Monday, July 07, 2008

Intellectual Ventures: On the Prowl?

It might be the single company with the most patents that you’ve never heard of: Intellectual Ventures.

The six-year-old enterprise — the subject of a lengthy profile by Intellectual Property Law & Business — is the brainchild of Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technologist at Microsoft. And its goal is singular: to amass dozens upon dozens of patents that it can license. (Intellectual Ventures claims to have no desire to manufacture or commercialize any products.) In March 2006, Myhrvold penned an opinion piece in the WSJ, “Inventors Have Rights Too.”

How does the company get its patents? Well, it buys a lot of them, with a $400 million war chest provided by a who’s who of tech companies: Nokia, Intel, Apple, Sony, and Microsoft. And according to the story, the secretive venture dreams them up, hiring fleets of consultants to brainstorming sessions on ideas in a variety of industries. Some in the IP asset management field estimate that Intellectual Ventures has amassed 3,000-5,000 patents.
But not everyone’s supportive of the company:
As the patent stockpile grows, so does the speculation–and the fear. IP lawyers and tech executives worry that Intellectual Ventures is less interested in changing the world with big ideas, and more focused on becoming an uber-troll, wreaking litigation havoc across industries with its patents.

The privately held company won’t discuss its finances. But if it doesn’t work out, Myhrvold probably won’t have trouble finding work. According to the story, the 47-year-old gajillionaire holds advanced degrees in theoretical and mathematical physics, mathematical economics, geophysics, and space physics. He studied quantum physics at Cambridge with Stephen Hawking, is a published nature photographer and “has had his state-of-the-art kitchen–and his recipes–featured in New York Times magazine.”

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