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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

September 17, 2008 at 10:09 AM

WSJ: Myhrvold’s twisting arms, cashing in on patent harvest

Former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold’s not making friends in the tech industry now that his Bellevue patent company Intellectual Ventures has moved from gathering patents to harvesting royalties, according to an old-school Wall Street Journal story today.

An excerpt:

In recent months Mr. Myhrvold’s firm, Intellectual Ventures, has secured payments in the range of $200 million to $400 million from companies including telecom giant Verizon Communications Inc. and networking-gear maker Cisco Systems Inc., according to people familiar with the situation.

The secretive, 400-person outfit has raised $5 billion from investors and is now raising another $2.5 billion, the story said, perhaps explaining why Nathan’s been getting so much press lately.

Also discussed is how the patent system is evolving in response to concerns about “patent trolls.” Both presidential candidates support reforms sought by tech companies, although I wouldn’t underestimate the lobbying capabilities of Myhrvold and his investors, which include pension funds, Bill Gates and other billionaires

Myhrvold defended IV’s approach in the story:

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.

Companies that are unhappy with him, he said, are simply accustomed to infringing on patents with no repercussions. Or else they are looking for a bargain deal on his patent portfolio. He declined to comment on specific companies.

While resistance grows, Myhvold’s trying to scoop up more intellectual property. Among the targets are universities, according to a story in the Puget Sound Business Journal last week. It said that schools such as Stanford and MIT are wary of sharing their portfolios, the University of Washington is intrigued and talking to the company.

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