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Dashwire Licenses Patents From Intellectual Ventures As Mobile-Related Litigation Heats Up

Seattle-based Dashwire said Wednesday it had licensed the patent portfolio of Seattle-based Intellectual Ventures in an effort to help defend itself against current and future litigation.

Dashwire also acquired several patents from Intellectual Ventures, according to the companies. The move comes as more and more patent suits are being filed among players in the mobile industry.

“The space is just out of control,” Dashwire CEO Ford Davidson said in a phone interview with Mobilized. “You can’t even keep track of who is suing whom.”

Google, for example, said this week that it is bidding $900 million to acquire a pool of patents from bankrupt Nortel, citing the increased mobile litigation over Android as a motivator.

While much of the attention is on moves by big players such as Nokia, Microsoft and Apple, patent disputes among less well-known firms are also becoming more common. Dashwire, for example, is facing a suit, filed in January, from rival Synchronoss.

In the wake of that suit and with all of the other patent litigation in the industry, Davidson said Dashwire started conversations with Intellectual Ventures that ultimately led to the licensing pact. RIM also recently signed a licensing deal with Intellectual Ventures, a patent firm started by former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold.

“All of these things were coming together,” Davidson said.

Davidson said, as a small company with about 25 employees, he’d like to be focused on building products, not dealing with litigation.

“In starting a tech company these days, one of the realities is that at some point you are going to get hit with an infringement suit,” Davidson said.

For its part, Intellectual Ventures said it has seen an increase in mobile-related patent activity, particularly now that the smartphone has taken center stage.

“You’ve seen a lot of patent assertion and patent licensing and also litigation from all size companies,” Intellectual Ventures Vice President Joe Chernesky said in a phone interview. “There’s been such a massive integration of technology in mobile phones.”

Whole sectors that used to be separate, like the PDA, are now just one feature of a smartphone. “All of that technology has been merged into one product,” Chernesky said.

What’s more, the industry is filled with start-ups, many of whom haven’t built up much of a patent portfolio to fend off litigation, particularly since patents can take years to acquire.

“We’ve actually gained a lot of customers who develop and sell products in the mobile space,” Chernesky said. “They are all facing significant intellectual property threats and patent threats.”

Among the start-ups it has signed deals with is Vlingo, a Cambridge, Mass., provider of voice-to-text software for smartphones.

Although mobile has always been an area of interest for Intellectual Ventures in terms of both invention and patent acquisition, Chernesky said the company will probably be investing even more now that its customer base is growing.

“We tend to focus acquisitions and investment based on actual customers,” he said.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work