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Turning Patents Into


Nathan Myhrvold of Intellectual Ventures

Nathan Myhrvold, chief of Intellectual Ventures, says patent holders are being treated unfairly.

Stuart Isett for The New York Times

Nathan Myhrvold wants to shake up the marketplace for ideas. His mission and the activities of the company he heads, Intellectual Ventures, a secretive $5 billion investment firm that has scooped up 30,000 patents, inspire admiration and angst.

Admirers of Mr. Myhrvold, the scientist who led Microsoft’s technology development in the 1990s, see an innovator seeking to elevate the economic role and financial rewards for inventors whose patented ideas are often used without compensation by big technology companies. His detractors see a cynical operator deploying his bulging patent trove as a powerful bargaining chip, along with the implied threat of costly litigation, to prod high-tech companies to pay him lucrative fees. They call his company “Intellectual Vultures.”

Mr. Myhrvold makes no apology for playing hard under the current patent system. If his company is going to help change things, it must be a force to be reckoned with. “We have to be successful,” he said.

The issues surrounding Intellectual Ventures, viewed broadly, are the ground rules and incentives for innovation. “How this plays out will be crucial to the American economy,” said Josh Lerner, an economist and patent expert at the Harvard Business School.

From The New York Times
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