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Summary:

The company that has done incalculable harm to America’s technology sector with a ruinous patent litigation campaign is now hoping to hire a global do-gooder. Candidates should think twice about taking the job.

It’s like Darth Vader doing some charity work as he completes the Death Star. Intellectual Ventures, which is shaking down hundreds of companies with spurious patent lawsuits, now plans to use some of the money it squeezes from the tech industry to do some good.

In a new job posting, Intellectual Ventures is looking for a Seattle-based “Vice-President of Global Good” to lead a team devoted to “develop and deploy inventions to save lives” in the developing world.

Saving lives is commendable to be sure but anyone applying for this job better recognize that it would be a Faustian bargain.

For anyone unfamiliar with IV, the company has reeled in a fortune by gaming America’s broken patent system. It did so by acquiring thousands of patents and then inviting its victims to become “partners” in its investment fund. Those who refused to pay for a license are being sued by IV or by shell companies that it spawned such as Lodsys, the infamous patent troll that is suing app developers over in-app purchases.

Intellectual Ventures’ decision to impose its own personal tax on America’s technology system is diverting money away from the most vibrant sectors of economy and into the courtroom. Even its own investors are suffering. As Forbes reports, IV’s shareholders have so far been left holding a portfolio that looks closer to Bernie Madoff than to Apple or Google.

The future “VP of Global Good” will be hard-pressed then to carry out enough good works to offset the colossal harm or his or her employer. Unless, of course, they choose to close the company and reform the patent system.

(Image by chatursunil via Shutterstock)

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  1. Wait, so IV has ”reeled in a fortune” yet ”its own investors are suffering”? Which is it?

    Also, how are they imposing ”[their] own personal tax on America’s technology system” if they are ”acquiring thousands of patents”? Who gets the money they pay for patents?

    Patent holders, the people doing the innovating, that’s who.

    IV buys patents from inventors who can’t enforce their own patents (or choose not to), creating a more liquid market for invention rights.

    1. I can’t tell what gigaom seems to find so disagreeable. Is it the notion of licensing? Is it that some patents seem questionable to them?

      It is as if the thought that you can make money by licensing your ip causes them problems.

      I just dont get what the problem is. If the patent holds water then it must be respected. If it is bogus it should be easy to blow away.

      1. define “easy” for an average start-up?

      2. It’s not that simple. Issued patents are assumed valid until proven otherwise. This means if a company files a patent suit against a company, the burden is on the defendant to prove that patent is invalid. Companies spend hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars to defend against just a single patent suit. The longer the case takes, the more money they have to spend. With the average US patent suit taking 2 years to come to trial, it’s often cheaper for a company, especially smaller companies, to settle quickly and pay the licensing fees than try to prove invalidity. This means many patent holders, NPEs or otherwise, can “shakedown” companies by threatening or filing litigation even though their patents may not be valid. The problem lies in the weakness of the patents being asserted.

  2. So why would a company that’s done so much harm decide to do some actual good?

    But maybe that’s trying to see into the minds of the people at the top of Intellectual Ventures, and maybe that’s not possible.

    1. Perhaps for the same reason that Nobel initiated the peace prize.

  3. …meaning they want people to create inventions in developing markets and PATENT them before those people do.

  4. Jeff maybe do an article about IBM and their patent licensing. Lets get the full spectrum out there..

  5. This is not news. This is opinion and speculation based on a job posting. You don’t know anything about Intellectual Ventures.

    1. Lynne: What part of the article is speculative? IV has been well covered by the press and I don’t see any unfounded claims here.

      Guest: it’s referred to as a patent troll because it doesn’t do anything but sue over patents. Also it often transfers its patents to shell companies in order to sue without the danger of a counter-suit. I don’t agree with Apple approach to patents, but they are actually putting their IP to use in products, not just lawsuits.

  6. Why is Intellectual Ventures identified as a Patent Troll for defending their IP while Apple going after Samsung for “rounded edges” seems OK. GigaOm, offer some perspective please…

    1. Because IV creates nothing

  7. Stephanie articulates the essential point. There are a zillion overlapping patents. IV asserts their patent rights by filing a lawsuit. Small Fry cannot afford to defend themselves so they have no choice but to settle, which likely means that they need to pay royalties. This means that if Small Fry brings a new idea to market and generates revenue, then IV after all of Small Fries work steps in and and forces them to give them a cut.
    The root cause of the problem is the patent system itself which allows patents to be transferred as fungible assets even though they are frequently hopelessly ambiguous and overlap with other patents. Big companies are even bigger targets than smaller companies because they have much more revenue attached to patent use. However, big companies have lots of resources to defend their assets and are able to cut deals with other big companies and firms like IV.

  8. Jeff John Roberts Friday, August 10, 2012

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I don’t have time to provide a comprehensive answer to your thoughtful points, very quickly, I’m pointing the finger at IP because as some of you have pointed out:

    1) It doesn’t create anything, while:

    2) Imposing its own personal tax on some of the country’s most creative entrepreneurs

    As for IV’s goal of ending malaria, etc, well that’s great. But lots of other institutions are doing great work with destroying companies in the process.

    Finally, ee IV’s Nathan Myhrvold’s response to this article here: http://www.geekwire.com/2012/feisty-nathan-myhrvold-defends-quest-global-good/

    1. to be clear, you’re supporting your argument that IV has created its own “personal tax” with: “2) Imposing its own personal tax on some of the country’s most creative entrepreneurs.”

      Ahh.

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