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Ask Nathan Myhrvold What You Will, Live Q&A April 3 124

Posted by samzenpus
from the ask-away dept.
He was the CTO at Microsoft, is an accomplished nature and wildlife photographer, and his cookbook Modernist Cuisine won a James Beard award, but Nathan Myhrvold is probably best known for being co-founder and CEO of Intellectual Ventures. In 2009 the company launched a prototyping and research laboratory called Intellectual Ventures Lab. The lab has hired many prominent scientists to work on a variety of inventions including safer nuclear reactor designs and vaccine research. Under Myhrvold's direction Intellectual Ventures has purchased 40,000 patents and applications and internally developed over 2000 inventions, but not without controversy. Nathan has agreed to take some time to answer your questions but please limit yourself to one question per post. As a bonus on Wed. April 3, Nathan will be doing a live Q&A from 12-12:30pm PDT.
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Ask Nathan Myhrvold What You Will, Live Q&A April 3

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  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @12:09PM (#43293103)

    Is the money made in patent trolling worth being that kind of scumbag?

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by h4rr4r (612664)

      Hey mods, Troll is not code for I disagree.

    • In addition to crushing the world with your Bilderberg-planned schemes for planetary oppression, I understand that you also feast on the flesh of new-born, human infants.

      What's it like?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What is your opinion on the current status of patent law in the US, which holds the Patent Office as a gatekeeper but a judge as the final arbiter of a patent's validity?

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @12:11PM (#43293125) Journal
    Many readers of Slashdot (myself included) feel that the patent system is broken. I haven't heard any criticisms from you or Intellectual Ventures so I'm interested in hearing what you have to say about the patent system. Is it fundamentally broken? Only a little broken? Working flawlessly and exactly as it was intended to work?
    • by alen (225700)

      its mostly the bloggers saying that the patent is broken. and then they quote a single sentence from a 50 page or longer patent application to try to prove their case.

      look at the actuall paperwork filed. its a lot longer and more detailed than the click bait blog stories you rely on. the verge and others are nothing more than the yellow journalism and tabloids of the internet

    • by Microlith (54737) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @12:45PM (#43293517)

      Given that the patent system directly supports his current anti-economic activity, do you seriously think he's going to give you the answer he wants? I'm sure he'll go "oh yes it's broken, there are so many areas not covered by patents that should be..."

    • by alexander_686 (957440) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @01:32PM (#43293969)

      Nathan Myhvold will be our guest and it would be bad manners to ask rude questions – so let us see if we can modify this question – because asking hard questions is fine.

      Do you feel that the patent system is broken? If so, how would you change it?

      It has been suggested that different industries patents should be valid for different periods of time. For example, drugs should have a longer time period because of the lengthy testing and approval process. What do you think the optimal time for a software patent should be?

      Can anybody think of a better, more specific question than that?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Nathan Myhvold will be our guest and it would be bad manners to ask rude questions

        What, exactly, is rude about the original questions?

        • On second read maybe rude is not the right word – aggressive might be better. The OP plainly assumes that the patent system is broken. (which I agree with.) The OP then states that Myhvold is silent, thus backing the corrupt current system. This would put Myhvold on the defensive and shut down the conversation.

          Better to ask open ended questions, free of assumptions or accusation, sit back, and see what unfolds. Myhvold probably has some specific view and passion when it comes to the subject. Get him s

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Way too diplomatic, dude... what you're shooting for is this:

      "Is there a particular type of fire that you would feel comfortable dying in? If so, what's a good time and place?"

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @12:12PM (#43293141) Journal
    One of my favorite radio shows called "This American Life" covered Intellectual Ventures extensively about two years ago (PDF transcript here [thisamericanlife.org] audio here [thisamericanlife.org]) in an episode called "When Patents Attack!" They tried to visit Oasis Research offices at 104 East Houston Street, Suite 190 in Marshall, Texas but found them largely vacant. What is IV's relationship with Oasis Research and Lodsys and why are these empty offices in Marshall, Texas? What sort of partners are Lodsys and Oasis Research? Customers? Licensees?
    • One of my favorite radio shows called "This American Life" covered Intellectual Ventures extensively about two years ago (PDF transcript here [thisamericanlife.org] audio here [thisamericanlife.org]) in an episode called "When Patents Attack!" They tried to visit Oasis Research offices at 104 East Houston Street, Suite 190 in Marshall, Texas but found them largely vacant. What is IV's relationship with Oasis Research and Lodsys and why are these empty offices in Marshall, Texas? What sort of partners are Lodsys and Oasis Research? Customers? Licensees?

