Facebook, Smilebox, Intellectual Ventures, & More: The 1-Minute Week in Seattle Tech

The past week in Seattle tech stories at Xconomy leads off with a recap of the highest-profile project yet to emerge from Facebook‘s growing engineering office in Seattle: Skype video calling. Philip Su, the social network’s full-time engineer on the video calling project, says he spent a lot of time making the installation process virtually seamless. What kind of user did he have in mind? Someone like your dear old mom.

Bellevue, WA’s Intellectual Ventures found itself responding to a hard-hitting episode of the public radio program “This American Life,” which delved into the complex and litigious world of patent rights in the U.S. technology industry. Intellectual Ventures has long worked to bat aside criticism that it’s a non-practicing “patent troll” that merely sucks away money on the ideas of others. In this case, I wrote, IV’s tale of an inventor who benefited didn’t pan out—and that gave “This American Life” exactly the kind of devastating anecdote it needed to complete the story.

The exits keep trickling along—this one wasn’t huge, but shows some life in the market for relatively established companies. Smilebox, which offers software that helps users process and publish their photos, was picked up by Israel’s IncrediMail for $25 million up front, with the possibility of another $15 million later on. The Smilebox team of about 50 people will stay headquartered in Redmond.

Seattle design shop pinch/zoom shared some cool insights that it gleaned from designing a new video-player iPad app for the BBC, that stalwart of across-the-pond programming like The Office (the superior original), Monty Python, and more. Pinch/zoom’s Brian Fling said the work affirmed some longstanding design principles, but also delivered some surprises, including the sophistication of iPad users—even though they weren’t all people you’d normally consider super techie.

What was I just saying about exits? A survey from the accounting firm Ernst & Young pegged IPO registration activity in the second quarter at 140 nationwide, up nearly a quarter from a year earlier. The Seattle area’s pipeline for the quarter wasn’t huge, but we are hearing some more rumblings from companies that would like to join Zillow (NASDAQ: Z), Impinj, and Homestreet Bank on the Wall Street parade.

Two items: PhotoRocket finds that VCs in Silicon Valley are sick of hearing about social/mobile/location/photo apps and utilities. It cuts staff, swaps CEOs, throttles back the marketing spending and refocuses its resources on engineering and product development. Meanwhile, across town, Rich Barton and crew are winding down TravelPost and instead putting the money into Trover, a social network/photo sharing/location discovery app that helps people find cool things around the world. It’s coming out of alpha testing and available to the wider world.

Border-straddling cleantech company InEnTec hauled in a $20 million round of financing from undisclosed investors to ramp up its garbage-to-gas technology. InEnTec is headquartered in Bend, OR, but has its major engineering operations across the way in Richland, WA. CEO Karl Schoene said the money will help InEnTec grow its technology to a larger scale. It typically operates joint ventures in different locations where the tech is put to use turning waste into syngas.

And finally, recession survivor Varolii raised $8 million in growth capital; Lucid Commerce scored another $8 million and is expanding in New York; Seniorhomes.com added $3 million.

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