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Ex-Microsoft Millionaire Asks Comcast For Millions in Patent Fees

Former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold has amassed more than 20,000 patents, and his firm, Intellectual Ventures, has hit up companies — including Comcast — for huge sums to license them, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal today.

The WSJ reported that Verizon paid $350 million earlier this year to Myhrvold, who has a flair for unusual hobbies including searching for alien life. (Paul Allen was in on that, too.) Cisco reportedly paid a handsome licensing fee as well.

Intellectual Ventures approached Comcast, too, but the MSO evidently told the firm to take a hike.

This is reminiscent of another well-funded patent-licensing firm — Rembrandt IP Management – that is attempting to wrest millions from cable operators and broadcasters, using some old patents it picked up from Paradyne, a former AT&T subsidiary. The biggest MSOs and their technology suppliers, including Motorola and Cisco, are currently battling that action in Delaware federal court.

Like Rembrandt, Myhrvold defends his business on the grounds that he’s protecting innovators from predatory corporations. He’s acquired his patent portfolio from universities, bankrupt companies and individual inventors, using quirkily named operating companies like Quasimodo Tolling LLC.

Some powerful Internet and technology companies, Myhrvold told the Journal, "are committed infringers, they’re complete pirates," though he declined to name names. He calls his business model "invention capitalism."

Are such patent-licensing outfits, derogatorily referred to as "patent trolls," really protecting American inventors? Or are they just interested in lining their pockets? The question of who’s exploiting whom depends on which side of the dispute you’re sitting on.