Intellectual Ventures Files First Patent Lawsuits Against Nine Firms Including McAfee, Symantec

12/8/10Follow @gthuang

Bellevue, WA-based Intellectual Ventures said today it has filed three patent infringement lawsuits against a total of nine companies in three different technology sectors—software security, memory, and integrated circuits. The suits were filed in federal court in Delaware, where Intellectual Ventures is a registered entity. The amount of monetary damages the company is seeking was not disclosed. According to the complaints (see links in the press release), IV sought to reach settlements with the companies before going to court.

These are the first patent infringement suits brought by Intellectual Ventures, which is in the business of developing, acquiring, and licensing intellectual property worldwide. The patents in question—16 in total—were all acquired by IV at various times. Critics have slammed IV for being a “patent troll” that buys up intellectual property, tries to squeeze true innovators into coughing up settlements, and doesn’t develop much valuable intellectual property of its own—and today’s news probably won’t do much to stem that criticism.

“These are companies incorporating our inventions [and intellectual property assets], and they don’t have a license,” says Melissa Finocchio, Intellectual Ventures’ chief litigation counsel. She says that in some cases there were discussions with the companies before filing suit, but that others named in the complaints would not engage IV in discussions.

The first lawsuit is against Redwood City, CA-based Check Point Software Technologies (NASDAQ: CHKP), Santa Clara, CA-based McAfee (NYSE: MFE), Mountain View, CA-based Symantec (NASDAQ: SYMC), and Tokyo-based Trend Micro, and concerns four patents that IV says are used in “many products including anti-virus and security software.”

The second lawsuit is against Tokyo-based Elpida Memory and Seoul, South Korea-based Hynix Semiconductor, and concerns seven patents around computer memory technologies, including certain types of synchronous dynamic random access memory (widely used in computers, servers, and workstation) and flash memory (used in cameras, media players, cellphones, and USB drives).

The third lawsuit is against San Jose, CA-based Altera (NASDAQ: ALTR), Hillsboro, OR-based Lattice Semiconductor (NASDAQ: LSCC), and Irvine, CA-based Microsemi (NASDAQ: MSCC). This one concerns five patents used in field programmable gate array (FPGA—a common type of customizable chip) devices for telecom, wireless, defense, broadcast, and networking industries.

It’s all part of an increasing trend towards patent litigation in the high-tech industry. Last week, we had a story about the University of Washington suing industrial giant General Electric for infringing on an ultrasound patent. “We believe this [trend] is a recognition of the value of invention and the value of intellectual property,” says IV’s Finocchio.

How will Intellectual Ventures respond to the patent troll criticism now? “We can’t control how people want to label us,” Finocchio says. “We are no different from any other company in the high-tech space that owns intellectual property.” She adds that although IV primarily acquires patents versus filing its own, in many cases it improves the claims and makes them stronger and more relevant to various industries.

An Intellectual Ventures spokesperson added that the company expects people to use the “patent troll” term, but “this is simply our company protecting its assets.” She says IV prefers to follow its licensing model, whereby companies pay for patent protection and access to IV’s extensive portfolio, which includes more than 30,000 “IP assets.” Recent examples include licensing deals with Samsung and HTC in the past month.

In any case, don’t expect to see much significant activity in the court cases over the next few months. “Litigation is a long road,” Finocchio says.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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