Nick Summers is a technology journalist for The Next Web. He writes on all sorts of topics, although he has a passion for gadgets, apps and Nick Summers is a technology journalist for The Next Web. He writes on all sorts of topics, although he has a passion for gadgets, apps and video games in particular. You can reach him on Twitter, circle him on Google+ and connect with him on LinkedIn.
Patent analytics firm IP Checkups has unveiled plans to expose the hidden patent portfolio owned by Intellectual Ventures, one of the largest patent holders in the United States, through an online database.
The publicly-accessible resource, called Case IV Thicket, needs to be crowd-funded first through Indiegogo by the end of November. The final release will include a free online database of patents held not just by Intellectual Ventures, but its shell companies as well.
Investors and businesses alike should be able to use the resource as a way of researching both the licensing opportunities and risk of patent infringement (that are associated with Intellectual Ventures) for any new products they may be developing.
In a press release issued today, IP Checkups said the database would also be accompanied by a blog called the “IV Thicket Case Files”. It will be written in the style of a detective film noir and follow the company’s progress as they continue to research and publish Intellectual Ventures patent portfolio.
Intellectual Ventures is thought to own roughly 40,000 patents. However, the difficulty is that many of these are hidden in more 1,200 “shell companies”, which are used as a vehicle for business transactions despite having little, if any, assets or operations of their own.
“This eliminates transparency and increases Intellectual Venture’s leverage with potential licensees,” the press release reads. “Even though worldwide patent offices record patent ownership, they do not record financial ownership in the shell companies. Intellectual Ventures develops and buys patents in bulk, and then makes money from these patents through various questionable schemes, including licensing, partnerships, and patent lawsuits filed by shell companies.”
The picture painted by IP Checkups is quite bleak. They claim that Intellectual Ventures is using some pretty underhand tactics which, although perhaps entirely legal, are stifling some of the technology industry’s growth. Patent ownership itself is a well documented issue – see the Apple versus Samsung soap opera – that is fast becoming a treacherous minefield for any firm wishing to evolve existing products or ideas.
Matt Rappaport, the founder and CEO of IP Checkups, emphasises that while the United States government can grant limited monopoly rights to patent owners, in return firms such as Intellectual Ventures must disclose its inventions and full records of ownership.
“The whole purpose of the patent system is to share this information with the general public to make them aware of new innovations, and encourage companies to license and trade patents to develop innovative products,” he said. “When you hide patent ownership through obscure shell companies as Intellectual Ventures does, you negate the entire purpose of the patent system – the development of an open marketplace of ideas.”
The Next Web contacted Intellectual Ventures and received the following response:
“IV’s patent holdings have been the source of fascination for many years. We and many other patent holders believe that patents should be respected regardless of who owns them. Those interested in viewing granted patents and patent applications can simply search the USPTO’s public database.
Ultimately, we hope to see the day when invention rights are respected whether they are owned by individuals, universities, Fortune 500 companies, start-ups or invention investment firms like Intellectual Ventures.”
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