Part online research database, part education project, part detective investigation, Case IV Thicket will showcase the complex world of patent ownership rights, and teach the public how to research patent data for valuable business insights and licensing opportunities.
We want to create a publicly-accessible database of patents owned by Intellectual Ventures and its shell companies. We also want to share our investigation with curious observers, using our online IV Thicket case files to show how we unearth Intellectual Ventures’ patent portfolio.
Part One (the easy part): Identify the potential suspects
-- We will identify all patents assigned to Intellectual Ventures through the US Patent Office and upload patent data into our online database tool, PatentCAM.
Part Two (the hard part): Identify all the accomplices
Part Three (the fun part): Publish the IV Thicket case file
-- We will turn the discovery process into a detective story, which will be published in blog format. This will allow the public to learn how publicly-available patent data can be mined for valuable competitive intelligence, in the context of a compelling narrative about Intellectual Ventures' shell companies and their IP holdings.
-- As part of our detective story, we will present an expanding list of characters, newspaper clippings, and other evidentiary findings. We will then mull over the evidence, and name our primary suspects - then search for their (patent-related) assets!
We will find all patents assigned to Intellectual Ventures, and as many patents as possible assigned to its shell companies, up to 2012. These patents, organized by company and technology category, will be made freely available through our online database, PatentCAM. The public will be able to search through this data for patents of interest, and access basic analytics on patent filing rates and top inventors.
Intellectual Ventures is arguably one of the largest holder of patent rights in the United States. Intellectual Ventures is also the largest of the non-practicing entities (NPEs) – companies that own intellectual property but don't make any real products.
Like that of many NPEs, Intellectual Ventures’ business model is to develop and buy patents in bulk, and then make money from these patents through licensing, partnerships, and most importantly, patent lawsuits. NPEs can follow this business model because they do not suffer the downside risks of launching patent lawsuits. Developed in-house or purchased in bulk from (usually) failing organizations, patents owned by NPEs are not typically used to create products. Consequently, NPEs spend very little on R&D – and, because they aren’t making any products, they don’t have to worry about things like patent infringement countersuits and injunctions that prohibit product sales. Instead, licensing and patent litigation are the best ways for Intellectual Ventures and other NPEs to make money, and are in fact the very motivation for their existence.
Also like many NPEs, Intellectual Ventures closely guards the nature of its patent portfolio. According to a study by Tom Ewing and Robin Feldman at UC Hastings, Intellectual Ventures holds roughly 40,000 patents, with 8,000 U.S. patents held in secret through over 1,276 shell companies.
No one knows the true extent of Intellectual Ventures patent holdings, and so no one knows if or when they will be the next targets in the patent lawsuit roulette. Innovators at large companies and startups alike are stymied by the specter of frivolous patent lawsuits by fly-by-night shell companies. As a result, businesses that wish to avoid costly patent litigation will pay enormous licensing fees to Intellectual Ventures or other NPEs, in part because they do not know the true extent of the NPEs' patent holdings, and the true extent of their litigation exposure.
Our mission is to encourage an open and transparent marketplace of patents. By making information about patents and patent ownership rights accessible to the public, we hope to spark honest licensing deals, innovative partnerships, and collaborative product ideas. Our ultimate goal is full transparency of the patent holdings of all non-practicing entities (NPEs).
We believe in patent ownership. We even believe in using patents to obtain honest licensing revenues. What we do not believe in, however, is companies using shell companies and hidden financial interests to leverage enormous financial gain by holding innovators hostage through patent lawsuits and inflated licensing fees. After all, society grants exclusive rights to patent holders, but only in exchange for public disclosure on that spark of innovation –and the people behind it.
IP Checkups was founded in 2004 as a boutique patent analytics firm. The company offers custom patent portfolio and technology analysis to corporate clients, investors, startups, research institutions, and universities. IP Checkups combines custom intellectual asset management and patent search services with powerful web-based software solutions enabling companies to identify, analyze, manage, monitor and update patent information relevant to their technology and markets.
