According to the ’131 patent, transformation optics uses lenses that refract electromagnetic (EM) waves so as to “imitate the bending of light in a curved coordinate space.” Initial theoretical work in this field has considered using the curved coordinate space to provide an EM “cloak” to refract EM waves around a cloaked region (but still a far cry from the “invisibility cloak” of Harry Potter). The ’131 patent discloses the use of photonic crystals or “metamaterials” (having structural elements with length scales smaller than the EM wavelength) engineered to provide selected properties, such as a negatively-refractive focusing for EM waves transmitted from an interior field region with an axial magnification substantially less than one. The claims of the ’131 patent are directed to a transmitting apparatus, and they appear to be closely related to the claims of U.S. Pat. No. 7,830,618, issued on November 9, 2010 and owned by ”The Invention Science Fund I,” which are directed to a receiving apparatus.
The ’131 patent includes references to other US patent applications and various academic journal articles that are “incorporated by reference.” “Incorporation by reference” is a proper technique under US patent laws to include information in a patent application. Earlier-filed US patents or patent applications can be incorporated by reference to provide “essential information” (e.g., information necessary to satisfy the legal requirements of written description, enablement, and best mode), while incorporation of other types of documents (e.g., academic journal articles or other non-patent publications) cannot be used to incorporate such essential information.
According to the USPTO database, the assignee of the ’131 patent, “The Invention Science Fund I, LLC,” currently owns about 110 patents, in such wide-ranging technologies as photonics, medical devices, computer storage, engine retrofitting, and fueling nuclear fission reactors. It also appears to also be a closely-held entity of Intellectual Ventures LLC (IV).
IV was founded in 2000 by Nathan Myhrvold, former Microsoft CTO, and Edward Jung, former Microsoft Chief Architect, and it obtains patents by purchasing them from other companies or developing patentable inventions in-house. The ’131 patent appears to be the result of internal inventive efforts on the part of IV, since six of the ten inventors of the ’131 patent are listed as “senior inventors” on IV’s website.
The disparaging term “patent troll” is sometimes used to describe entities that do not themselves develop or market products, but seek to license their patents to other companies that do. A less-perjorative term for such entities is “non-practicing entity” or NPE. The business model of such NPEs includes licensing its patents, but if a target company declines to pay for a license, it likely would be subject to a patent infringement action brought by the NPE.
NPEs are generally seen as “trolls” by the companies that are targets of the NPE’s licensing activities, while the NPEs generally see themselves as providing a worthwhile secondary market for patents. For example, if a small company develops a valuable invention and obtains a patent, it may not be able to realize a return on its investment since it doesn’t have the resources to go up against a large company that is infringing the patent. Knowing this, the large company may make the strategic decision to continue infringing the patent without obtaining a license. However, by giving the NPE a percentage of the resulting royalty stream, or by selling the patent outright to an NPE, the small company can obtain some return on its investment in the patented technology, and the NPE has a financial interest in using its more extensive resources to threaten suit to get the large, infringing company to agree to pay for a license, or to actually sue the large company for patent infringement damages.
IV certainly sees itself as providing a useful service. According to its website, IV’s goal is “to develop a more efficient and dynamic invention economy, establishing an invention capital system.” It seeks to create or purchase inventions and to make them available to companies through licensing and/or partnerships. As part of its activities to get its viewpoint to the public, IV has recently started its “IV Insights” corporate blog, where it plans to give its views on its activities and industry news and events.
To bring its targets to the negotiation table, IV sometimes has to sue companies that are infringing its patents without a license. For example, this past December, IV has filed three patent infringement complaints against companies in the industries of software security (asserting 4 US patents against 4 companies), computer memory (asserting 7 US patents against 2 companies), and telecommunication logic (asserting 5 US patents against 3 companies).