Patent #7,679,604 — “Method and apparatus for controlling a computer system” — the broad motion-control patent I’ve been writing about all week, has passed through a number of hands over the years. First assigned to ArrayComm in 2006, it was subsequently handed over to Durham Logistics, a limited liability company which is itself managed by another obscure Las Vegas LLC called Memscom. But there’s one more company at the end of that oblique line of ownership: Intellectual Ventures, an “invention capital firm” or patent troll, depending on your views on innovation and intellectual property.
Why does that matter? Well, because that “method and apparatus” seems to give its patent holder power over most of the motion-control devices used in smartphones today. In other words, it's a choke-point for one of the most exciting and vibrant areas of computing around.
What's just so perfect, of course, is that not only did Intellectual Ventures not invent anything here, but that it used other companies to hide the fact it had acquired the patent - the very opposite of the disclosure that the word "patent" implies. It's a perfect demonstration of what is wrong with Intellectual Ventures and the US patent system, and with their unhealthy symbiosis.
It will be interesting to see what happens now. I'm sure that lots of conversations between Intellectual Ventures and smartphone manufacturers are underway; deals will be done, and we'll never know the details. So now might be a good time for companies and engineers to dig through that prior art at the bottom of their filing cabinets in the hope that the patent can be blown away rather than bowed down to.