Top Five Things I Learned From The Fortune Article On RPX

I don’t usually pick up Fortune magazine because my nightstand is already covered in InStyle and Vogue and Elle on account of I’m a fashion icon in my dreams.  But I was tipped off (thank you!!) about the recent issue with this article about RPX. You and I both know that I can’t not get involved in this kind of thing, right?

Read it I did and boy oh boy oh boy, were there some nuggets in there!  To wit:

1.  John Amster plays guitar?  I did not see that coming.

AmsterGuitarMindblown

Mind? Blown.

2.  People (besides me) have hated Intellectual Ventures from the very beginning.  Commerce One’s bankruptcy, as the article explains, was the catalyst for the secondary patent market in that their GC Paul Warenski said “Hey, let’s not just sell our assets as one package, lets split off the IP and sell it separately.”  Kind of a Gordon Gecko-ish move, but I mean that in a nice way because Paul was a visionary kind of asset splitter-upper, not the nasty kind.

From the get go, it seems that the most important outcome of the auction was not that the patents fetch a high price, but that the winner had better not be IV.  That’s interesting, since purportedly, they were the early RPX:  the mission was to find and buy up patents to keep them “out of the hands of hostile NPEs”.

I suspect their business model got in the way…acting as a hedge fund and being expected to fetch a high rate of return for investors meant that IV going freak nasty and litigating to get that return was a forgone conclusion.  Nathan’s idea that all he had to do was “[price] his licensing demands correctly, [and] he would never need to sue anyone” was all well and good, but then the big players got more than a little sick and tired of the demand letter game and it all went to seed.  They stopped responding or starting fighting and then as we all know, in late 2010 the chickens came home to roost and IV began filing lawsuits.

It’s just interesting to me that Myhrvold has been a nemesis for so many for so long.

3.  Nathan Myhrvold was an original partner in ThinkFire.  ThinkFire was headed by Dan McCurdy, of none other than Patent Freedom and Allied Security Trust fame.  At the time of the Commerce One auction, in which ThinkFire and IV were bidders, Nathan was in cahoots with both IV and ThinkFire, which means he was bidding against himself.  See?  Evidently, even Nathan doesn’t like Nathan! Anyway, this was news to me, despite the quote in the article that it was “a spectacle the press gleefully highlighted.”  You can be rest assured of my gleefulness as I now re-highlight this information.

4.  The idea of idea theft is no longer relevant to John Amster, as evidenced by this quote from the article:

In Amster’s world, patent suits against tech companies no longer turn on quaint moral issues like, “Did Company X steal from Inventor Y”  For the most part, they don’t even turn on legal issues like, Is patent Z valid, and if so, is it infringed by Company X’s product?

What counts today are probabilities, statistics, and most of all, transaction costs.

I guess then that RPX’s business model is less “if you subscribe, we’ll invest your funds in buying patents that the trolls will use against you” than it is “statistically speaking, our data that we collected and collated ourselves shows that you will be hit by a patent troll unless you pay us a yearly fee, after which point we will protect you from an unspecified number of those suits and save you an amount of money that we arrived at using our own data.”

Hmmm.

5.  RPX divests it’s portfolios to trolls from time to time.  Which, I guess if you realize that they are “friends with them” and “take them to dinner”, it’d be like me selling my stroller to my newly pregnant friend after my kids are older. I mean, it’s not as if RPX thinks those patents aren’t troll-worthy or they wouldn’t have bought them in the first place.  It looks like they’re buying patents off the open market to snag new clients by telling them “Look!  We hath thwarted the Evil Empire and if you sign up, you shall not be subject to suit by this portfolio!”  And when that usefulness has been outlived and they’ve gotten a few years’ worth of subscription fees, they sell them back out to the open market.  And then use the fact that those patents are now once again at play to bring in more new clients.   Cue merry-go-round.

MerryGoRound

For the first time in a long time, this was an article that didn’t just restate the by now obvious facts about what patent trolls are.  And they didn’t touch lightly on the RPX business model either; I was kind of surprised at the tone they took and wondered if Amster’s camp was happy with the final print version of the article.

