Joff Wild

The IP Biz blog links to a magnificent rant from Matt Asay, which neatly ties in Microsoft's litigation with Tom Tom and the announcement by Intellectual Ventures of its latest patent-related deal. "Intellectual Ventures, arguably the world's largest patent troll," wites Asay, "is set up to do nothing more than license its intellectual property". And to be fair, it is a view that is expressed commonly enough.

However, it may be an opinion that will be a little more difficult to sustain following a recently published article in the MIT Technology Review. In this, TerraPower - a new type of nuclear reactor which has been developed by IV scientists - was identified as one of the top 10 emerging technologies that could change the world. Says the article:

Enriching the uranium for reactor fuel and opening the reactor periodically to refuel it are among the most cumbersome and expensive steps in running a nuclear plant. And after spent fuel is removed from the reactor, reprocessing it to recover usable materials has the same drawbacks, plus two more: the risks of nuclear-weapons proliferation and environmental pollution.

These problems are mostly accepted as a given, but not by a group of researcher­s at Intellectual Ventures, an invention and investment company in Bellevue, WA. The scientists there have come up with a preliminary design for a reactor that requires only a small amount of enriched fuel--that is, the kind whose atoms can easily be split in a chain reaction. It's called a traveling­-wave reactor. And while government researchers intermittently bring out new reactor designs, the traveling-wave reactor is noteworthy for having come from something that barely exists in the nuclear industry: a privately funded research company.

Do patent trolls do this kind of thing?