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Exclusive: Microsoft Patent Schemes Nobody Knows About

Nathan Myhrvold



Summary: Information about Altitude Capital Partners (patent troll), Intellectual Ventures, Microsoft, and Apple (who fund Intellectual Ventures to launch legal attacks using small patent trolls)

EARLIER this year (last month to be more precise) we were contacted by a nice gentleman who had interacted with Bill Gates and his mate Nathan, the world's biggest patent troll. He provided insights. Prior posts about it contained just the gist. Today we will elaborate on it.



It all began when a post from Rick the Patent TrollTracker got the attention of someone who had been approached by the named troll. "I don't have any info about "Altitude Capital Partners" being linked to Microsoft," he explained, "that is why I wrote to ask you if you did. Altitude approached me within the past 2 weeks asking to represent me because my patent portfolio covers basic technologies. I have no idea how they found out about me, though."

It certainly would be valuable to have someone help us understand what Altitude Capital Partners is really doing because its homepage says very little. This is fascinating as a lot of what the gentleman says helps expose anti-competitive conduct that we have been researching for years, e.g. about Intellectual Ventures, which reportedly uses over 1,000 satellite companies to do its manipulation for Nathan and Bill, the company's key financier.

Going back to the smaller troll in question, it is hard to determine just what it really does and whether it serves another. This minimal site it maintains says a little more than sites of patent trolls, which are usually LLCs registered with some patents for waging wars on behalf of other companies. Rick the Patent TrollTracker, who used to work for Cisco, was aware of what Altitude Capital Partners was up to, but he got silenced by those whom he exposed, using SLAPP-type action and a scary bounty from the father of patent trolling. Cisco had been under siege from many patent trolls, including Intellectual Ventures. Even though Intellectual Ventures finally filed a lawsuit last year, it usually uses other companies to launch lawsuits against those who are unwilling to pay Nathan and Bill. A company the size of Cisco would typically needs to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to keep Intellectual Ventures at bay (otherwise, it passes patents around to fuel patent battles). A broad patent would be an asset for this reason. It affects many companies. Cisco has just released new information about its upcoming Linux-powered tablet. Gates et al. will probably try to tax that if they haven't already.

One should add that this site's (Techrights) interest in this area is motivated by lawsuits that Microsoft is launching against GNU/Linux (and Android, which is Linux-powered). These also involve companies or patent trolls which Microsoft appears to be incentivising to do what they do. The SCO case is an older example of copyrights being used to wage similar battles. This battle is broader than most people realise because Microsoft is losing the battle on newer form factors. Windows sales are declining because Apple and Android are growing like mushrooms in the new space of smartphones, sub-notebooks, and tablets. Last month Barnes and Noble (B&N) put out there documents which show how Microsoft uses patents to distort the market and impede the competition in e-Readers and other such devices, which are basically too underpowered to run Microsoft's Windows.

Our source suggests that Microsoft has been pursuing this type of strategy for quite some as "between 1998-2001 Bill Gates became interested in things I was patenting," he explained to us. "I wanted him to use them, actually. Except he didn't want to acknowledge my work, and didn't want to pay me even one penny. And it wasn't about money, it was clearly about cheating people who create things he liked...in other words it was a rabid ego "thing"."

Typical Gates megalomania and shameless self-promotion.

The "Surface" is an example of a product Microsoft wanted to axe before arrival, but reportedly, Gates' ego prevented that from being axed. It became a money drain. In general, Gates became fascinated with patents a very long time after he had criticised them and to this date he is doing a lot of work promoting them and collecting them like trophies. His good friend Nathan is lobbying the government and trying to warp the software industry.

"Intellectual property is the next software," Nathan Myhrvold said not so long ago. This is their vision.

"Bill Gates hired my lawyers," explained our source, "Weil Gotshal & Manges, who subsequently kicked me out to "test tablets" for Microsoft. You can google search it and confirm that Weil Gotshal was doing that around 2001 or so. The thing that got Gates so interested in the tablet form factor was his seeing the designs to what is now the iPad and iPhone...back in 1998-2001!"

