Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen filed suit this week against a litany of Internet companies claiming they had violated patents awarded years ago to Allen’s now-defunct Interval Research. Many writers, including one passing himself off as me, claimed this made Allen a so-called “patent troll. ”
I don’t think that is the case.
Patent trolls are individuals or companies that habitually sue others over obscure patents. While the Interval patents generally are obscure, that doesn’t make them invalid. And the fact that Allen and then-partner Dave Liddle paid $100 million for the basic research behind those patents, well that hardly sounds like troll behavior.
If Paul Allen actually were a patent troll. he would have sued in South Texas, where all the whopping patent judgements are handed-down, not in Seattle.
Suing in Seattle is bad trollmanship.
What we have here is a guy who may be the 37th richest person in the world, but he used to be the second-richest. He’s pledged to give away his fortune and maybe wants more to give. In short, I don’t see a problem with these legal actions.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Allen will prevail. The odds are against him. While Interval developed upwards of 300 patents, that isn’t like the thousands of patents now controlled by Nathan Myrhvold’s company, Intellectual Ventures. Myrvold has acquired baskets of patents creating a strategic mass of IP and an associated legal team he can use to bludgeon almost any company into cross-licensing. Allen has no such depth (or power).
He’s just trying to turn lemons from lemonade.