      If IV isn't related to Lodsys and Oasis Research, then I don't see how Myhrvold could possibly answer this question. Is this a witch hunt or a real question?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        One of my favorite radio shows called "This American Life" covered Intellectual Ventures extensively about two years ago (PDF transcript here [thisamericanlife.org] audio here [thisamericanlife.org]) in an episode called "When Patents Attack!" They tried to visit Oasis Research offices at 104 East Houston Street, Suite 190 in Marshall, Texas but found them largely vacant. What is IV's relationship with Oasis Research and Lodsys and why are these empty offices in Marshall, Texas? What sort of partners are Lodsys and Oasis Research? Customers? Licensees?

        If IV isn't related to Lodsys and Oasis Research, then I don't see how Myhrvold could possibly answer this question. Is this a witch hunt or a real question?

        It's the followup to investigative journalism that IV at first went along with and then suddenly clammed up about.

  • i read that we had the same kind of patent battles 100 years ago in the last technological revolution. how are things different now than before?

    were there any IP companies at that time?

    • by alexander_686 (957440) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @01:42PM (#43294069)

      Those patents were for making things and scope was well defined.

      First, the newer set of patents tend to be for ideas and business processes and are not well defined and tend to be broad. I forget the details, but somebody has a patent for transmitting images over a network which in theory covers almost every moving image on the internet – and this was not for a specific method, code, or algorithm of doing so – just the general idea.

      Second, devices are getting more complex and interrelated. A cell phone needs patents covering data transmission, networking protocols, digital camera, OS, etc. Throw on top of that design patents (look and feel) and it is a real mess.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @12:13PM (#43293161) Journal
    "This American Life" covered Intellectual Ventures extensively about two years ago (PDF transcript here [thisamericanlife.org] audio here [thisamericanlife.org]) in an episode called "When Patents Attack!" And Joe Chernesky referred them to Chris Crawford as an example of where Intellectual Ventures had helped an inventor license his/her patents to customers. Since the Chris Crawford lead largely turned up to be bogus, could you refer us to a few small time inventors that Intellectual Ventures has helped license their patents to licensees without having to get into extensive litigation?
    • "This American Life" covered Intellectual Ventures extensively about two years ago (PDF transcript here [thisamericanlife.org] audio here [thisamericanlife.org]) in an episode called "When Patents Attack!" And Joe Chernesky referred them to Chris Crawford as an example of where Intellectual Ventures had helped an inventor license his/her patents to customers. Since the Chris Crawford lead largely turned up to be bogus, could you refer us to a few small time inventors that Intellectual Ventures has helped license their patents to licensees without having to get into extensive litigation?

      I'm not sure that's even remotely reasonable. From your linked PDF:

      We found Chris Crawford in Clearwater, Florida, but as predicted, he never responded to our many e-mails and phone calls. You will never hear from him in this story.

      If someone refuses to talk to you, that doesn't give you license to say that their story was turned up to be bogus. You may assume that it is, and you may assume various negative things about them or their credibility, but you haven't actually shown anything.

      In fact, most of that This American Life episode was pretty poor, research-wise. Consider this quote:

      Alex: And on David Martin’s computer screen, we see lots of patents with slightly different language, but covering essentially the same idea. For example patent number 6003044 for “efficiently backing up files using multiple computer systems.” Patent 5933653 for “mirroring data in a remote data storage system.” And then there were three different patents with three different patent numbers but that all had the same title, “System and Method for Backing Up Computer Files Over a Wide Area Computer Network.”

