While complaints about college commencement speaker choices have become a rite of Spring on campuses in recent years, most technology industry-related commencement speakers have avoided such controversy. However, an editorial writer for the UCLA school newspaper — the Daily Bruin — isn't happy with the choice of ex-Microsoft CTO and co-founder of Intellectual Ventures Nathan Myhrvold as this year's pick.
In an editorial titled "Students need a voice in commencement speaker decisions," Ara Shirinian doesn't specifically call for Myhrvold to be disinvited, but does use the school's speaker selection to urge UCLA's higher-ups to give students more say in such decisions going forward.
Other commencement speakers around the country have been given the boot in recent years following protests. The rapper Common was disinvited by Kean University in New Jersey this year because of a song of his that portrays a convicted cop killer as a victim (though the school says his announcement as speaker was made prematurely). Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed out of speaking at Rutgers University last year following protests about her appearing there.
The main complaint about Myhrvold is that Intellectual Ventures has a reputation as more of a patent troll — it buys patents that can then be used to extract money from companies — than as an innovator. Although Shirinian acknowledges that Intellectual Ventures also has a research arm and applies for patents of its own.
"This choice sends a mediocre farewell message to our graduating class by showing that financial success is enough reason to ignore the deep tradition of progressive leadership that the University of California has long stood for, and that companies like Intellectual Ventures directly insult," the editorial reads, in part.
"The reality is that Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures is not the company he wants you to think it is. Intellectual Ventures is the world's most powerful patent troll, 'the most hated company in tech'," Shirinian writes.
Intellectual Ventures supporters say the company actually stands up for inventors, getting them their due for their creations.
Myhrvold's interests go far beyond Microsoft and Intellectual Ventures. He's an inventor himself, and his interests range from "food porn" to dinosaurs to photography.
Assuming he doesn't get disinvited, Myhrvold will speak at UCLA's commencement ceremony on June 12.
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