Tech

Patent Wars

| Thu Dec. 9, 2010 10:59 AM EST

The 800-pound gorilla of the patent troll business is finally going to court:

Technology companies on Wednesday received troubling news that some had feared for years: Intellectual Ventures LLC has started suing. The secretive firm co-founded by former Microsoft Corp. Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold has raised $5 billion to amass thousands of patents over the past decade.

....On Wednesday, Mr. Myhrvold's firm, unable to secure payments from nine companies, announced three patent-infringement suits. One suit names the best-known players in security software — Symantec Corp., McAfee Inc., Trend Micro Inc. and Check Point Software Technologies Ltd.

...."This is setting up perhaps the biggest battle in the history of the patent system," said Jerry Hosier, a patent attorney in Aspen, Colo. "Every company you can think of in the information technology space is a target" of Intellectual Ventures.

Felix Salmon is unhappy:

This is all predictably depressing, and poses, as I said two years ago, the single biggest risk to America’s continued leadership in technology and innovation. Intellectual Ventures might do a bit of R, but it doesn’t do any D. Instead, it just sits there, extracting rents (that’s the polite way of saying “blackmailing”) technology companies who actually want to make things.

It's impossible to say anything specific about the cases at hand without more detail about them, but in general, it's been a massive abdication of responsibility for Congress not to spend some time reforming patent law. Far too many patents are granted, they're granted for inventions that are far too trivial and far too narrow, the patent office is far too poorly staffed to deal with them properly, and patent trolls like Myhrvold are allowed to sit back and do nothing for years and then suddenly start harassing corporations long after they've built up major businesses around supposedly infringing patents. It's a disgrace, and it's bad for innovation and bad for business. For more, see Zachary Roth here and here.