Dan McCurdy's new company, PatentFreedom, is an online community for companies to get and share intelligence about the non-practicing entities some critics call “patent trolls.” Membership is limited to “operating companies” with over $100 million of revenue that’s not from licensing, enforcing, or selling patents or other intellectual property. (Such revenue sometimes comes from the sale of “products,” which can be found on the shelves of most stores not located in North Korea.)
“Patent trolls know a lot about operating companies,” McCurdy told me today. Their targets, conversely, frequently know nothing at all. “Are they the only company being approached, or one of a thousand? Who funds them? How well funded they are?”
PatentFreedom will fill that void both with its own research and by creating a community where operating companies can exchange information, anonymously, if they desire.
But in order to found the new company, McCurdy will have to split from ThinkFire, the company he co-founded with Intellectual Ventures chieftain Nathan Myhrvold in 2001. The reason? Worries about conflicts of interest. ThinkFire has an IP consulting and brokerage practice, as well as a group that provides licensing and litigation support to companies asserting patents, many on a contingency basis. It also helps companies defend against patent-infringement claims, billing hourly, like a law firm.
Also like most big law firms, ThinkFire plays both patent offense and patent defense. But PatentFreedom’s "fight-them-trolls" business model was too much; shortly before the April 14 launch, ThinkFire’s board decided it couldn’t play both sides on this one, and decided it will spin off PatentFreedom as a separate company. McCurdy will officially move over to PatentFreedom in July.
Says McCurdy: “ThinkFire made the decision that it was not in its clients’ best interest to constrain the kind of advice that ThinkFire might be able to give to them, simply to meet the needs of PatentFreedom.”
Fear of conflicts, and perhaps hope for a competitive edge, already caused law firm Howrey LLP to actually agitate against so-called “patent trolls,” like the one pictured above, in its ads, as The Recorder reported in March. (free reg. required)
While we talked, McCurdy tapped into his database from his home office in Pennsylvania, browsing through electronic dossiers on—get ready—94 non-practicing entities, 249 affiliates, and more than 4,700 patents they’re known to hold. (Way more than the shuttered Patent Troll Tracker!) But McCurdy says he has no grudge against NPE’s; he’d just rather beat ‘em than join ‘em.
“When I walk into a cocktail party, I feel much better about myself saying that what I do is help companies defend themselves against NPE’s, or ‘patent trolls,’ than saying ‘I attack companies with patents I bought,’” he says. “I’m not saying that NPE’s are wrong… they have every right to pursue what they’re pursuing.” But targeted companies deserve tools that “at least somewhat equalize the playing field.”
So far close to 10 companies have joined, all “household names,” says McCurdy, and all confidential. He expects up to 20 by the time he officially leaves ThinkFire in July, and 50 members by year’s end.
Annual membership starts at $50,000. (Might make you feel like a subscription to IP Law & Business is a real bargain.)