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Intellectual Ventures Develops the First Offline Virtual Malaria Microscopy Training Course

The World Health Organization-approved eLearning tool can be used regardless of Internet access.

Intellectual Ventures Develops the First Offline Virtual Malaria Microscopy Training Course

There are more than 200 million cases of malaria worldwide every year, with roughly half a million deaths. While some populations are equipped to confront the malaria threat, many countries still face significant barriers in both early detection and healthcare provider training and support. Intellectual Ventures’ Global Good Fund is using science and technology to invent new solutions to reduce barriers to global health, especially in the fight against malaria.

To address a need for accurate malaria diagnosis, we are pleased to be working with Amref Health Africa, the largest Africa-based nonprofit organization delivering health services to over 30 countries on the continent, to provide a new accessible tool for laboratory professionals and health workers: the Worldwide E-Learning Course on Malaria Microscopy (WELCOMM).

As microscopy remains a major method for identifying malaria parasites in patients’ blood, continuing education is essential for microscopists to improve their skills to achieve accurate results and to prepare for WHO certification exams. Classes are traditionally delivered through in-person re-training courses, which can be difficult to access for health workers from remote, rural areas and technicians in busy laboratories.

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Meet IV: Phillip Wallace

“For some reason, I’ve had an interest in politics since a very young age, even when I was a teenager,” says Phillip Wallace, who joined Intellectual Ventures (IV) as government relations manager in spring 2015. “When I was in high school, I was always in student government, I was my class president every year. I always enjoyed the student elections.”

Meet IV: Phillip Wallace

Phillip grew up in Baton Rouge, La., about an hour north of New Orleans, and he went on to study political science and economics at Southern University in his hometown. “Political science was a very natural choice for me,” he says. “I wasn’t one of the college students who struggled to find a major, or didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was interested in the political process.”

The logical next step for Phillip after he graduated was to move to the nerve center of national politics: Washington, D.C. His first job on Capitol Hill was with Senator Mary Landrieu from his home state, and then he decided to further his education by pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at George Washington University. “You don’t get much more political than being blocks away from the U.S. State Department and the White House,” he says, “having professors who’ve had distinguished careers in government and politics.”

His graduate school experience steered him to a position in the government affairs office with Hyundai Motor America, a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Company. Phillip enjoyed his role with Hyundai and stayed there for 2.5 years, but then he saw an opportunity with IV in 2015. “I knew that after working for such a large company,” he says, “I wanted to take advantage of a company that had greater flexibility, and those tend to be smaller companies, companies with 1,000 people or less. Their day-to-day business is innovation, they know how to be quick and adapt.”

That’s why the D.C.-based government relations office at IV felt like a great fit for him, and he now says—with his trademark sincerity—that his work has become “so natural that a lot of times what I do now doesn’t really feel like work.” 

At the Office
Today, Phillip’s role as senior manager of government relations takes many shapes. “I spend probably about 40 percent of my time doing what I consider retail lobbying: examining issues that are important to the business, whether it’s tax reform and tax policies, or whether we’re talking about patent reform, or looking at bills that impact the patent system.”

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Meet IV: Megan Bettilyon

“Every single day, I am exposed to new information, new technology, new ideas, new ways of just thinking about a particular topic,” says Megan Bettilyon, director of inventive government solutions and Global Good special projects. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new.”

Meet IV: Megan Bettilyon

Nothing about Megan’s position is predictable, and that’s exactly how she likes it. She thrives on the diversity of her roles, from serving as field manager for the Arktek™ before its commercialization; to working with partners at the United Nations; to traveling to D.C. to collaborate with our government relations team on Capitol Hill; to managing IV’s programs that involve cooperation with the U.S. government; to other projects relating to climate change, nutrition and global health. “I get paid to learn,” she says. “I get paid to investigate and understand how these new technologies and these potential partners could have an immense impact on the work we’re doing in low-resources nations. And that is extremely exciting for me.”

Beyond the excitement of her work, though, is a more fundamental connection with the culture at Intellectual Ventures (IV). There’s a palpable energy, Megan says, that drives the people and research here—a shared personality and mission, a sense of being surrounded by kindred, curious, creative spirits. “I’ve been a ‘nerd’ my entire life,” she says, “and I am damn proud of it. When I was a kid, it was a hard name to be called, but I have embraced it. And at the Lab, there are just as many people who are just as nerdy or geeky as I am about the things they love. Everybody there has a passion, something they truly jive on, and that is cool.”

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Nathan Myhrvold on AI and Why There’s Nothing to Fear

Is artificial intelligence (AI) a boon or bane for humanity? 

Technologists have been grappling with this question for years, and invariably, the conversation returns to fear that these changes will displace millions of workers, lead to widespread hardship and throw society into economic crisis.