I think the original strategy of RPX, to get patents that the trolls could use off the market, was and is a good one.  I’ve praised them as one of the market-based solutions to patent trolling, something that was started by people who had a desire to stop bad behavior.  The only problem is that if they “solve” the troll problem, why does anyone need them?

Maybe that’s what they’re figuring out, and why the divestitures now (occasionally) involve re-selling back to trolls?

All I know is, whenever I read about RPX in the future, I’m going to picture a guy on a sofa with a vintage guitar.

JustSayin_small_New

IPTT

{John Amster image found here. Guitar image found here. Russell Brand mind blown found here.}

Advertisements

MythBusters: Patent (Troll) Litigation Explosion Edition

It’s always fun when something starts to get national attention after some of us (*cough* *cough*) have been banging the drum on that same issue for, oh, 12 years now.  Detractors and proponents seem to come out of the woodwork, citing studies and statistics as if any of it really means anything.  Adam Mossoff, he of the claim that there really isn’t $29 Billion in costs associated with patent trolling because how could there be, when the whole shebang is myth anyway, is at it again.  Hi Adam, long time, no blog post refuting pretty much everything you’ve said!  Hugs!

Mr. Mossoff would have us believe that the whole increase in patent troll litigation is a myth.  I was right there with him until the second sentence.  OK, ok, that’s mean.  The second paragraph, where he waxes poetic about the number of patents being issued because why? I’m not sure, and this quote doesn’t help:

A simple comparison to population growth, especially taking into account the explosive growth in the innovation industries in the past several decades, could as easily justify the claim that we haven’t got enough patents issuing today.)

Why would we compare the number of patents to the number of people?  Is there some magic number of patents per person that is right and  good for society and another number that isnt’?  I don’t get this.  I mean, yes, the number of patents would theoretically increase the number of potential patent infringement lawsuits in much the same way that number of cars on the road at rush hour increases the number of potential drivers I have to flip off honk at merge with.  But beyond that, huh?

Adam's Nirvana

An infographic of the mythical but precisely perfect mix of patents to population.

Moving along:

Unfortunately, the mythical claims about a “patent litigation explosion” have shifted in recent months (perhaps because the original assertion was untenable).  Now the assertion is that there has been an “explosion” in lawsuits brought by patent licensing companies.

Instead of just saying that patent litigation has exploded because that would be wrong, we are now hearing people say that there’s an explosion in patent litigation brought by trolls.  That feels an awful lot like a semantic red herring, but we’ll go with it for now.

This, however, is just poppycock:

’ll note for the record here that patent licensing companies are often referred to today by the undefined and nonobjective rhetorical epithet of “patent troll.”

You may claim that the terms used to negatively refer to patent licensing companies are complicated and don’t always apply across the board, or that they are at times ill-defined.  But you can’t claim that terms are undefined because hello?  I defined them.  Also, “rhetorical epithet”?  Nicely done.  Excellent wordsmithing there, 10 points in your favor!

I’m not going to cut and paste the next quote because it’s long I’m lazy but the gist of it is that with the America Invents Act, of course the number of patent litigation suits is going to go up.  Joinder clause, anyone?  We knew that, but I don’t think you can say that’s the whole reason that the numbers are higher because wait…didn’t you say the numbers weren’t higher?  That increased patent litigation is a myth?  Is that circular logic, is that why I’m getting dizzy?  “The numbers are not higher but when they are higher, it’s because of the AIA.”  Please step away from the merry-go-round, my friend.

MerryGoRound

If you didn’t play on one of these growing up, two things:
1. I hate you for being younger than me, and 2. You *totally* missed out.

The article also takes aim at “secret data” spouted by the likes of RPX and Patent Freedom, with regard to litigation statistics.  I really hope those guys are wearing their flak jackets, that’s a serious BOOM there.  I know the RPX folks are because they’re in San Francisco and OMG, how is it possible that you have to wear a fleece in July in that town?  A flak jacket is not heavyweight enough, I don’t think.  Still, he makes a valid point which is who’s funding their data collection efforts and what stake do they have in the outcome being very high?

The thing is, lawsuits are a matter of public record.  If you don’t trust the data from those sources, then go to  Lex Machina if you feel they are not funded by people with a vested interest, or commission a study of your own!  That’d work, no?  But it’s not quite fair to just shoot the messenger.

