08 May 2008

Intellectual (Monopoly) Ventures

Mike Masnick is a truly fantastic writer, because he begins a piece thus:


Malcolm Gladwell is a truly fantastic writer

...only to end up proving that Gladwell may be a great writer, but he doesn't actually understand the implications of what he's writing about. No, don't worry, I'm not going to draw the same conclusion for Masnick, since he *does* know what he's writing about, pace some trolling in the comments to the above piece.

Indeed, I think the posting in question is doubly fine: it not only calls into question the extremely odious business model of Nathan Myhrvold's "Intellectual Ventures", but it hammers home the "M"-word:

Gladwell uses this to talk up what Myhrvold is doing, suggesting that Intellectual Ventures is really about continuing that process, getting those ideas out there -- but he misses the much bigger point: if these ideas are the natural progression, almost guaranteed to be discovered by someone sooner or later, why do we give a monopoly on these ideas to a single discoverer? Myhrvold's whole business model is about monopolizing all of these ideas and charging others (who may have discovered them totally independently) to actually do something with them. Yet, if Gladwell's premise is correct (and there's plenty of evidence included in the article), then Myhrvold's efforts shouldn't be seen as a big deal. After all, if it wasn't Myhrvold and his friends doing it, others would very likely come up with the same thing sooner or later.

This is especially highlighted in one anecdote in the article, of Myhrvold holding a dinner with a bunch of smart people... and an attorney. The group spent dinner talking about a bunch of different random ideas, with no real goal or purpose -- just "chewing the rag" as one participant put it. But the next day the attorney approached them with a typewritten description of 36 different inventions that were potentially patentable out of the dinner. When a random "chewing the rag" conversation turns up 36 monopolies, something is wrong. Those aren't inventions that deserve a monopoly.

Quite. In a way, what should be renamed Intellectual Monopoly Ventures represents the quintessence and, I fervently hope, the apogee, of a patent system gone mad: a company set up with the express intention of coming up with *ideas* and patenting them so that it can hold companies that might actually create *inventions* based on them hostage. Perfectly parasitic and utterly pathetic.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Glyn: good points, by you and by Mike. I thought I'd coined the term "idea squatting" to describe the phenomenon, but found out that someone else had already discovered that term:
http://changingway.org/2008/05/08/idea-squatting/

glyn moody said...

Yes, "idea squatting" has a nice, insalubrious ring to it, what with all its historial baggage and double-entendres.

Kudos for not registering it. What's the betting it's gone soon....?