When writing about Acacia, we were unable to show clearly enough its connection with Microsoft, but top-level appointments were made of Microsoft staff just days before they attacked GNU/Linux [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11] and also around the same time that patent threats were issued by Microsoft's CEO.
The Acacia debacle had some many ‘coincidences’ around it (circumstantial evidence only), but Nathan Myhrvold is no coincidence. Him and his shell firm, Intellectual Ventures, are in part the creation of Microsoft’s former chairman, Bill Gates. We did stress some time in the past that Gates had actually invested in his former close colleague (Myhrvold [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]), who operates a patent-trolling firm.
There is a new article in the Wall Street Journal which reveals more details. It’s worth starting with this:
Nathan Myhrvold: The genesis of this idea was when I was at Microsoft. We had a problem with patent liability. All these people were coming to sue us or demand payment. And Bill (Gates) asked me to think about if there was a solution. This is what I came up with.
So, this was the eureka moment. Myhrvold was, in some sense, designated to become Microsoft’s proxy for patent litigation, which would be also well funded by Gates himself (not Microsoft, i.e. it’s a private or secret investment). Since Myhrvold’s company will have no products, the bad reputation won’t be an issue. From now on, it may be safe to assume that Myhrvold and his company are a Microsoft spinoff or part of Microsoft. Thus the title of this post.
Going back to the Wall Street Journal, the following is stated in a separate but related page.
Over the past few years, the former Microsoft Corp. executive has quietly amassed a trove of 20,000-plus patents and patent applications related to everything from lasers to computer chips. He now ranks among the world’s largest patent-holders — and is using that clout to press tech giants to sign some of the costliest patent-licensing deals ever negotiated.
Groklaw points out this other example of Myhrvold’s activities, which are shrouded in some secrecy.
John Amster, one of two former Intellectual Ventures executives that formed RPX, said he will not detail the company’s business model or customers until October. However he did say RPX will acquire patents in a broad range of technology and e-commerce areas, especially when the patents are being asserted or involved in litigation.
At ZDNet, Nathan Myhrvold is being called a patent troll.
Former Microsoft exec Nathan Myhrvold has been collecting patents, extracting fees from technology companies via his company Intellectual Ventures. Is Myhrvold a patent troll with tech cred?
The Wall Street Journal has a long account of Myhrvold’s patent collecting efforts and how he is winning multimillion dollar payments from the likes of Verizon and Cisco. These payments are top secret material, but Myhrvold’s firm is the one reaping the rewards. Intellectual Ventures has more than 20,000 patents. In many respects, Myhrvold is just a patent trader. A few lawsuits could define him as a troll quickly though.
Unlike most other pure licensing companies, Intellectual Ventures hasn’t filed patent-infringement lawsuits to help force settlements. But the group lobbying on behalf of tech companies in Washington, the Coalition for Patent Fairness — which includes several companies that have been approached for licensing deals by Intellectual Ventures — says it is only a matter of time. “Since these thousands of patents only give [Intellectual Ventures] the right to stop others from making products, through lawsuits, it is obvious what they intend to do,” the group said in a statement.
As with short sellers, large companies don’t like plays that can shake them up and expose their inadequacies, and will spend large amounts to PR / lobby / legislate them away – and as any small player who has tried to enforce patent abuse by large companies knows, it’s virtually impossible to win and ruinously expensive to fight. So in that respect, aggregation is a good thing. Its hard to tell from this article if its just part of the PR war or whether there has been a real step up in the shakedown.
“Our friends up north spend over five billion dollars on research and development and all they seem to do is copy Google and Apple.”
–Steve Jobs (2006)
“Hey, Steve, just because you broke into Xerox’s store before I did and took the TV doesn’t mean I can’t go in later and steal the stereo.”
–Bill Gates, Microsoft
“Usually Microsoft doesn’t develop products, we buy products. It’s not a bad product, but bits and pieces are missing.”
So companies like Xerox do the [R]esearch, Microsoft does the [D]evelopment (through acquisition) and companies like Acacia, SCO and Intellectual Ventures can may handle the litigation/extraction (through scare tactics).
Intellectual Ventures and its ilk are arguably the single biggest risk to America’s continued leadership in technology and innovation. As dsquared elegantly put it in a comment here in May, the company might do a bit of R, but it doesn’t do any D. Instead, it acts as a brake on any company wanting to do substantive R&D of its own, since there’s a good chance Intellectual Ventures will have got there first, patented the idea, and then just decided to sit on it until somebody dares to violate it.
It’s worth adding that Microsoft already uses its patents offensively [1, 2]. In fact, it even strikes deals whereby it extracts money based on imaginary things. Here is the latest example, be it Microsoft and Pioneer’s cross-licensing.
Although the contents of the agreement, including the specific financial terms, are confidential, the parties indicated that Microsoft is being compensated by Pioneer.
In essence, as we warned before, Microsoft makes money by sucking other companies' reserves for use of what their claim to be their “innovation”. Microsoft found a new business model and now relies on revenue from software patents. If only more people could see it. █
“I think that “innovation” is a four-letter word in the industry. It should never be used in polite company. It’s become a PR thing to sell new versions with.”
“It was Edison who said “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”. That may have been true a hundred years ago. These days it’s “0.01% inspiration, 99.99% perspiration”, and the inspiration is the easy part. As a project manager, I have never had trouble finding people with crazy ideas. I have trouble finding people who can execute. IOW, “innovation” is way oversold. And it sure as hell shouldn’t be applied to products like MS Word or Open office.”
–Linus Torvalds, July 2008