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Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer of Microsoft, has insisted for the past decade that his firm Intellectual Ventures has been collecting patents to enable new inventions.

But today, Intellectual Ventures has sued nine big technology companies in its first-ever patent-infringement lawsuits. The company filed suits in federal court in Delaware against Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro and Check Point Software Technologies in computer security. It also sued chip makers Elpida Memory, Hynix Semiconductor, Altera, Lattice Semiconductor and Microsemi (which recently bought Actel).

Is it time to call Myhrvold a patent troll? Patent trolls buy patents and sue companies in order to get royalties. They tend not to create anything innovative. The answer seems to be yes.

“Over the years, Intellectual Ventures has successfully negotiated license agreements with some of the top technology companies in the world,” said Melissa Finocchio, Intellectual Venture’s chief litigation counsel, in a press release. “However, some companies have chosen to ignore our requests for good faith negotiations and discussions.”


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In an interview this morning, she added, “We can’t control how people want to label us. We are no different from any other company in the high-tech space that owns intellectual property.”

Actually, a lot of other tech companies make stuff. In that respect, they can be counterattacked if they sue. Without its own product companies, Intellectual Ventures is immune from such responses.

Bellevue, Wash.-based Intellectual Ventures has amassed thousands of patents over the years and has hired lots of experts to create inventions in-house which are then licensed to other companies. Myrhvold is a polymath and has a funny, boisterous laugh. He has expertise in geophysics, physics, math, economics, photography, and paleontology. But perhaps my favorite thing about him is he is a “sous vide” gourmet chef (where you cook food inside a vacuum-sealed plastic bag).

He has insisted over the years that he is not a patent troll. His company has indeed created a lot of groundbreaking technology in the fields of medicine, computer science and chips. So do you think he’s a troll? Please let us know in our poll below and explain your choice in the comments section.

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