This is no surprise coming from Myhrvold -- he's the CEO of Intellectual Ventures, a patent holding firm (aka, a patent troll). Myhrvold (and the company) claim that they are an "invention company," conceiving and patenting "our own inventions in-house through a world-renowned staff of internal and external scientists and engineers." Yet the truth is that their strategy is to purchase shady patents from failed companies and paper inventors, and then use them in a extortion game against larger players -- fitting the definition of 'troll' to a tee. For evidence of that, look at how they bid up the Commerce One XML patent portfolio to nearly $15 million, before Novell purchased and released the patents openly. If Intellectual Ventures would have been successful in acquiring those patents (no matter how illegitimate they were), you can be sure they would now be engaged in a massive shakedown of the entire Internet industry, where XML is almost as pervasive as HTTP.
To avoid turning this into an ad hominem attack, let's take a look at what Myhrvold has to say:
Tech companies ... win by muscling their way to sufficient market share to become a de facto standard (some would say monopoly). Because patents don't figure in this business model, tech companies don't hold the patent system in high regard.Patents don't figure into a business model centered around gaining monopoly control of a market? Come again? Patents are nothing more than a government-backed monopoly.
It gets better:
Many of the largest tech companies have a standing policy that engineers are not allowed to read patents or check whether their work infringes. Why bother to look, if you know you'll find lots of infringement? Besides the cost, it's a distraction that might hurt time to market. Their strategy is simple -- damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.Here, Myhrvold is either disingenuous, or extremely naive. Having spent 15 years in leadership at Microsoft, I'd rule out Myhrvold being naive, so that leaves us with disingenuous. Engineers aren't encouraged to look at patents because 1) engineers aren't lawyers, 2) engineers are paid to do engineering, not to wade through patent thicket legalese, 3) software patent quality is extremely low, so finding a patent claim which might somehow be broadly applied to an engineer's current work means virtually nothing, and 4) software patents have undefined or unclear borders, so determining whether infringement has or might occur cannot realistically be determined.
Myhrvold also talks about how, yes, Microsoft had to fight off some bad patents, but that it wasn't a big deal because Microsoft eventually won those cases in court. Nevermind that smaller startups don't have the huge pile of cash that Microsoft does, and that any such suit against them is likely to result in the smaller player folding, and never mind that Microsoft doesn't agree on this point -- Myhrvold will assert these 'facts' as truth, and expect you to be swayed by them. I don't think you, gentle reader, are that dumb. But apparently Nathan Myhrvold does.