Our founder and CEO Nathan Myhrvold recently delivered the World Traders 2018 Tacitus Lecture to discuss this fear, which he calls the “innovation menace.” In his lecture, he recounts how history has illustrated that the “doom and gloom” conversation around new technologies is, and always has been, wrong—and why we needn't fear that progress in AI will outstrip society's ability to ensure that the technology improves our lives.

View the video below to watch Nathan deliver the London World Traders Guild annual Tacitus Lecture, in which distinguished speakers deliver remarks on a concern affecting world trade.

IV CEO and founder Nathan Myhrvold delivers his Tacitus Lecture at the City of London's Guildhall on February 22, 2018. Photograph copyright Jake Sugden.

Nathan delivers his Tacitus Lecture at the City of London's Guildhall on February 22, 2018. Photographs copyright Jake Sugden.

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Meet IV: Guillaume Chabot-Couture

Seven years ago, Guillaume Chabot-Couture had just finished his Ph.D. at Stanford University. A native of Quebec City in Canada, Guillaume had studied physics as an undergrad at Université Laval in his hometown, and then high-temperature superconductors for his recently completed dissertation. His next move, though, was fairly wide open.   

Meet IV: Guillaume Chabot-Couture

Hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island

“I was considering many of the usual routes at the end of a graduate degree,” he says: “working for a national laboratory, trying to get a postdoc in academia, or joining a large company. I was also looking at other areas, patent law and different ways to apply this knowledge.”

Through a bit of happenstance, says Guillaume, a friend reached out to him about a possible opportunity with Intellectual Ventures and its Epidemiological Modeling (EMOD) project, led by Philip Welkhoff. At the time, it was a small group of people inventing ways to build more realistic simulations of disease transmission, with a focus on improving and saving lives in developing countries using quantitative analysis. “When I had the opportunity to interview for this job, which combined analytics and mathematical modeling with a field that was largely unknown to me—communicable diseases, global health—I think my curiosity kicked in in a big way. I thought it sounded really interesting and wanted to learn more about it.”

Guillaume ended up getting the job, and EMOD has since grown about tenfold into what is now the Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM). As a senior research manager, he leads multiple teams working on building models of disease transmission and incidence, as well as other tools to help accelerate the eradication of infectious diseases in the developing world. “I think they took a chance hiring me, someone who didn’t know much about disease modeling, but it’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he says.

A New Field
IV often draws from varied, even unlikely, backgrounds to build research teams, as each new perspective can lead to unexpected insights and results. For Guillaume, after spending most of his student life studying physics, that meant trading superconductors for disease modeling. And that transition, while not exactly obvious, still very much triggered the same curiosity and potential for far-reaching impact that has always driven his work.

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Accelerating Impact

ISF Incubator calls for entrepreneurs who want to bring next-generation tech to big markets

Accelerating Impact

For years, Intellectual Ventures (IV) has built business on the back of new technologies: To date we’ve created 15 companies, which have raised more than $700 million in funding and created more than 400 jobs. With each company, we’ve learned how to work faster and smarter, and now we are accelerating this model by launching the Invention Science Fund (ISF) Incubator—a team within IV that matches outside entrepreneurs with our inventions and resources to disrupt big markets like health, telecommunications and transportation.

It’s a different approach to the incubator model. We have the inventions, the resources, and the know-how, and now we need passionate entrepreneurs who can execute.

Access to our state-of-the-art lab, our patent portfolio, and our network of engineers, mentors and investors means we can provide the tools for success—whether it’s a piece of special equipment from our mechanical engineering and instrument fabrication shop to create a prototype, or assistance setting up a business and navigating the legal landscape. We believe the best way to bring cutting-edge science and new technology to market is to put it in the hands of the most capable, passionate people, and provide the necessary resources to build a business.

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Top Nine Invention Stories from March

March marks Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day celebrations around the world. At Intellectual Ventures, we commend the contributions of women to the field of invention, and work to support more women and girls to pursue careers in STEM. As IV President and COO Adriane Brown has aptly said: “I believe that collaboration of great, diverse minds is how we will solve our world’s toughest challenges and create breakthrough technologies.” 

Top Nine Invention Stories from March

Check out our top invention stories from March, from IV and spinout news to inventors and the grand challenges they’re addressing. 

IV in the news

For International Women’s Day, IV’s Adriane Brown spoke at a panel with other top female leaders in Seattle who are championing women empowerment and making an impact in their communities. Discover why the event was a GeekWire top calendar pick and listen to the full panel discussion here

IV spinout Evolv raised $18 million for high-tech body scanners that don’t cause long lines at security.

