Intellectual Ventures CEO Nathan Myhrvold has taken plenty of knocks during his long career, but none probably as public as the grilling today at the D10 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Veteran journalist Walt Mossberg laid into Myhrvold who attempted to defend Intellectual Ventures’ controversial model of licensing patents, a business that the former Microsoft CTO admits isn’t very popular, even though he contends that it is serving an important purpose in sparking innovation.

“I never was a popular kid in class,” Myhrvold said, according to the report by All Things D. “I’m not going to be popular in this class. If I want popularity, I go to a chef’s convention.”

That’s a reference to Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine, which recently won a James Beard award for Cookbook of the Year. At the D conference, there was certainly plenty of heat in the room.

Engadget has a nice play-by-play of the dialogue, with Mossberg asking at one point: “You just buy up patents and then you sue people, and I don’t understand how that helps innovation and creativity in the world.”

To which Myhrvold replied:

“If people create something and don’t get paid, that’s a problem. It’s very hard for individual inventors to get paid. For the same reason that private equity is valuable — broadly, that’s a good thing — in the case of patents, many that own them aren’t in a good position to take the next step. Mostly, we license patents; we don’t mostly sue people. If you don’t enforce your rights, no one is going to enforce them for you.”

Myhrvold certainly doesn’t shy away from public speaking engagements, sharing his views on innovation and patent licensing at various events around the world. (Here’s our report on some of Myhrvold’s remarks from an event in Seattle last month in which he said he felt vindicated by the amount of time and effort big companies are spending on intellectual property).

The appearance by Myhrvold follows last year’s scathing investigation by This American Life into Intellectual Ventures’ practices.

All Things D has more on Myhrvold’s remarks, including comments about why he’s not “ashamed” to sue people, in this report.

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  • Chad

    I like what he is saying in theory, if IV’s primary goal was as a think-tank for inventors, and had components that tried to help the inventors productize their ideas.  My issue with the current approach is it seems like they identify patented ideas, then license them and try to enforce them.  If the model is “inventors come to us and we’ll help you realize your dream”, I’m all for it, but that appears to be an exception rather than the rule…

  • Guest

    What Nathan says IV does and what IV actually does are two different things. IV buys thousands of patents and the underlying premise is that they have to be “licensable” i.e. IV can sue for royalties. Most of the these patents are dormant patents that large companies already own that IV then sues other large companies for royalties for.

    IV= Troll- End of story.

  • Joe d’Coder

    @chad.  Of course that’s not the real model.  He talks about inventors as individuals that need to receive compensation for the patent’s value but that is completely disingenuous.  I’d be shocked if there was a single patent in the portfolio that they licensed or purchased from an individual.  Most, if not all, patents are assigned to companies by the actual named inventors.  Generally, they get nothing directly from the patent. (though they get salary, bonus and options as part of their overall compensation)  So, when he says “individual inventors”, he really means the patent rights holders which are often several transactions removed from the actual inventors.  So, Nathan’s “everyman” pitch is complete blather – no inventors were compensated in the filming of this movie.

  • Guest

    I don’t like Nathan’s business model, but I normally defend his right to pursue it. It’s legal and he’s investing his own money after all. But this interview is kind of stupid. It’s like  he’s trying to pretend IV is something other than it is. Nathan, you’re a patent troll. Embrace it. Don’t pretend you’re a magic factory.

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