Patent troll king Intellectual Ventures is notorious not only for its size but also for the invisible way it stalks its victims. That could change, however, thanks to a crowd-sourced project that will identify the shell companies that IV uses as tentacles.
For the unfamiliar, IV is the dark empire of Nathan Myhrvold, a former Microsoft executive who gamed the patent system by amassing tens of thousands of often-flimsy patents and then threatening to sue everyone in sight. IV and other trolls have reportedly drained $500 billion from the economy and created widespread disenchantment with America’s patent policies.
While IV has been at this for years, its activities are often undetected thanks to a clever use of a reported 1,300 shell companies. This means that the start-ups and tech companies who receive “pay-up-or-else” letters for using things like emoticons are confronted by patent owners with futuristic names like “iZ2″ or “Mobile Transformations” — only to discover that the patent owner is little more than a group of lawyers with a PO Box in Texas. All the while, the puppet master remains well hidden.
Now, however, a boutique analytics firm called IP Checkups is creating the “IV Thicket Case Files“, a blog and database that will serve as a taxonomy of IV’s trolling. The idea, says the company, is to keep tabs on IV and to provide a warning mechanism that will help start-ups determine if they are likely to be mugged by one of IV’s progeny.
More broadly, IP Checkups’ project could reframe public perception of IV’s activities. So far, Myhrvold has gulled the media with tales of IV’s marvelous inventions. This could change once it becomes easier to see the extent of the dirty work carried out by the shells and, just possibly, galvanize the federal government to drive an anti-trust stake into IV’s heart.