IV’s Global Good and Biopromic joined forces to confront tuberculosis – a disease that takes 1.8 million lives each year. Their plan: a low-cost, accessible diagnostic test for communities in low-income settings.

As part of Global Good, scientists at IV’s Institute for Disease Modeling are on the frontlines of the battle against malaria. Hear from one of those scientists in Big Think.

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Failing for Success: Alexander Graham Bell

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” - Alexander Graham Bell

Failing for Success: Alexander Graham Bell

Bell at the opening of the long-distance line from New York to Chicago in 1892 via Wikimedia Commons.

March marks the quick succession of two important anniversaries in the life of Alexander Graham Bell – his birthday (March 3) and the date he patented his groundbreaking telephone (March 7). And though we think of his invention as one that changed the course of history, success for Bell wasn’t always smooth. But while Bell encountered failure in his long career, it did not stop him from exploring new ideas.

Known as the father of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell’s invention historically changed how people communicated. In fact, Bell’s innovation completely disrupted the norm of communications. When he tried to sell the telephone patent to Western Union in the late-1800s, the company’s president scoffed at the idea, and thought of the telephone as only a toy. Furthermore, Bell’s other 16, non-communications-related patents are a testament to his general interest in inventive ideas across various activities.  

Despite the multitude of invention success, Bell encountered failure as well. Many of his inventions, while ahead of their time, were not as successful as the telephone. Here are a couple of Bell’s invention ideas that did not work out as intended:

Early Metal Detector

This near-success occurred in 1881 after the assassination of then-President James A. Garfield. Bell, his assistant, Sumner Tainter, and mathematician Simon Newcomb developed a device that hummed when close to metal. During initial testing, the device succeeded and found bullets that the men placed under their clothing. However, while searching for the bullet in President Garfield’s body, the detector hummed continually.

Unfortunately, the bedsprings in President Garfield’s bed led to the continuous humming, and the invention was seemingly a complete failure. Nonetheless, Bell is credited with providing the framework for the modern metal detector.

Kite Flight

Later in life, Bell immersed himself in the study of flight. He supported aerospace engineering through the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA), and came up with concepts meant to progress the science of human flight. From 1907 through 1912 Bell primarily experimented with tetrahedral wings, or box-kites. However, many of his concepts could not stay aloft for long periods of time, and the Wright brothers became the first inventors to perfect extended flight.

Nevertheless, architect and artist, Tomás Saraceno, recently used Bell’s idea to create a tetrahedral wing that stays aloft in the air. This concept, according to Saraceno may one day lead to the development of floating solar-powered structures for energy production.

Interested to hear how more inventors throughout history persevered in the face of failure? Check out previous installments of our Failing for Success series, including Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla and The Wright Brothers.

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Story Behind the Story: More on IV’s Photonic Fence with Arty Makagon

From Star Wars and Star Trek to James Bond and the Terminator, lasers have become a staple of the science fiction and action film worlds. But since their invention 57 years ago, the day-to-day use of lasers is no longer fantasy. Today, lasers find powerful and wide-ranging use in science, medicine, the military and now, even disease control. 

Story Behind the Story: More on IV’s Photonic Fence with Arty Makagon

Global Good’s Photonic Fence, or “insect-zapping laser” as described in a recent MIT Technology Review article, has extended the potential for lasers even further. Though originally developed to control vector-borne diseases like malaria, the technology is now being deployed to the agricultural battle ground of Florida to engage another potent pest. The enemy: an insect invader destroying the sunshine state’s oranges.

To get the inside scoop on the battle-ready weapon, we sat down with Photonic Fence technical project lead Arty Makagon to discuss how the technology works, how it’s progressed since its first generation and why it has the power to defeat the Asian citrus psyllid.

IV Insights: How far have you come since the first generation of the Photonic Fence?

Arty: We started with the question – can [the device] see far? We checked that off with our first-generation prototype. For Gen-2, we wanted to know - can we see targets both near and far? We started climbing the technology ladder. Now, with Gen-3, can we see near and far and kill and start hitting our performance benchmarks on controlling the pest we’re after.

We’ve also worked to understand and fine-tune the lethal mechanism so that when the bugs are killed, they don’t even look damaged. We have videos of earlier tests where you can see via high-speed camera that we burned the wings off mosquitos. That’s neat to watch, but it turns out that it’s gratuitous overkill – and so that isn’t how the machine works now. After we shoot a bug, when we look at it under a microscope, we can’t tell where it was shot – there are no singe marks and no gaping wounds.

So how did the bug die? We sent samples to the University of Washington histology lab and found out that essentially we end up cooking the bug. Our laser acts like a very precise, “short-wavelength microwave oven”. When you look at a cross-section of a chicken breast cooked in a microwave and a cross section of a bug dosed with a laser, they essentially look the same.

