Few things are more despised in the tech community than patent trolls, and to many, Intellectual Ventures is the biggest one around. In January, the company took the next step in its evolution and took its patents to trial for the first time. The case is against Motorola Mobility and by extension Google, which hasn’t yet turned the company over to Lenovo; its phone displays, software update system, and other elements allegedly infringe on six of Intellectual Ventures’ thousands of patents. While the jury deliberates, the court of public opinion has largely made up its mind: Intellectual Ventures may insist that it’s helping inventors, but convincing anyone it’s not abusing the patent system will be an uphill battle, especially in an environment that’s never been more hostile.
Intellectual Ventures describes itself as an “invention marketplace” — most simply, it buys up massive amounts of intellectual property and licenses it in bulk, serving as a kind of clearinghouse. Started by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold in 2000 and initially funded by a who’s who of tech companies including Google, it touts a portfolio of 70,000 patent assets and $3 billion in licensing earnings, $500 million of which it says has been sent back to inventors. Every big name in tech, including Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft, has licensed patents from Intellectual Ventures, as have smaller startups like Nest.
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