"Nathan Myhrvold is a connoisseur of innovation." So begins the introduction to Slate's four-part interview with the former-Microsoft-executive-turned-patent-troll, which could double as an instructional video on how to avoid the pink-haired elephant in the room.
The problem is that not only do Myhrvold and IV not help innovation, they hurt it.
Don't take my word for it. (Although, if you wanted to, you could do that too.) Myhrvold's status as a patent troll -- definition: one who hoards already established ideas rather than developing new ones, and extorts money with said stash -- is well established.
The influential blog Techdirt has an archive of incriminating evidence against IV so voluminous you could start reading now and not be done before Conan comes on. An intellectual property site named Myhrvold's company "patent troll public enemy #1." And in July, This American Life did its This American Life thing, devoting 20 minutes in an attempt to answer a simple question: Is Myhrvold lying?
You really owe it yourself to listen to the entire segment, entitled "When Patents Attack!" But here it is in a nutshell.
TAL asked Myhrvold for a single solitary inventor whose life had been improved by the existence of IV. He, and others at the company, could only come up with one name. But not only did that inventor refuse to talk, the hunt for him also led TAL to an unoccupied office in a rural East Texas jurisdiction notoriously friendly to patent owners, where a host of shell companies, including ones run by IV, sue the dickens out of other people who don't cotton to its mafia-style shakedowns.
TAL's conclusion: "The big companies -- Google, Apple, Microsoft -- will probably survive. The likely casualties are the companies out there now that no one's ever heard of that could one day take their place."
In other words, while Myhrvold and IV claim to be collecting stones for David, they're really offering themselves as a shield for Goliath.
Your opinions of Myhrvold aside (and mine have certainly been made clear at this point), he's also the literal embodiment of American innovation at a fascinating crossroads. Most people agree the patent system is broken -- as one programmer told TAL, "I worked on a whole bunch of patents in my career over the years and I have to say that every single patent is nothing but crap."
Few agree on what to do next. And in the confusion over how to proceed, Myhrvold raised $5 billion from investors, putting himself in an unwinnable position: simultaneously trying to earn a profit on that investment while also living up to the his grandly stated purpose of being a force for good in the world of innovation.
So given all that, you would think Slate president Jacob Weisberg could have done better than to turn his interview into an odd mish-mash of Who Would You Do?, with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as the unfortunate targets, and softball questions about whether America is doing a) "pretty well" or b) "not so well" when it comes to fostering innovation.
Earth to Weisberg: The hirsute man sitting in front of you is a prime reason why the answer is "b". Maybe you oughta, ya know, ask him about that. (And don't tell me you don't listen to NPR. If its demographic was a person, it'd be you.)
Maybe this is jumping the gun. After all, only three of the four promised vignettes have been posted on Slate's site. Maybe in Part 4 Weisberg will grab one of the many post-it-note'd books in Myhrvold's library and beat him over the head until he admits to being a troll. Or maybe they'll just talk about Zuck's leaked photos, LOL.
UPDATE: Roughly six minutes after this post went live, Weisberg responded to me on Twitter.
As I told Weisberg, it would have been nice had that conversation led the videos, or at least been left in. But I'll withhold judgment -- or, more accurately, any more judgment -- until I've actually listened to the podcast, and determined how much he does or does not hold Myhrvold's feet to the fire.