Malaria is no excuse for patent trolling, Mr. Myhrvold

Nathan Myhrvold, CEO of Intellectual Ventures, took issue with GigaOM this week after we expressed skepticism about his company’s plans to hire a “VP of Global Good.”

In an interview with tech site Geekwire, Myhrvold said, “I think we do a whole lot more good for the world than GigaOm does. How big is their malaria research project? How much effort do they put into polio?”

He goes on to suggest that companies, and Silicon Valley in particular, spend too much effort on making new gadgets for people who don’t need really them. We should focus instead, he says, on developing technology for the world’s poor and points to Intellectual Venture’s “laser device that shoots mosquitos out of the sky.”

What to make of all this? Well, the sentiment is certainly a noble one. The problem, though, is that Myhrvold is utterly unfit to espouse it. As we’ve stated before, no amount of philanthropy can undo the incredible ruin his company has unleashed on innovation through unfettered patent trolling. Lest you doubt, consider the following:

New research shows that Intellectual Ventures is tied to at least 1,300 shell companies whose sole purpose is to coerce real companies into buying patent license that they don’t want or need. Those who resist the “patent trolls” are dragged into nightmarish lawsuits.

Think about what this means in practice. It means thousands of entrepreneurs must divert revenue from development and technology to pay Mr. Myhrvold’s licensing tax or else brace for millions in legal fees. Worse, patent trolls are targeting some of the most promising young start-ups in the country like hand-craft site Etsy. Now, instead of hiring workers and bolstering the economy, Etsy and others must put aside money to pay the likes of Mr. Myhrvold instead.

And for what? Intellectual Ventures styles itself as a hotbed of inventive wizardry but precious few devices have come out of its lab and into the world. (Just when is that mosquito-zapping marvel going into production by the way?) The most tangible thing Mr. Myhrvold has done to date is to offer a new way to cook a hamburger. And even though it has siphoned billions from productive companies, Intellectual Ventures has even proved a rotten deal for its own reluctant investors.

To be clear, GigaOM commends Intellectual Ventures for any efforts it undertakes to fight malaria and polio. Our complaint is instead with its decision to game the country’s dysfunctional patent system. The company’s lawsuits are smothering technology development of all sorts (not just gadgets) and until Intellectual Ventures calls a halt to this, its “VP of Global Good” is no more than the feel-good face of a parasitic empire.

(Image by Henrik Larrson via Shutterstock)