It seems obvious that patents were intended to be public. Ostensibly, patents reward innovation by allowing for a temporary legal monopoly, and legitimate patent-holders who are using patents to produce exclusive goods would want others to know their patent exists to avoid copycats and costly litigation. Unfortunately for many producers, modern patent law allows for companies like Intellectual Ventures, which has amassed an estimated minimum of 40,000 patents dispersed through more than 1,200 shell companies, to hide their patents and ambush producers with patent lawsuits—all while not actually producing any goods themselves.
Enter IP Checkups Inc. and their new crowd-funded, crowd-sourced project, “Case IV Thicket.” The goal of Case IV Thicket is to find and catalogue all of Intellectual Ventures’ patents, including those held by shell companies, in order to create a database that is freely available to the public. While the loopholes and flaws in our patent system that allow for patent trolls like Intellectual Ventures to proliferate likely won’t be fixed in the near future, projects like this can at least help inventors and producers avoid patent landmines.
Intellectual Ventures holds one of the largest patent portfolios in the United States. According to the Case IV Thicket project description, “No one knows the true extent of Intellectual Ventures patent holdings, and so no one knows if or when they will be the next targets in the patent lawsuit roulette.” Any legal professional understands the importance of minimizing risk, and corporations attempting to bring a product to market are no different. By identifying which patents Intellectual Ventures controls, producers can reduce risk and work safely, knowing which patents they have to avoid or how much it would cost to license them prior to investing the large amount of capital typically required to produce a new product.