a bridge that spans two inches of stream. A stream you could easily just walk over, no bridge required. Or just throw a 2x4 across. Except, nope, your 2x4 design is too similar to the troll's bridge, so you can't build it. You have to use the troll's bridge, and pay for the privilege. That's the patent system.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:11 AM on May 27, 2010


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