John Paczkowski

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Intellectual Ventures CEO Nathan Myhrvold: I’m Not Ashamed of Suing People

“Thomas Edison’s business model was very similar to ours.”

That’s how Nathan Myhrvold, CEO of Intellectual Ventures, described the company he founded, when he last appeared on the D stage, in 2008. While Myhrvold likes to tout IV as a company that “invests in invention,” the truth is that it is often viewed quite differently by the very industry it professes to support. For IV, “investment in invention” has meant amassing an enormous patent portfolio — the seventh-largest in the U.S. and the 15th-largest of any company in the world — and licensing it. Aggressively. So aggressively that IV is often maligned as a “patent troll.”

Onstage at D10 this morning, Myhrvold disputed that characterization, saying IV is just like a venture capital company or private equity group.

“We believe it’s important for there to be a liquid capital market around any valuable asset,” Myrhvold said. “And we think there’s a lot of value in people investing in stuff and realizing a return. Think about the way venture capital and private equity revolutionized the economy. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re an ‘invention capital’ firm. We invest in invention. We feel inventors should get rich. They should get funding. We should have more invention.”

And we should protect it. Which is a big part of IV’s business model. As Myrhvold conceded, “Sure, we have sued some people.”

But does buying up patent portfolios and using them to squeeze licensing fees out of companies really help innovation and creativity?

“If people don’t get paid for their inventions, that’s not a good thing,” Myrhvold said. “In the case of many patents, there are people who aren’t in a position to take them to the next level. If you don’t enforce your rights, no one is going to enforce them for you.”

To many, that view is contentious. And it has generated a lot of animosity toward IV, particularly in Silicon Valley. Does that bother Myrhvold?

Not at all.

“Look, this is a year when the biggest companies in Silicon Valley are doing exactly what I do. Microsoft, Apple, Facebook all bought huge patent portfolios to further their strategic game. They’re doing what I’m doing!

“So if you have animosity to me, that’s fine. I was never a popular kid in school. I can handle it. I’m not ashamed of suing people.”

So IV’s role is to monetize things that aren’t really products?

Not quite.

The company does have a few products in its portfolio that it is hoping to monetize: A super-high-bandwidth mobile broadband antenna, and a new nuclear reactor.

“Our reactor actually burns nuclear waste as fuel,” Myrhvold said. “So not only is it safe and powerful, it solves an important issue: It actually reduces nuclear waste instead of creating. It’s the reactor of your dreams.”

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