Patent wars: Intellectual Ventures suing 9 tech firms

Company co-founded by former Microsoft CTO files three infringement lawsuits

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Is this the opening salvo in what one attorney calls "the biggest battle in the history of the patent system"?

It's too early to tell, but a company that exists solely to collect and defend patents has filed a trio of lawsuits in a federal court in Delaware. And while these are Intellectual Ventures LLC's first forays into patent litigation, the fallout could be far-reaching.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The secretive firm co-founded by former Microsoft Corp. Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold has raised $5 billion to amass thousands of patents over the past decade.

Unlike most specialists in the field, Intellectual Ventures has avoided litigation, persuading big tech companies to become investors in his firm—along with payments that sometimes came to hundreds of millions of dollars. But Mr. Myhrvold never ruled out lawsuits if negotiations failed.

Now the suits are flying, and nine different tech companies are named. The WSJ reports that one filing includes as defendants top security firms Check Point Software Technologies, McAfee, Symantec and Trend Micro.

A second lawsuit names chip makers Elpida Memory and Hynix Semiconductor, while programmable semiconductor vendors Altera, Lattice Semiconductor and Microsemi are targeted in the third.

In a press release announcing the lawsuits, Melissa A. Finocchio, chief litigation counsel for Intellectual Ventures, said, "Over the years, Intellectual Ventures has successfully negotiated license agreements with some of the top technology companies in the world. However, some companies have chosen to ignore our requests for good faith negotiations and discussions. Protecting our invention rights through these actions is the right choice for our investors, inventors and current licensees."

If you sense a feeling of dread spreading through the tech industry, it's not your imagination. Here's a quote from the WSJ:

"This is setting up perhaps the biggest battle in the history of the patent system," said Jerry Hosier, a patent attorney in Aspen, Colo. "Every company you can think of in the information technology space is a target."

So what is Intellectual Ventures all about?

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