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Nathan Myhrvold
Nathan Myhrvold

Intellectual Ventures, under increasing pressure to be more transparent about its patent holdings, this morning released a searchable list of more than 33,000 of its patents — about 82 percent of the nearly 40,000 patents that the company makes available for sale, license and other commercial activities.

The list, also available as a downloadable spreadsheet, includes patents that previously would have been difficult or impossible to trace to Intellectual Ventures because of its use of affiliated entities, also known as shell companies, to buy patents under the radar.

So why not publish the full list? In an FAQ on its website, Intellectual Ventures says the list of more than 33,000 patents excludes “unpublished applications, patents or applications that we have acquired recently, and patents or applications that may be subject to confidentiality arrangements with third parties.”

In the FAQ, Intellectual Ventures describes the list as “a snapshot.”

“It may lag behind our actual holdings due to the time it takes to complete the intake of newly acquired patents and to protect our current and emerging investment strategies,” the company explains. “The list also excludes patents where public disclosure poses confidentiality concerns such as contractual obligations we owe to sellers or licensors.”

The move comes amid heightened public scrutiny of the patent system, including a push for national patent reform and an FTC inquiry into the practices of patent holding firms.

Bellevue-based Intellectual Ventures, led by former Microsoft technology chief Nathan Myhrvold, has been a lightning rod for criticism of patent companies in the tech industry and more broadly, thanks in part to a pair of investigative reports aired by This American Life, which focused in large part on the company’s use of shell companies.

In some ways, the move today by Intellectual Ventures follows the lead of Microsoft, which previously published what it described as a full list of its patent holdings.

In its FAQ today, Intellectual Ventures gives this reason for publishing its list.

“As one of the largest global patent holders in the world, we are often the subject of curiosity. Customers want to see what is currently available to license or buy and others are curious about our holdings and our intentions. While much of this information is available through various global patent office databases, we have decided to assemble the majority of our portfolio in a single place, providing our customers and others who are interested a convenient, publically available list of our assets.”

The company says it has acquired more than 70,000 intellectual property assets since 2000, with 40,000 of them in “active monetization programs.”

An Intellectual Ventures representative said the company would have no public comment beyond the FAQ. A post on the site of the Intellectual Asset Management trade magazine says that Intellectual Ventures knows the database could help critics search for ammunition to use against the company. The post quotes an unnamed source saying that the company still considers it the “right thing to do.”

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