What’s the big deal about the Asian citrus psyllid?

The psyllid is a problem that’s screaming for a solution. Since its high 15 years ago, there’s been a 60 percent reduction in total citrus production in Florida. You may not have noticed, but the makeup of your carton of orange juice has been changing over the years as the varieties of oranges that are best suited to juice production are dying off.

The Asian citrus psyllid is also particularly insidious because it spreads a virus and can infect an entire tree rather than ruining individual pieces of fruit like other pests. Because the psyllid is so destructive, farmers have been trying all kinds of creative methods to control the pest. They’ve deployed everything from parasite wasps that eat the early stage psyllids to planting sacrificial species – like guava – that the psyllids appeared to prefer. But despite these efforts, there are bunch of now-derelict groves in Florida that are just so infested that they can’t be used.

Other citrus growing states are on the cusp of having a big psyllid problem, but there’s nothing they can do about it. Lots of places are spending a lot of money on trying to prevent the psyllid, but with very little success. The psyllid and the virus they spread are both in Texas and California. Growers are trying to monitor how the psyllids are spreading, but even those mechanisms aren’t terribly effective.

In short, we’re working in this area because this is not a Florida problem or even a U.S. problem – the Asian citrus psyllid is a global problem. And no one has found a solution to this problem, short of “run away and plant in regions less hospitable to psyllids.”

How do people react when they see the Photonic Fence in action?

I think the best way to describe it for first-time viewers is disbelief.

We do two kinds of demonstrations at the IV Lab with the Photonic Fence – a tracking demo and a lethal demo – and both can be kind of dumbfounding in different ways. For the tracking demo, you can watch a screen that shows what’s happening in real time for a box of bugs that’s 60 meters away. It takes a minute for the brain to process that the machine is seeing something that would be effectively impossible to see with the human eye.

For the lethal demo, you start with a box of 25 mosquitos and within a few seconds, there are 25 mosquito corpses on the floor of the box. This also takes a minute to register, because you can’t see anything except for mosquitos falling to the ground because the laser in our system is outside of the visible range.

Missed the original story? Check it out on MIT Technology Review. And stay tuned for more “behind the interview” information from our experts on Insights.

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Facts: Basic and Alternative

As a new Congress descends on DC, the push for changes to our patent system continues. In February, despite already historic changes to the system over the past few years, Senate leaders called for more tweaks. With a new administration in town it’s a good time to review the bidding.  

Let’s start with some basic facts: Patents are more than arcane legal documents; they represent a legal claim to rights in an invention. Regardless of whether you subscribe to the “patents as property” or “patents as defining a liability” theory, there is no dispute that patents are an asset – they can be bought, sold, licensed or otherwise transferred.

This fact is fundamental to the functioning of the patent system, and the notion that inventions are valuable and are worthy of investment is the core operating principle of Intellectual Ventures. This was true when my co-founder Nathan wrote a Harvard Business Review piece on the topic nearly a decade ago, and it is true today.

Over the years others have adopted IV’s principle and, as a result, a market grew up around these investments. One would think that this would be viewed as a good thing – if we agree that inventing is something to be incentivized, then a market for investing in inventions will provide additional incentives for those doing the invention and, ultimately, fund more invention.

Unfortunately, not all saw the growing market for invention rights as a positive development. Market leaders were quite happy with the status quo in which inventors had limited ability to seek recourse when their inventions were used. As the market developed, and the playing field was leveled, the market leaders developed a strategy familiar to the new administration – they developed a set of alternative facts to push the idea that the system was failing.

For example, there was much hue and cry over the alleged use of mass mailing of demand letters to end users of products alleging infringement. After extensive analysis (and expenditure of tax dollars) the FTC reached a settlement with the one (1) actual offender, who had extracted licenses from exactly two (2) small businesses.

Over the past decade these rhetorical attacks on invention rights have been endless. Common refrains include: Patent litigation is out of control! Poor quality patents are killing investment in technology and dragging down companies! Demand letters are defrauding businesses! Software shouldn’t be patentable! Trolls are abusing the International Trade Commission!

Upon closer inspection many of these claims fall apart. It’s easy to see that patent litigation is on the decline; as patent rights have weakened, US companies are filing for more patents in Europe while applications for US patents remain flat; no public company has yet to report a material patent infringement award against it; and, venture capital investment has approached near-record levels.

This assault on the system lead to the passage of the America Invents Act, and a further bevy of changes including several Supreme Court rulings: two encouraging judges to award attorney’s fees to the winner in patent cases, another which muddied the waters when it comes to what is even deserving of a patent, and a third that could reshape where a patent owner can assert his rights.

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