Following the money trail from Mapbox to the Kushners and Trump Administration

By Steve Brachmann & Gene Quinn
September 7, 2017

In previous articles we’ve asked why Mapbox, a company with no discernible experience, expertise or knowledge with or about the patent system, would be invited to testify before Congress on the question of patent reforms. Mapbox staffer Tom Lee testified that Mapbox has patent applications pending, but we’ve been able to find none and inquiries to the company about applications were unanswered. Lee also testified that the company has experience with patent litigation, but the truth according to the Lex Machina database is that Mapbox has been sued only one time and managed to quickly — within a matter of three months — successfully extract themselves from that patent litigation. There are clearly many thousands of companies both large and small with far greater experience and in a far better position to advise Congress on the issue of patent reform. So why Mapbox?

As is so frequently the case whenever business and politics intersect, follow the money! We have done just that and we’ve found that a no-name, no-experience company like Mapbox, without any patent applications and no patent litigation experience became thrust into the public debate over patents because all the money people behind Mapbox are card carrying members of the anti-patent efficient infringer lobby.

“It’s only thanks to a strongly anti-troll board and executive leadership that I’m able to be here today,” Mapbox’s Lee offered in his testimony on the July 13th hearing on U.S. patent reform held by the House IP Subcommittee.

So who makes up the board of directors at Mapbox? One member of the Mapbox board is Ryan McIntyre, the managing director of Foundry Group, a Boulder, CO-based venture capital firm with a focus on making early-stage technology investments. Foundry is listed among Mapbox’s investor. The bottom of the Mapbox board of directors webpage includes a quote from Brad Feld, the co-founder of Foundry. In April 2006, Feld published a post on his personal blog in which he called for the abolition of all software patents over supposed expenses to the patent system. For years, Feld and Foundry have been lobbying on behalf of infringers at the detriment of patent owners in the sector.

Another member of the Mapbox board of directors is Randy Glein, managing director at DFJ Growth, a Menlo Park, CA-based venture capital firm focused on providing late-stage investment. Randy Glein was one of dozens of signatories to a letter addressed in March 2015 to members of the U.S. Congress asking for a legislative response to deal with “patent trolls” including increased transparency in demand letters, limits to the scope of discovery and protections for technology end-users. Feld is also a signatory to this letter. Glein’s investment activities have included SpaceX and Tesla, companies which are overseen by Elon Musk, one of Silicon Valley’s strongest personalities who has in no uncertain terms made his own anti-patent views very public.

Next on the Mapbox board of directors is Ira Ehrenpreis, founder and managing director of San Francisco-based venture capital firm DBL Partners. Like Glein, Ehrenpreis has a history of investing into companies run by Musk, including Tesla and SpaceX. Ehrenpreis has a powerful profile in the venture capital world having served on the board and executive committee of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) and also served as the chairman of the 2010 NVCA Annual Meeting. Along with serving on the Mapbox board, Ehrenpreis also serves on the board of directors for Tesla, putting him in close enough contact with Musk to assume that some of his anti-patent views may well have rubbed off on Ehrenpreis.

Upon closer review, Mapbox’s board of directors doesn’t look like it has anti-troll sentiments. It appears as though the board very likely has anti-patent viewpoints, which it has been able to dress up with baseless claims of abusive litigation in order to present a wolf in sheep’s clothing to Congress.

Looking beyond the membership of Mapbox’s board of directors, there is even more information to glean from the company’s investors which starts to clear up why a company with such limited experience in patent-related matters would be allowed to send a representative to stump for anti-patent owner policies. There is an obvious proximity to power regarding the Pritzker Group, the Chicago-based venture capital firm founded by J.B. Pritzker, a national co-chairman for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. J.B.’s sister Penny Pritzker served as the 38th U.S. Secretary of Commerce under former President Barack Obama.

And yet, Tom Lee of Mapbox did not appear before the House IP Subcommittee during the Obama Administration or under the presidential term of any Democrat; his attempts to obfuscate the Congressional debate on patent reform come during the administration of President Donald Trump. It’s the Republicans, not the Democrats, who have the majority in Congress and Mapbox’s Lee tells a story which is easily accepted by the likes of Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), himself a patent troll and a well-paid ally of the efficient infringer lobby. Any ties between Mapbox and the Trump family, therefore, would start to make the President look complicit in the degradation of patent rights despite promises on the campaign trail that he would be pro-inventor.

