Ever since Jay Walker founded Walker Digital in 1994, the company has made its fortune by spinning ideas like Priceline out into companies. But in a profile today, the Wall Street Journal reports that Mr. Walker’s new money-making strategy seems to be filing lawsuits.
Last year, the Stamford, Connecticut-based company put its patent portfolio up for auction. But although a bid was made for $135 million for ideas like “managing identities and connecting with friends online” (circa 1996) it didn’t meet Mr. Walker’s minimum.
So instead, he resorted to teaming up with IP Navigation Group, which describes itself as a “patent monetization” firm. As FOSS Patents recently pointed out, others describe the IP Navigation Group and its affiliates a little differently. Law.com, for example, says owner Erich Spangenberg runs one of the “largest, and most litigious, patent-holding companies” and recommends a “sue first, ask questions later” approach.
That might explain why after tapping IP Navigation, Walker Digital has already made $25 million from filing about 30 lawsuits targeting hundreds of companies, including Amazon, Zynga, Google, and NewsCorp for violating one or more of the companies 400 or so patents, reports the Journal. Some sound laughable. Walker Digital sued Microsoft and Yahoo for auction systems placing ads against Internet search results. It also sued News Corp for an infringement related to social-networking for its MySpace subsidiary.
But Mr. Walker defends himself against the trolling accusation, telling the paper, “Not only are we not a troll, but the people who want to label me are often the same ones that want to use our property and not pay.” With the 20-year lifespan for patents, Mr. Walker says they could expire while being exploited by other companies.
The aggressive change in direction for Walker Digital puts a depressing new spin on the white hot patent wars, as Mr. Walker has long been respected as an “ideas man.” In fact a 1999 article in Forbes wondered if Mr. Walker wasn’t “an Edison for a New Age.” As an entrepreneur, detractors argue, he should know the difference between having an idea and the work the companies he’s suing have done to see them to fruition. You know the system’s broken if you’re feeling litigation sympathy pangs for the likes of Google and NewsCorp.