At the moment, Microsoft seems to be exploring ways of making money out of other people's products. Increasingly it views itself as a licensing company because it cannot quite create something compelling enough. It missed the train. With the axing of Courier, in addition to reports about related patents surfacing, We can only imagine that there will be more stories like the B&N one.

"I was dazed and confused by what happened and went around looking for help of any kind," our source recalls. "I ultimately ran to Larry Ellison & his buddy Steve Jobs in the hope that they...being Gates' enemies, would invite me to join them in creating a new tablet device...because I believed Microsoft was about to steal the whole thing. Instead what happened was Steve Jobs stole it, and because of Bill gates' ego...he felt that only he had anything worth doing... Microsoft ended up stalled...making tablets with styluses and which were effectively chopped up laptop computers shoe-horned into tablet shape. Even as late as 2010 Steve Ballmer was telling people at the London School of Economics that people want tablets with styluses and keyboards --- that despite the way the iPhone already demonstrated people's willingness to use their finger."

This insistence from Microsoft was foolish as it kept everything heavy and expensive. There was also none of the same promotion at the time, not to mention suitable hardware for 3-D effects and lightness. But as rightly pointed out, Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs have this ego game with Gates and recently Ellison decided to go after Android with an outrageous lawsuit over Dalvik. More recently than that we saw Microsoft, Apple and Oracle creating and entering a patent pool from Novell's patents (Novell was essentially sold last month). They called it CPTN and it was designed by Microsoft to help exclude or coerce until the US DOJ and the German anti-cartel office got involved. All of these companies increasingly use patents to ensure that they stay in power and the more they can accumulate, the better for them. Actually, Oracle once spoke against software patents, but things have changed since then.

Our guess is that in the eyes of such companies patents like those on tablet form factors are becoming a bargaining card that can help limit functionality of a competitor's product. It is not uncommon for a company to try and get hold of patents using a third party. The OIN did that last year. And actually, B&N did say that Microsoft tried using patents to merely cripple its products. How does that promote innovation? This is yet more evidence supporting the claim that the patent system excludes small players, further empowered those who can amass many patents along with their patent trolls. If a small company sues a large one, it gets hit by an artillery of other patents. It's an imbalanced game.

The source of the news was by no means trying to help the major companies, which merely approached him. "In the beginning I even went to non-profit organizations like Mozilla and the EFF and the W3C seeking to donate my patents to them," he recalls, "but they all treated me like dirt."

Mozilla, the EFF, and the W3C do not like patents. Mozilla openly denounces them, the EFF has a patent-busting project, and Tim Berners-Lee told me personally that he is adamant in his approach that the Web should have no patents in/on it. I think that the OIN would have been better to approach.

"Bill Gates' friend Nathan Myhrvold was trying to buy my patents for years but later he decided to pay any lawyers I went to, to pretend they wanted to help me, when in reality they were just stalling for time, and trying to keep me from suing anybody," we were told. "Nokia was interested in acquiring rights from me in August 2010, and Nokia was extremely nice and polite...but then Gates "installed" his man Stephen Elop as CEO of Nokia and gave Nokia some deal worth billions (according to the news), and Nokia suddenly didn't want to have anything to do with me. And who are Nokia's lawyers? "Conveniently" friends of the lawyers who filed my patents for me in the 1990's which Apple copied to create the iPhone, and which represent Apple, MSFT and Nokia, and Nathan Myhrvold."

Nokia was essentially taken over by Microsoft using an act of entryism. Recently, a senior figure at Nokia said: “This isn’t a deal between Nokia and Microsoft, this is a Microsoft take over.”

Nokia has already expressed intention to use patents as a tool that further affects the market and with Elop in charge we can only imagine (with concern) what they might do next. Elop has just remarked (in Twitter) about the Skype acquisition. Reading his tweet would give the impression that he is still working for Microsoft.

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