Nav

IV Insights Blog

Featured

Latest Articles

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.

Read the full story »

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.

Read the full story »

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.

Read the full story »

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.

Read the full story »

How Ingenuity Is Art: Top Invention Stories from February

In 2002, Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space said, “The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin… they are manifestations of the same thing. The art and sciences are avatars of human creativity.” 

How Ingenuity Is Art: Top Invention Stories from February

While creativity is often associated with art in its most traditional sense – sculptures, paintings, photography – Jemison reminds us that scientific innovation is a work of art in itself. In fact, creativity is intrinsically tied to much of our work. Whether we’re building cutaways of our technology, discovering ways to detect disease, or creating a new method to store milk, finding answers to pressing global challenges requires the imaginative ability to see beyond pre-existing ideas.

So this month, the links we love tell tales of artists both within and outside the walls of IV who, like Jemison, use the power of thought as their paintbrush – leaving their mark through inventions that improve our world.

IV in the news

This month, IV spinout Kymeta reached a new milestone in its satellite antenna internet technology for connected vehicles. Find out about its successful demo of the tech from GeekWire. The technology disruptor connecting our world was also named to Fast Company’s top-10 most innovative companies in space.

IV’s work with the University of Washington and Duke University on wireless charging technology was featured on Seattle’s KIRO7 and described as “pushing the boundaries of physics.”

IV is working on a device to detect fake drugs that can be easily accessed in the developing world. Learn more in The Guardian about IV’s collaborative effort with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and how it could save lives.

At IV, we’re working to make Nikola Tesla’s dream of wireless charging a reality using metamaterials. Hear firsthand from IV’s Russell Hannigan on the technology that could be charging drones wirelessly in the near future.  

Read the full story »

Kymeta’s Latest: Blazing a Trail Toward Total Connectivity

Stephen Hawking once remarked, “We are all now connected by the internet, like neurons in a giant brain.”

Kymeta’s Latest: Blazing a Trail Toward Total Connectivity

Image courtesy of Kymeta

Technology has enabled us to achieve a higher level of global interconnectivity than ever before. Yet even in our modern world of smartphones and wireless internet, there are still loose ends – those places around the world where connectivity is still limited. Kymeta, an IV spinout, is working to change this by delivering on what connectivity is meant to be – secure, available, universal and global. Harnessing the power of metamaterials, Kymeta is creating high-speed, global connectivity that can be easily accessed on land, out to sea, or high in the sky.

Since our last post about Kymeta’s mTenna™ technology, the company has made major moves worth sharing. Its innovation over the last several months have propelled it one step closer to delivering accessibility from the furthest corners of the Earth, including today's announcement that its 20 cm mTenna™ successfully connected to the Intelsat S.A. satellite constellation.  

Fast Company named Kymeta one of 2017 “World’s Most Innovative Companies”

Congratulations to Kymeta for being named to Fast Company’s top-10 most innovative companies in space earlier this month. “Anyone whose DIRECTV has dropped out during a flight will appreciate Kymeta’s flat-panel antennas, which use electronic steering to connect with low and medium earth orbit satellites and provide broadband speeds for fast-moving vehicles. Train commuters would no longer have to rely on cellular towers and cargo ships would gain access to improved navigation features. Even your car could get better connectivity,” said Fast Company on the impact of Kymeta’s technology.

Kymeta to bring high-speed connectivity to civilian armored vehicles

This month, Kymeta announced plans to work with Aurum Security GmbH to bring Kymeta mTenna™ satellite connectivity to VIP and civilian armored vehicles (CAV). This means high bandwidth connectivity can be accessed by VIPs, government officials and royalty no matter where they are in the world.

Read the full story »

How New Cervical Cancer Screening Technology Could Save the Lives of Hundreds of Thousands of Women

On World Cancer Day, Global Good and QuantuMDx have announced a new partnership to develop a rapid, low-cost and mobile diagnostic test that could make a tremendous difference in the global fight against cervical cancer. 

How New Cervical Cancer Screening Technology Could Save the Lives of Hundreds of Thousands of Women

Source: Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon  

Cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable, yet it kills nearly 270,000 women worldwide every year. Yet, as deaths from the slow-growing disease drop in the U.S., women in the developing world are dying at an unprecedented rate.  That’s because many of these women who have human papillomavirus (HPV) – the leading cause of cervical cancer – don’t return to health facilities to receive follow up care. A point-of-care HPV test that provides health workers with immediate results, allowing them to screen and treat women during a single visit, is critical.  

Enter QuantuMDx and Global Good, working together to harness the wide-ranging benefits of QuantuMDx’s technology platform including the speed, accessibility and affordability of its battery-operated portable Q-POC™ diagnostic laboratory along with the global health expertise of Global Good, to make gold standard HPV testing accessible to women worldwide.

Read the full story »

Top stories from January: How challenging assumptions leads to breakthroughs

Renowned professor and biologist Uri Alon once said, “In order to discover something truly new, at least one of your basic assumptions has to change.” This creative and outside-the-box thinking that scientific discovery demands is not an easy feat to achieve. It requires us to abandon a preconceived notion and embrace a new framework for looking at a problem.

