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December 8, 2010 at 10:52 AM

Intellectual Ventures starts suing big tech companies

Intellectual Ventures went after a bevy of big tech companies today for allegedly violating patents the company has acquired.

The suits, filed in Delaware, mark an aggressive new approach for the Bellevue company, which former Microsoft executives Nathan Myhrvold and Edward Jung formed in 2000 to amass and license patents. Investors in the venture include Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

It’s the first time the company has sued for patent infringement, although Myhrvold has said all along that lawsuits were a possible way for the company to monetize its patent collection.

The company has bristled at being labeled a “patent troll” that only reaps profits from others’ inventions. It’s also tried to cultivate an image of being a think-tank were ideas are generated by in-house researchers who have generated their own patents.

But that image may be harder to sustain now that it’s entering the courts.

At issue in the suits are patents covering major technologies in computing and software, including security software, DRAM and Flash memory. The actual inventions were done by others and the patents were acquired by Intellectual Ventures.

Intellectual Ventures said in a news release that it’s suing companies with which it was unable to negotiate licensing deals.

“Over the years, Intellectual Ventures has successfully negotiated license agreements with some of the top technology companies in the world. However, some companies have chosen to ignore our requests for good faith negotiations and discussions,” Melissa Finocchio, chief litigation counsel, said in the release. “Protecting our invention rights through these actions is the right choice for our investors, inventors and current licensees.”

Companies being sued over security software patents include Check Point Software Technologies, McAfee, Symantec and Trend Micro.

Hynix Semiconductor and Elpida Memory are being sued over DRAM and Flash memory patents, and Altera, Lattice Semiconductor and Microsemi are being sued over field-programmable gate array technologies.

McAfee and Symantec declined to comment.

“McAfee just received notice of the lawsuit this morning, so we still need to review the details,” McAfee spokesperson Tracy Ross said via email.

Potential damages weren’t disclosed but Intellectual Ventures said in the court filings that it has earned nearly $2 billion charging royalties on more than 30,000 patents and patent applications it has amassed. It has also paid “hundreds of millions” to inventors and spent “millions” developing technology on its own.

The lawsuits may also give Intellectual Ventures more leverage negotiating deals with other companies.

Finocchio is a former Silicon Valley patent attorney who left Boise memory maker Micron Technology to join Intellectual Ventures seven months ago.

She said the lawsuits aren’t so much a new direction for the company as “just another component of our business model that we’re now executing on.”

Asked whether Intellectual Ventures will use litigation more often going forward, she said:

“There are always going to be companies out there that won’t engage with us from the outset or we just can’t come to a mutually agreeable deal, so litigation will be a part of our model.”

Comments | More in | Topics: Billionaire techies


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