      First, titles are not patent claims. There are literally tens of thousands of patent

      • You're not reading the whole transcript, are you? Let me pick out more excerpts for you:

        Laura: And in fact, that’s what’s happening with Chris Crawford’s patent. Intellectual Ventures sold it to another company, a company called Oasis Research, in June of 2010. Less than a month later, Oasis Research used the patent to sue 16 different tech companies. Companies like Rackspace, Go Daddy, and AT&T. Companies that do cloud storage.

        Okay so there's IV's link to Oasis Research (another you questioned earlier in these comments) and let's read a little further, shall we?

        Alex: The first owner is clear, it’s Chris Crawford, who was granted the patent in 1998. And then, it’s clear that a company named Intellectual Ventures Computing Platforce Assets, LLC. — no one could actually tell us what a “platforce” is — bought the patent in July of 2010. But in between those two dates, there are two other owners. A company called Kwon Holdings and another one named Enhanced Software, LLC. And what was odd, Kwon Holdings, Enhanced Software and Intellectual Ventures all have the same address.

        Okay more shell companies and let's read a little further still:

        Alex: So can you point me to a patent that you acquired that was languishing but then got licensed to somebody and built in a way that I could see? Detkin: I can tell you that it’s happened, but unfortunately the deal is confidential. There are two deals that were done. One was with a toy company. The other was, I can’t remember the technology of the other one but they came to us and they said we’re interested in this particular patent. We’d like to take it out into the world. Will you give us a license? And we did. And they put it out there. It was out there for last Christmas. I actually don’t know how it’s done. I would be curious to find out myself. But I agree, that’s an anomaly. I see where you’re going with your question and I don’t mean to fight you on it. The fact is the bulk of our patents, the bulk of our revenue is from people using inventions they were using it before we bought it and they were using it after we bought it, but we provided an efficient way for them to get access to those invention rights. Alex: The way I hear what you’re saying, the way I translate it in my head, is they were using it before without paying a license and nobody was bothering them. And now they are paying a license to you. Why is that a better situation? Detkin: Well, because we want to incentivize the guy who invented it.

        And that's where their investigation ends. Which is why I think their Chris Crawford example is bogus. Because all it did was lead to shell companies who were pursuing litigation and IV was an "interested party" on the d

        • And that's where their investigation ends. Which is why I think their Chris Crawford example is bogus. Because all it did was lead to shell companies who were pursuing litigation and IV was an "interested party" on the docket.

          What makes that "bogus"? The fact that IV apparently uses shell corporations suddenly means that the patent doesn't exist, or that Crawford doesn't exist, or that he didn't make money from the sale? I think you're confusing two topics - taxes and patents.

          But yeah, tell who ever is paying you to come on Slashdot and defend these guys that it's not going to work.

          Troll much? I disagree with you, so therefore I must be a shill. It's unusually telling that you jump straight to ad hominems, since you have no substantive response.

          First, titles are not patent claims.

          I don't think that was ever said on that episode and, if you pay attention, they're just highlighting that five thousand people were trying to patent a particularly thing that was very similar in achieving the same overall goal.

          Yeah, like look at all those "wheels", trying to achieve the same overall goal of moving so

      • Planet Money did expanded research on this – which makes sense, they share staff with American Life and have an expanded format.

        The point is, Chris Crawford was held up as the poster boy – a small time inventor with a brilliant idea who lacked the resources to go big – but did so with the help of Intellectual Ventures. That is, he should be a sterling example. But closer inspection shows a lot of tarnish – an overbroad patent with harassing lawyers.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @12:16PM (#43293199) Journal
    Did the recent switch this month [rcpmag.com] to a first-to-file country affect you negatively? Positively? What sort of impact do you foresee that having on your business model? Was it right to move that way?
  • by schneidafunk (795759) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @12:19PM (#43293231)
    Can you explain how your legal department operates within Intellectual Ventures? How many lawyers, what kind of lawsuits to pursue, patenting process, etc.
  • When will it end? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stonebit (2776195) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @12:20PM (#43293243)
    Are you aware that you are one of the most hated persons in the software community?
  • I was curious about that seeing your name. :3
  • by patmandu (247443) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @12:35PM (#43293423)

    Can you present examples of how IV has helped individual inventors to get revenue from their inventions? Please include specific names, specific inventions, approximate revenue seen by the inventor, and current status of the invention-related product(s) and ownership of the patent(s).

