Asking the Right Questions

March 5, 2012

Ten years ago when my partners and I founded Intellectual Ventures, we submitted a thesis to the market. We said that we believe in the value of invention, and that by creating a liquid market for invention we can help drive innovation like never before. This was our dissertation to our investors, our prospective clients and our partners in the industry. 

In those ten years we’ve seen the market evolve around us in unexpected ways. Last year Nortel, Motorola and the smart phone wars brought patents into the public consciousness more than ever before, and now the social networking industry seems poised to sustain that debate.

And while the market is changing at a blistering pace, our thesis has remained constant. But if you ask any PhD candidate, they’ll tell you a thesis is nothing unless it’s examined. You need to question it. To test it. To take it apart, rearrange it and see if it fits back together. 

So in that time we have also worked with colleagues in the academic community to question our thesis and the way we’ve put it into practice. I myself authored a paper in 2007, and in just the last few months we’ve seen a flurry of academic studies on patents, the invention marketplace and IV specifically. These studies examine the foundation of a multi-billion dollar market, and they ask big questions of the patent system and companies like IV:

  • Has the role of the patent system changed in light of today's markets? 
  • How do patents and aggregators affect competition and innovation in those markets? 
  • Are different regulations needed to ensure the proper balance of oversight and efficiency? 

I fundamentally believe, as does IV, that patent aggregators serve a pro-competitive role. We also fundamentally believe that fully protecting the ideas of inventors and supporting innovation are not mutually exclusive. However these notions are not universally accepted, and the academic community has likewise published varied perspectives and reached varied conclusions.
What I can say with confidence is that none of the answers is clear-cut. But what’s encouraging is that we’re asking the right questions, and that we continue to do so. 

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