As has been discussed on this very blog in the past and right there in the Backgrounder link, it’s not a secret that the small-ish inventor in this country can have trouble monetizing their patent, especially in larger technological sectors.  Patent licensing companies do serve an unfilled need in the economy and no one I don’t think would argue that they don’t so yeah, we get that.  Likewise, we get that you don’t have to make a product to be considered a valid owner of a patent.  Over on IP Watchdog, Steve Moore makes a big “to do” about this.  Again, we get it.  And in fact, that’s one reason that the term NPE is not the same as the term Patent Troll.   All patent trolls are NPE’s, but not all NPE’s are patent trolls.

What articles like this do though, is negate that there really is a problem with companies going after business for the sole purpose of extracting licensing fees over patents that are either old and worthless or that the targets are not infringing on.  Those are the trolls we’re after, and they make up a significant portion of the increase in patent litigation in recent years.  If you believe there’s been an increase, I mean.

It’s fair to question statistics and the motives of those behind them.  It’s fair to criticize people who only want legislative relief of the problem in the form of more laws from Congress because they (incorrectly, in my view) believe that that is the only way out of the problem, or even a good way out.

But you can’t just throw the baby out with the bathwater and say that because a few statistics are misquoted or unfounded or skewed by the companies putting them out that there isn’t really a problem.  All you need to do to verify that there is is to ask the Dittos and the Farks and the TMSofts.

They’ll tell you that, increase in patent litigation or no, there IS a problem.

JustSayin_small

IPTT

{Merry go round image found here: http://www.webanswers.com/for-fun/what-was-your-favorite-playground-equipment-in-elementary-school-f1f9f9}

The Godfather (i.e., Nathan Mhyrvold)

Great article by Jeff John Roberts.

First up, I’d love to be the one to find the link between IV and Lodsys.  Talk about a bounty…why hasn’t someone issued one to the first intrepid reporter who can prove a link?  That’s how it’s done folks…although if I had the time and resources I’d do it just for the “I told you so” value.

Second, this sounds very Mark Cuban-ish:

Namely, before it began its suing spree, IV made sure that many of its potential critics became its investors.

Well played, IV.  And it’s exactly what people like Mark Cuban, who purports himself to be a patent expert, have decided to do.  “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”  Bah, humbug.  You’re telling me the likes of Mark Cuban can’t find a way to beat the trolls without becoming (part owner of) one?  C’mon.  You disappoint.  Someone, somewhere has to find a better business model.  Oh wait, someone already did.  The problem is, that model only covers patents that are still at play.

Someone is going to have to solve the problem of the trolls who are suing over what they own.  I say you create a non-profit collaborative defense fund.  You reach out to each and every company that is sued by the trolls, and you know that information is available via either Patent Freedom, RPX, or, if you have to strip it yourself, from the US Court dockets, and get them to pony up some money.  Pool resources and every time the trolls fight, no matter who they fight, you fight back.  Get in bed with your enemies against a common goal.  These trolls are not bottomless pits of money.  They are individual companies that are suing Deep Pockets.  Well, guess what happens when Deep Pockets joins up with another Deep Pockets?  Follow the math here…DEEPER POCKETS.  Deeper than the trolls.

That’s how you beat them at their own game.  It’s what I tell my sons when the schoolyard bully picks on them.  Knock that sucker to the ground but good.  If you can’t do it alone?  Round up your posse, as we say in Texas, and git ‘er done that way.   But whatever you do, don’t ever, ever hand over your lunch money.

Third, there’s this gem from our buddy Nate:

Myhrvold this week portrayed his patent practices as simply another form of capital allocation. In his view, the company’s trolling is a good thing because it raises money for Intellectual Venture’s experiments which will, in turn, produce more patents.

How about producing products?  Inventing something new and, oh, I dunno, useful?  Producing more patents should not be the goal here, unless all you do is sue people for infringing on them.  Oh, wait…

And finally, there’s the understatement of the year forever:

The problem, of course, is that patents are not synonymous with value and innovation.

No.  No they are not.

Just sayin’,

IPTT