*To the best of our knowledge, we have no financial ties or conflicts of interest with Intellectual Ventures, its licensees, or investors.
|800 shell companies||1200 shell companies|
|Data Acquisition (e.g. licensed access to patent, litigation, and corporate databases like Thomson Innovation, Hoovers and LexisNexis)||$30,000.00||$30,000.00|
|Sleuthing (@ $15/hr; assume 3 hours per shell company)||$36,000.00||$54,000.00|
|Fees (4% to Indiegogo; 3% to bank)||$5,720.43||$7,075.27|
|Software Engineering/Database Design||$5,000.00||$5,000.00|
|Web Design & Blogging||$5,000.00||$5,000.00|
Sample Methodology *update*
Many backers have asked us for examples of our research methodology and process. Below is a sample of the initial patent searches and analyses that we will use for Case IV Thicket. Within a week or so, all of the data described below will be uploaded to PatentCAM, our web-based patent database tool, for the public to see. Check back here for the website details!
Let’s begin by looking at US reassignment data, the USPTO’s records on changes in patent ownership (i.e. patent assignment). By searching for companies that have reassigned patents to IV directly, we can create an initial list of companies that have done business with IV through patent sales or licenses or have reassigned patents to third parties that have done business with IV through patent sales or license. This list may include IV shell companies, large corporations, research institutions, universities, bankrupted startups, and single inventors.
Next, we looked at the patent holdings and addresses of two potential IV shell companies: Purple Mountain Servers LLC and Rose Blush Software LLC. We chose these two companies since they are mentioned in numerous articles and reports such as NPR, Intellectual Assets Magazine, and Forbes.
Once we have the corporate addresses of Purple Mountain and Rose Blush (2711 Centerville Road, DE and 2215-B Renaissance Drive, Las Vegas, NV respectively), we can search the USPTO for other companies that have patent holdings at the same address. Since businesses often use the same mailing address for multiple shell companies, this may reveal other entities affiliated with IV.
This gives us three unique lists (see Excel file of results):
1) All patents, reassignee address at 2711 Centerville Road, Willmington DE 19808
- Search String: 2215-B Renaissance NOT Intellectual ADJ Ventures or 2711 Centerville
- 2712 Results
2) All patents, reassignee address at 2215-B Renaissance Drive Las Vegas Nevada 89119
- Search String: 2711 Centerville Rd NOT ((Intellectual ADJ Ventures) OR 2215-B Renaissance Drive
- 5266 Results
3) All patents, reassignee Intellectual Ventures
- Search String: Intellectual ADJ Ventures NOT((2711 Centerville Rd) OR (2215-B Renaissance Drive))
- 1640 Results
The next, and more difficult step, will be to vet all of the patent-holding entities to confirm whether or not they are IV shell companies. After removing known corporations and entities, we can check and see if the companies from any of these three searches have the following characteristics (not an exclusive list):
- reassigned patents to IV/ obtained patents from IV
- retained the same attorney or patent agents as IV or other potential IV shell companies
- engaged in litigation and disclosed any ties to IV or other potential IV shell companies
- employ officers that work at IV or other potential IV shell companies
- own patents that share the same inventor as IV patents or other potential IV shell companies
- maintained patent portfolios that complement IV’s portfolio or other potential IV shell companies
For example, David Martin Monro is listed as an inventor on multiple IV patents (e.g. US7907068, US7990289, US7974488). When we look at the list of patents for address 2215-B Renaissance Drive in Las Vegas, this same inventor is listed on patent US6990145, which is assigned to Ayscough Visuals LLC. Given that Ayscough Visuals shares an inventor with IV and the address of one of IV’s shell companies, Rose Blush, Ayscough is a potential IV shell company.
But we can dig deeper – if we look at the reassignment history of patent US6990145, we notice that Ayscough Visuals has another address in Los Altos – 171 Main Street #271. Guess what? This is the same address as the Los Altos office of Purple Mountain Server (see US7453752)!
As you can see, once we reveal more shell companies, this becomes an iterative process. With enough diligence, we can slowly unravel IV’s web of patents, as we compare the characteristics of each new potential IV shell company with former companies that we have vetted.
Team on This Campaign:
Matt Rappaport is the cofounder and CEO of IP Checkups. He used to be a professional musician, studying music in West Africa and performing and teaching around the US. Now he is a patent expert and helps companies navigate the complex patent landscape.
Kathryn is the science guru and director of research at IP Checkups. She was a US history major turned Chemistry PhD, and has dabbled semi-professionally in event production and fashion design. In her spare time, she enjoys playing backyard football with her extended family.
Mark is our awesome software guy. Before IP Checkups, he was a professional audio and recording engineer for headlining acts and major outdoor festivals throughout the country. He’s our JAVA, PERL, & MYSQL expert.
Lily Li is a patent strategist, and director of marketing and business development at IP Checkups. She is a reformed lawyer and avid fan of all things to do with cleantech, startups, and design.