BlackBerry maker RIM just revealed it's signed up to license the patent portfolio of Nathan Myhrvold's IP firm Intellectual Ventures. This will give the company access to a lot of innovative thinking and 30,000 patents.
Intellectual Ventures was founded in 2000 as a kind of innovation, invention, and IP asset library or archive, but unlike a "dead" patent hoarder, IV actually raises money (more than $5 billion so far from Fortune 500 companies and academic institutions) to action some of its ideas—most recently we saw the firm associated with a novel nuclear reactor design that could have prevented the disaster that's befalling Japan.
RIM knows its leading position as a smartphone manufacturer is under threat, and that its upcoming PlayBook tablet PC is entering an incredibly hot market where Apple's iPad is hogging the limelight. Myhrvold has said he'd like to "channel billions of dollars into funding new inventions," so perhaps RIM is hoping that some of this will end up in its own business.
That said, the motive is probably way more pedestrian. RIM's head of telecom licensing revealed that the IV partnership "offers an efficient way to access the invention rights companies need to stay competitive within the market." The key word here is "rights." Looking at the incredible web of patent-violation lawsuits that are ensnaring Apple, Nokia, Motorola and seemingly every other big-name maker of consumer electronics out there, RIM sees IV's 30,000 patent archive as an insurance policy of sorts—if it innovates new features into future products that are covered by IV IP rights, there's potentially less risk of exposure to patent-violation suits from competitors. RIM's execs are also probably remembering the drawn-out and expensive lawsuit with NTP.