Intuit, the Mountain View maker of TurboTax and other software, recently said it will pay $120 million over the next ten years to an unnamed party for the right to use an unspecified technology — and that’s prompting speculation among patent and licensing experts.
The Recorder, a San Francisco-based newspaper aimed at the legal community, reported last week that the other party in the deal is Intellectual Ventures, a company started by former Microsoft chief technology officer Nathan Myhrvold. If true — and the newspaper only cited unnamed sources — it would be the latest of several sizable deals that Myhrvold’s firm reportedly has struck with major tech companies.
Those deals have sparked some consternation because a big part of Intellectual Ventures’ business involves buying up the rights to hundreds of patents and then seeking licensing payments from companies that use the technology. Myhrvold told the Wall Street Journal last fall that he’s simply enforcing legal rules that require businesses to pay for using intellectual property that isn’t their own.
Some have compared Myhrvold to so-called “patent trolls” who buy up obscure patents with no intention of using the technology themselves, and instead concentrate on filing patent infringement lawsuits against a variety of defendants. Critics say some of those are no more than nuisance suits aimed at extracting huge payments from companies that may make only minor use of the patented technology.
So far, however, Intellectual Ventures has reportedly obtained payments of up to $350 million from companies like Verizon and Cisco without filing lawsuits. It does invite some of the same companies to invest in a fund that it uses to buy more patents.
Intuit makes a variety of financial software and has been increasingly offering software and services on-line. A spokeswoman said she couldn’t comment on the licensing agreement, which the company disclosed in a recent SEC filing.