Another one of the firms investing in Mapbox is New York City-based media and Internet investment group Thrive Capital. The founder and managing partner of Thrive is Josh Kushner, the brother of Jared Kushner, who is Trump’s son-in-law.

In July, The Wall Street Journal published an article reporting on the appearance of public sector software firm OpenGov’s CEO Zachary Bookman as part of a tech council, which met with President Trump in June. In questioning how Bookman was the only CEO of a tech startup with a valuation much lower than others getting a seat at the President’s table, the article notes that Josh Kushner’s Thrive is an investor in OpenGov. The Wall Street Journal also quoted Kevin Merritt, founder of OpenGov rival firm Socrata, as pointing out that OpenGov did not have any software initiatives for the federal government, making it odd that OpenGov’s viewpoints on federal tech policy would be all that valued by the President. Online business research site Crunchbase shows that Thrive is a Series B investor in Mapbox.

It is truly discouraging to realize that, despite a perceived sea change in the American political climate, it appears to be business as usual in D.C., at least in terms of attacks on the U.S. patent system from either side of the political aisle. Mapbox, a company which seems to be very anti-patent, benefits from its close ties to political power to the tune of its ability to impact the overall patent reform debate with incredibly questionable testimony and absolutely no experience on the topic. As long as those with no legitimate experience who are on a crusade are allowed to testifying in front of Congress on patent reform the U.S. will continue to see patent rights erode and the economy suffer.

The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a writer located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He has become a regular contributor to IPWatchdog.com, writing about technology, innovation and is the primary author of the Companies We Follow series. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients.

Steve Brachmann

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and founder of IPWatchdog.com. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and an attorney with Widerman Malek. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 7 Comments comments. Join the discussion.

  1. Valuationguy September 7, 2017 11:02 am

    Great piece of investigative reporting. Thanks for putting the puzzle pieces together!

  2. Tesia Thomas September 7, 2017 2:59 pm

    Musk only feels the way he does about patents because the industries that he’s building in don’t have enough competition to warrant patent infringement worries.

    But, say Toyota or Ford ever uses something from those patents and starts outselling Tesla’s…
    …the story will change.

    Anti-patent is a business decision for him just along different lines than efficient infringers.

    Oh the people that claim to dislike patents and spend so much money getting patents…

    If the VCs and magnates are so anti-patent then stop supporting USPTO.
    Excuse the crude phrase but…it’s like f*cking for virginity.

  3. Tesia Thomas September 7, 2017 3:09 pm

    Hating patents yet buying patents (stop supporting USPTO)

    is like…

    Bombing for peace (stop fighting)

    is like…

    F*cking for virginity (be celibate)

    is like…

    [insert comparison demonstrating hypocrisy]

  4. Mark Chipman September 7, 2017 8:18 pm

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Issa was the person who extended the invite to MapBox. Living in his district, it sounds like something the jerk would do. He’s going to be history come 2018.

  5. Curious September 8, 2017 1:43 pm

    Oh the people that claim to dislike patents and spend so much money getting patents…
    … are hedging their bets. When you have money to burn, you can do that. That is why Google is saying bad things about patents while also buying up the Motorola portfolio while developing their own in-house patenting.

    No matter what happens, these guys are not dumb. They figured out quickly that the best way to protect their business is to line the pockets of politicians to get the results they wanted. They also inserted their people into key positions of government. Finally, if patent do make a comeback, they are growing their patent portfolio to the point where they won’t be completely defenseless if a large operating company (with a large patent portfolio) comes knocking on their door.

  6. staff September 11, 2017 11:31 am

    ‘why Mapbox, a company with no discernible experience, expertise or knowledge with or about the patent system, would be invited to testify before Congress on the question of patent reforms’

    But that is most always the case with these bizarre hearings in the cmtes of Congress when it comes to patent law. In fact, inventors have rarely been invited. We believe that’s because large multinational infringers have managed to commandeer certain members of the cmtes to stack the hearings in their favor. All these large infringers know about patents is…they don’t have any.

    For our position and the changes we advocate (the rest of the truth) to restore the patent system, or to join our effort, please visit us at https://aminventorsforjustice.wordpress.com/category/our-position/
    or, contact us at aifj@mail.com

  7. dh September 23, 2017 1:08 pm

    @staff

    Attempting to join your “effort” only re-directs to a WordPress website builder.

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