  • by peter303 (12292) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @12:47PM (#43293529)
    One of the TV news magazines showed some of the things you learned about new, scientific ways of cooking food. What was the most amazing thing, in your opinion, that you discovered?
  • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @12:54PM (#43293613) Homepage

    From working at big bad Microsoft to founding a patent-focused lab, you seem like an ideal person to answer a question I've had for a while: What's it like working in companies that are constantly under attack from those who try to claim a moral high ground?

    To clarify, I don't mean to imply that you are evil, or that Microsoft or Intellectual Ventures are harming society, but rather I recognize that such accusations are common, regardless of truth. On the one hand, I don't assume that the FOSS fanatics (including myself at times) are always right about how bad Microsoft is, or the free-IP crowd is always right about how patents are crushing us, but at the same time I find it hard to believe they're always wrong, too. I'm curious what kind of moral dilemmas you encounter in this respect, if any, and what insight you might be able to provide as to life on the receiving end of the activists' assaults.

    • King John of England is a very ironic figure who ended up doing a lot of good that he did not intend. It is through his oppressive rule and heavy taxation that he drove everyone to form a coalition against him, to spell out more precisely just what powers the king did not have. This was codified in the famous document, the Magna Carta.

      I wonder if Myhrvold might help manage the same thing with patents. He doesn't have as much authority as King John, so I hardly think he could do this singlehandedly, but

  • Results (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Matt_Bennett (79107) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @01:02PM (#43293709) Homepage Journal
    What products have Intellectual Ventures developed and brought to market?
  • Philanthropic work (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jaiyen (821972) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @01:03PM (#43293727)

    As you've already made your fortune, I'm curious as to why you choose to get involved in controversial patent licensing, rather than, say, Bill Gates style philanthropic work ?

    • I'm curious as to why you choose to get involved in controversial patent licensing, rather than, say, Bill Gates style philanthropic work ?

      He's doing God's Work. [techdirt.com]

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Bill & Melinda Gates foundation donated billions to charity ... and by saying "donated billions to charity" we mean paid a lot of money to IV to "develop technologies." From the horse's mouth [intellectu...reslab.com]:

      In 2007, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation asked Intellectual Ventures to create new technologies that will not only fight malaria but will eventually eliminate this scourge of humanity altogether.

      Basically IV is the other half to fat cats scratching each others' backs and the public is eating it up. Where are the measurable results? Why can't $40 billion stop malaria? Because it's mostly ending up in IV's pockets and being invested in Bill's cadre of companies, if the products actually work that's just

  • by cosmiques (2877413) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @01:05PM (#43293751)
    Hypothetically, if Intellectual Ventures were to vanish as an organization, and its IP holdings were put into the public domain, what would be the net effect for society? Do you believe that it would be detrimental to society, and if so, how?

    (Have been lurking on Slashdot for 14 years, but it was a chance to ask Dr. Myhrvold a question that motivated creating an account).
    • Do you believe that it would be detrimental to society, and if so, how?

      It would be detrimental to society. Without the extra profit that temporarily gets generated by patent protection, many inventions would never get developed into actual products. They are just too marginal to justify the R&D, without patent protection.

      A good example is pharmaceuticals. We're all better off because billions are poured into research and development of new drugs. Without patent protection, the profitability of new

  • by jones_supa (887896) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @01:19PM (#43293873)
    Some interesting cooking talk: Chefs at Google: Nathan Myhrvold [youtube.com].
  • What's do you think is going on since the transition to Ballmer that's making it seemingly (much) harder for Microsoft to regain, never mind keep it's momentum? (Note: momentum is more than innovation, it's generically "industry torque").
  • What do you personally think about Linux . . . ?

