Joff Wild

I understand that this week Thinkfire will confirm that its CEO, Dan McCurdy, has resigned to become chairman of a spin-out from the company called PatentFreedom. McCurdy is succeeded by Steven Hoffman who was previously Thinkfire’s president; he will stay on at the company until July to help in the transition process.

As one of the founders of Thinkfire back in 2001, McCurdy has played a prominent role in building the company into a successful and profitable business. Although it rarely gives any details of its client base, Thinkfire has been involved a number of high profile litigations, including, I believe, working for Alcatel Lucent in its on-going dispute with Microsoft. Of course, before setting up Thinkfire, McCurdy was president of Lucent Technologies’ IP business responsible for managing 300 employees and a portfolio of 26,000 patents that generated annual revenues of $500 million.

Interestingly, it seems that the very nature of Thinkfire’s business has precipitated McCurdy’s departure. PatentFreedom’s is an online community that is designed to help companies defend themselves against attacks from patent trolls: they will subscribe to join the community – which is how PatentFreedom will make its money – and will be able to access a database of trolls to find out more about who they are or could be up against, as well as share information anonymously with each other. In this way, so the thinking goes, companies that find themselves under attack from trolls will be better placed to devise effective strategies to fight back, so helping to reduce payouts, minimise time and money lost to litigation and maintain product lifecycles and margins.

All of which could well interest the trolls’ frequent targets. To my knowledge, beyond law firms there is nothing out there at the moment which is focused on the needs of defendants in these cases and which offers access to detailed information about trolls – up to now companies have pretty much been on their own.

However, what may have caused PatentFreedom problems if it had remained inside Thinkfire were potential conflicts with the company’s existing services, many of which have at least some element of assertion to them. Just last year, for example, Thinkfire announced the launch of its Leveraged Transactions Group, a service designed specifically for small entities looking to exploit their rights. Senior figures inside large corporations may well have felt reluctant to do business with an organisation that, with another cap on, could have been helping an organisation to get damages from them. Spinning PatentFreedom out gets round that problem rather neatly. And putting McCurdy in charge gives the project a very well-known public face. When his departure is formalised in July, Thinkfire will have no equity in or control over PatentFreedom.

Depending on whom you speak to, the term troll can mean a lot of things. The definition PatentFreedom intends to work from is pretty wide-ranging. It is, essentially, any entity that earns, or plans to earn, the majority of its revenues from the licensing or enforcement of patents. To become a subscriber to PatentFreedom, you must be an operating company with revenues of $100 million or more from the sale of products other than revenues from the licensing, enforcement, enforcement for fee or sale of patents.