On PlainSite, I recently disclosed a list of over 2,000 shell companies linked to Intellectual Ventures, a company that has raised billions of dollars to support its efforts to amass (and sue over) thousands of patents from companies nationwide. Intellectual Ventures is perhaps the most adept organization in existence at exploiting legal loopholes in the patent system.
As I pointed out on PlainSite, the company is not run by amateurs. But even professionals need a little help sometimes. In order to manage such a massively complex network of companies, lawyers need to get involved at some point. Yet browsing through the various patent filings, I was surprised to find very few big-name law firms representing the various shell companies.
There are a few explanations for this. Perhaps in order to avoid the limelight, Intellectual Ventures intentionally looked to small firms for help. Or perhaps we just weren't looking hard enough.
After spending a few days reviewing the list, it appears that there is a very deliberate method to the madness. In a lawsuit with Hynix Semiconductor, Intellectual Ventures actually sued Hynix as two plaintiff LLCs with the relatively straightforward names "Intellectual Ventures I LLC" and "Intellectual Ventures II LLC," which owned the patents in question. These particular LLCs appear to be the plaintiffs in many of Intellectual Ventures' lawsuits. So why all of the shell company nonsense?
Because if Intellectual Ventures is the mob, then the LLCs are different parts of the paper weapon that it holds to companies' heads. In this case, they appear to be using what I'll call a double-barreled shotgun approach, with Intellectual Ventures I and II representing the chambers. The LLCs with funny names are the ammunition canisters, each containing a few rounds, and the patents themselves, the ammo.
You see, the complaint in Intellectual Ventures I LLC et al v. Hynix Semiconductor Inc. et al is dated December 8, 2010. As of that date, the I and II LLCs did in fact own the patents in question—for almost 24 hours. Before December 7, 2010, they belonged to PRFA Technology Fund, LLC. In other words, they loaded the chamber the day before the lawsuit, but made it appear to the court as though the I and II LLCs had owned the patents all along when they stated, "Intellectual Ventures I has been irreparably harmed by Hynix..."
So, who is "they?" Who set up this crazy scheme? As it turns out, the canister LLCs have managers whose identities are disclosed in Nevada, but not Delaware (unless you pay a $10 fee, which adds up for thousands of companies). A number of Nevada LLCs with "Intellectual Ventures" in their name are managed by a company called "NV Manager, LLC" (rather uninspired relative to the other names), which is stangely enough a California Limited Liability Corporation. (Most of these companies are incorporated in Delaware, Nevada, or Arizona.)
The California Secretary of State provides little information on-line about NV Manager, LLC, but what little it does provide is quite helpful: its mailing address. Unlike the rented Regus offices, UPS Stores, and other temporary addresses that most of the LLCs seem to have, NV Manager, LLC has an address at a real building in California: 4401 East Gate Mall, San Diego, CA 92121. There's only one major tenant at that address: Cooley LLP.
Cooley LLP is a major law firm, and one I know well. Its lawyers represent many technology companies, including Facebook, Inc. Cooley lawyers negotiated my settlement with Facebook, Inc. in 2009, representing both Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg personally. It should come as no surprise that they are quite good at hiding evidence. (By way of disclosure, I am still involved in litigation where Cooley represents Facebook, and I have filed a motion for sanctions against the firm that has yet to be ruled upon.)
In any event, it appears that Cooley is doing work for Intellectual Ventures as well, but they don't want anyone to know. So here's what I say to that (and this is why this post is on my personal web site, and not the official PlainSite articles page, because it represents my personal view and my personal view alone):
Boycott Cooley LLP.
If you run a technology company and you need work done, there are a lot of law firms to choose from—literally thousands. If you use them already, take your business elsewhere. If you need a lawyer, there's certainly no reason to hire a firm that behind all of our backs is making life incredibly difficult for startups and small businesses. Do many firms do such things? Yes, they do. But this is a case where there is incontrovertible evidence that it's going on, and there's no reason to pay absurd hourly rates to the same people happily doing it.
As for the rest of Intellectual Ventures' management companies, I've created a new tag on PlainSite that should make the structure easier for everyone to figure out.