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Nathan Myhrvold: Alpha 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?

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.

Myhrvold hasn't launched a bunch of lawsuits yet, but it does sound like they are coming. The Journal reports:

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.

In an interview at his Bellevue, Wash., headquarters, Mr. Myhrvold acknowledged facing resistance from companies he targets for licenses. But his patent inventory gives him leverage to extract settlements without litigation. "I say, 'I can't afford to sue you on all of these, and you can't afford to defend on all these,'" Mr. Myhrvold said.

The back and forth goes like this. Myhrvold says that companies don't like paying for patents and that Intellectual Ventures is only doing what others--like IBM and Texas Instruments--do. The companies targeted by Myhrvold say he's increasingly adversarial and a threat. Myhrvold counters that dealing with Intellectual Ventures is more efficient than facing a bevy of one-off patent suits.

A transcript sums up Myhrvold's view:

All of this fear is from people who have guilty knowledge of their own actions. There are lots of major tech companies that grew from zero to gigantically successful in a very short period of time without investing in their own inventions. They got there by using other people's inventions.

Myhrvold's message: The free ride is over.

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