NPR's Planet Money looks at Intellectual Ventures, the patent-exploitation firm started by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold. Intellectual Ventures presents itself as a firm that goes to bat for inventors, buying up their patents with the intention of getting big guys who abuse them to pay up. But the reality discovered by Planet Money is very different: Intellectual Ventures doesn't put up very many compelling reference customers for their "protecting and enriching inventors" mandate, but there are examples of patents being sold on again to out-and-out trolls who make nothing but lawsuits, using shaky patents to attack big and small firms and extract rent from them. It appears there's even a town in Texas where empty office buildings house the "headquarters" of shell companies who buy poor-quality patents from distressed companies and get big judgements from a sympathetic local court. Overall, Planet Money paints a picture of software patent aggregators like IV as parasitic bullies who use their enormous patent portfolios to intimidate other firms into paying fees that end up being incorporated into the prices that you and I pay when we buy goods and services.
It's kind of a cliche to knock on the door of the empty office. But we'd flown a long way. So we knocked. No one answered.
The office was in a corridor where all the other doors looked exactly the same —locked, nameplates over the door, no light coming out. It was a corridor of silent, empty offices with names like "Software Rights Archive," and "Bulletproof Technology of Texas."
It turns out a lot of those companies in that corridor, maybe every single one of them, is doing exactly what Oasis Research is doing. They appear to have no employees. They are not coming up with new inventions. The companies are in Marshall, Texas because they are filing lawsuits for patent infringement.
Patent lawsuits are big business in Marshall, which is part of the eastern district of Texas.
When Patents Attack
(Image: DSC09309, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 25734428@N06's photostream)
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