Correction: The article inadvertently states that RPX has raised $40 million in venture capital funds. This is incorrect. A spokesperson contacted the author to note that a correct reading of the website would be that "The company has acquired more than $40 million in patent rights since its founding."
Patent trolls are the bane of existence for technology companies. Patent trolls buy up patents so that they can extort money from companies that actually build and sell products. The world's largest patent troll is arguably Intellectual Ventures, which holds billions of dollars worth of patents.
It is therefore surprising to hear that the former general manager of Strategic Acquisitions and vice president of Licensing at Intellectual Ventures, John Amster, along with former vice president of Licensing at Intellectual Ventures, Geoffrey Barker, have banded together to create RPX, a "defensive patent aggregator. Is Intellectual Ventures spawning its own defense mechanisms?
This sounds a bit like the radar gun/detector industry, wherein the same manufacturers that help police nab speeding motorists also build the radar detectors to help avoid getting caught. Can RPX be trusted?
Probably. This is no ordinary patent aggregator. For one thing, as The Wall Street Journal reports, RPX is funded by venture firms Kleiner Perkins and Charles River Ventures: it has to turn a profit. The company raised $40 million, according to its website, and has already acquired more than 150 U.S. patents and has filed more than 60 U.S. applications. Other patent aggregators like Linux's Open Invention Network operate as non-profits, with all the benefits (and downsides) that come with that status.
Cisco and IBM have joined as early members of RPX, and the Journal reports rumors that Hewlett-Packard, Verizon, and Google have also joined.
But the big question may well be how RPX deals with Intellectual Ventures, which is much bigger and much more complex than a typical patent troll. Intellectual Ventures uses patents as an offensive strategy, while RPX uses patents as a defensive mechanism. I would assume the two will work together in some way, and indeed, I presume that the founders' credentials and ties to Intellectual Ventures must have been a primary selling point to the venture capitalists.
What this means in practice could well determine RPX's success as a defensive patent aggregator. Is RPX prepared to kill its father, Oedipus style? (We won't inquire into its mother.)