Give Me Patent Liberty

Nathan Myhrvold is smarter than me, but he still doesn’t get it. Or perhaps just doesn’t want to.

Myhrvold, the former CTO at Microsoft, gained a doctorate in theoretical and mathematical physics by the time he was 23, and has nearly 50 patents to his name. And, as the Wall Street Journal details today, through his company, Intellectual Ventures, he holds an additional 20,000-plus patents and patent applications covering everything from lasers to computer chips.

That’s not the problem.

Intellectual Ventures, it seems, collects large sums — between $200 million to $400 million a pop from everyone from Verizon to Cisco — in return for licenses (and an equity stake in the firm), says WSJ sources.

That’s not the problem, either.

The problem is, he thinks his actions are justified. He calls this “invention capitalism,” and claims the practice of extracting exorbitant royalty and licensing fees is built on the same business model as such companies as IBM and Texas Instruments.

But that’s not what the Framers had in mind when they wrote the Constitution. Those wise men wrote the federal government’s first and foremost piece of legislation in a way to ensure ideas stemming from the sciences and arts were protected — but only for a limited time — and so as to encourage innovation for the common good. Ideas beget ideas. Getting those ideas into the public domain expedites innovation. Collecting patents for the sake of extracting tremendous fees runs counter to that noble concept.
Nathan Myhrvold should go back to school. This time, he should study American history, and specifically, the story of the Framers. There’s a lot he could learn.

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He is also vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversees all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 20 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow

2 thoughts on “Give Me Patent Liberty

  1. Sic semper Monoplolists…

    Single patent monopoly should not be a concern. We should have concern where a group of patents, many of which are for blocking other development efforts. are used to dominate a market segment.

    That is what the founders did not anticipate.

  2. Edwin: I agree, although I might not have been clear about it. I’m assuming you read the article, which lays out how Intellectual Ventures has cornered the market on patents in certain areas, and companies are ponying up out of fear of the unknown. And that, over time, could have a frightening affect on the incentive to innovate.

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