Top stories from January: How challenging assumptions leads to breakthroughs

From clean energy and virtual reality to artificial intelligence and American football, as we wrap up the first month of the new year, the stories we’re loving exemplify this spirit of challenging basic assumptions to solve the world’s biggest problems.

IV discoveries in the news:

On Nova PBS this month, Nathan Myhrvold shared his views on the future of global energy demand and how to innovate the next generation of nuclear power.

This month, IV’s Global Good worked with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to deliver more than 5000 Mazzi™ containers, which provide clean and effective storage of milk, to the farmers in eight regions of Ethiopia. 

IV spinout Evolv Technology developed a new security scanner using AI technology that can check 800 people per hour securely, streamline flying, and eliminate those pesky airport security lines once and for all.

As we prepare for Super Bowl Sunday, IV scientists teamed up to patent a new high-tech football helmet that would make the game safer for all your favorite players.

IV spinout Xinova announced a collaboration with San Francisco-based Aetho that could create new tools for augmented and virtual reality.

Read the full story »

Metamaterials: Bending Nature

When Nathan Myhrvold calls something “the closest thing to magic he’s ever seen,” it warrants a second look. Metamaterials are a new frontier, one the New York Times said “the waves of the future may bend around,” and we are investing a lot of time in their success. 

Metamaterials: Bending Nature

In this illustration, a thin diffractive lens focuses a divergent wave created by a small driver and achieves a nearly perfect focus on the other side of it. This shows how focusing can “reverse” diffraction (the spreading of waves) and instead direct wave energy towards a small receiver.

Metamaterials are engineered structures including arrays of small features that can manipulate electromagnetic, acoustic, or even water surface waves in interesting ways and well beyond what is possible with naturally occurring materials. In other words, metamaterials literally bend, squeeze and twist the waves – sound waves, light waves, radiowaves – that are all around us.

From new satellite antennas enabling broadband access anywhere in the world to innovative radar capabilities allowing drones to navigate safely, to connected cars and more, metamaterials promise an exciting future.

And that future is not far off. Today there are many near-term applications that metamaterials technology enables, leading to practical solutions that can positively impact the lives of millions of people around the world. In 2010, our Invention Science Fund laid out a plan to pursue practical applications of metamaterials, and one-by-one we have systematically created, incubated and ultimately spun-out new companies empowered to develop and bring these new products to market.

Today, four new companies are hard at work, exploiting ISF’s metamaterial invention leadership to create new classes of products. Kymeta is bringing to market a radically new kind of flat satellite antenna for high-speed mobile and other applications. Evolv Technologies, which was formed in collaboration with Duke University, is pioneering advanced security and other imaging technology. Echodyne is building new kinds of scanning radar, such as for drones and self-driving cars. And, finally, Pivotal Communications is creating new kinds of advanced communications antenna solutions, including those essential to delivering the promise of super-fast “5G” of cellular services. 

ISF is hard at work on our fifth metamaterial spin-out and beyond. We can’t say too much about it right now, but what we can say is that we think it will be very practical and very powerful. The applications of metamaterials are limited only by our own imagination and we’re eager to continue sharing what’s next.

For more about how our spinouts are using metamaterials in the market, check out the latest around companies like Kymeta, Evolv, and Echodyne, and stay tuned for news about new technologies. 

Read the full story »

It’s What’s Inside That Counts: the Arktek Revealed

In this video, we’ll show you how we told the story of the magic behind — or rather inside — the Arktek™, which received a USPTO Patents for Humanity Award in 2016. 

In order to produce these visuals, our team develops cutaways, or diagrams and prototypes with some external parts left out to reveal the inside. You may already be familiar with the Modernist Cuisine team’s use of cutaways to depict their work. After all, the best way to show the science of cooking is to see what’s actually going on inside the pot. And while these Modernist Cuisine photos are perhaps the most prominent cutaways – on display in museums as part of a traveling exhibit and in several cookbooks – we also use them to tell stories of our life-saving inventions.

A few years ago, for an exhibit in the Bezos Center for Innovation at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), our team created a cutaway of Global Good’s Arktek. The vaccine storage device can store a month’s supply of vaccines for a village of 6,000 people in 100 degree plus heat, without electricity. The innovative technology was developed by our team of inventors, rocket scientists, industrial engineers and health experts to save lives in countries with the lowest immunization rates in the world.

Want more inside scoop of the goings on at IV? Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter

Read the full story »

Categories

Archives

Twitter Follow us on Twiter!

Why are scientists spelunking for cave gunk? @kate_baggaley @PopSci popsci.com/superbug-antib…

May 27

Game, set, match. Thanks to @rogerfederer, @JohnIsner, @MikeMcCreadyPJ, and everyone who helped raise >$2 million f… twitter.com/i/web/status/8…

May 26

Researchers on a South Pacific Island are trying this unique approach to detoxing the ocean. @harry_pearltwitter.com/i/web/status/8…

May 26