  • As a software engineer, I produce solutions to different problems every day which are then implemented and used by people. If my resulting software was not used by anyone, I would not gain much fulfillment in my work. Considering that much of the work done by Intellectual Ventures does not result in actual tangible products, do you still get a sense of accomplishment? Are you prouder of the ideas which actually get implemented? Or are you satisfied with the ideas that are developed, independent of wheth

  • And why? Is the dark side really stronger?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Myhrvold is a sociopath that looks for cracks in the system to exploit. He never asks "is it wrong?". He only asks "will I get away with it" and "will it make me richer and more powerful". These types of people are the most dangerous amongst us. Betas are actually encouraged to worship them as 'gods'.

    Do you hate anti-social hackers that flood the world with trojans and the like? Do you hate serial killers? Do you hate people who abuse animals and children when they are alone with them? Do you hate 'bankster

  • ...did he learn that at Microsoft?
  • I was going to buy your book set but then I found out that you had it printed in China. Also, IV is a scumbag company so that's another factor in my decision not to buy your book. My question: when you're sucking on a cock, do you ever reach around and stick your finger up your partner's asshole?
  • As an early owner/adopter of your physical book, "Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking", I have to say that the searching system (in particular, the index and table of contents) is unusually poor and the books are somewhat unwieldy (they are larger and heavier than my Larousse Gastronomique and the box they arrived in my country in came marked with a "warning: heavy" label), therefore making the information contained less-accessible while the books themselves are clearly pushing the boundaries

  • In the Air [gladwell.com]
    Far from critical but gives some insight into how IV does what it does.
    Basically, Myhrvold gathers some of his rich and smart buddies in a room where they brainstorm furiously. Then the notes are passed onto his team of PhDs and lawyers to work the ideas up into patents. Occasionally they might build a prototype of something but it's mostly just very lucrative breeze shooting.

  • How does it feel to be an utter dickhead and a net waste to humanity?

  • As a patent troll, you are both evil and a douche. As a "molecular gastronomist," you're just a douche. Do you have any plans to put your efforts toward something neither douche-y nor evil? Bill Gates has, isn't it your turn?

  • The Photonic Fence project was proposed with much fanfare about six years ago, to rid Africa is disease-carrying mosquitoes. Rumor has it that the Gates Foundation has cut funding. The project appears to have developed nothing of practical use, although the project leaders responsible appear to still be in control. Is there going to be a serious forensic analysis of how the project went south?
    • Please mod this up.

      Nathan could have been my hero if he had pulled this off. Instead I fear he sits on patents that prevent anyone else from attempting this, potentially saving a lot of lives. Also, I want a version of that for my backyard. If it works, I'll buy it for $1000. No joke.
  • Where's our f@!&# flying cars?

  • For young people in the United States who have a general interest in techology, what kind of advice would you give them in choosing the most rewarding and future proof career? Would you encourage them to study STEM subjects, with a view to becoming engineers or scientists, or to study law and follow a legal career which perhaps opens other doors?
  • Oh Noes! The Hon. Leonard Davis tossed this case out of his court! [redhat.com]

    Troll: zero. FOSS: 1

    Comments?

    Try to disgorge a reasonable answer. Please avoid responses along the lines of

    This was an example of a patent that should never have been granted. IV only sues based on the right kind of patent.

  • Please falsify the hypothesis: IV is an NPE

    A related, less pejorative expression is non-practicing entity (NPE) which describes a patent owner who does not manufacture or use the patented invention.

    Wikipedia

  • Mr. Myhrvold: I know you are sold on traveling wave reactors, and I hope they prove their worth. But, I was wondering; have you given up on thorium-powered reactors? I saw an article in Forbes not too long ago where the author actually argued that, because it would turn thorium from an expensive-to-dispose-of-waste-product into a valuable resource, building thorium reactors could make electronics cheaper. This is because thorium is usually present in rare earth metals used for electronics and often have
  • Are there any popular figures from the past who you see as having been in a situation similar to yours -- almost universally loathed, but for reasons that you think weren't justified?
  • How do small companies avoid being tainted as "behaving like a patent troll" when they dare to enforce their own patent rights? USPTO often takes upwards of 8 years to render decisions. How can small companies auction their IP without cartels of patent trolls rigging the bidding?

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