Nathan Myhrvold on Entrepreneurship and the Magic of Innovation

IV founder and CEO Nathan Myhrvold was recently featured alongside Richard Branson, James Dyson, and other transformative figures in a Thought Economics piece devoted to the possibilities of entrepreneurship. Founded by Vikas Shah, Thought Economics is a fascinating journal dedicated to interviewing some of the world’s leading thinkers and game-changers. The topics can range from culture and art to politics, science and technology, and any other subject impacting society. 

Here are a few key quotes from Nathan:

On how entrepreneurship can overcome challenges:

“I am very much in favor of saying that any problem— regardless of whether it’s a purely scientific, technological, or engineering problem or a human, social, or political problem—can be solved. Now I admit that is difficult, so I certainly can imagine people who are skeptical, but that’s what entrepreneurs and innovators have always had to deal with throughout history: skeptics who say it’ll never work. In essentially any area that you pick, be it in technology or in business, those skeptics end up being wrong. I believe that the people who are skeptical that we can make proper progress against thorny problems of society, they’ll prove to be wrong too, but only if we put our shoulders to the wheel and try to not just work hard on those problems, but work smart, to work creatively, and to work entrepreneurially.”

On why science and innovation are like “magic”:

“The thing that makes enormous problems potentially soluble is that there is no limit to what a new idea can do, whether it is feeding the world, protecting it from a rogue asteroid, or solving the many other problems that we face as a species. Mythology is full of the notion of magic, including magicians and wizards who can utter just a few words to overcome insurmountable challenges or change the world. The truth is that science, technology, understanding, and human creativity are magic that we need.”

On his message to future entrepreneurs:

“Although it’s fashionable to look at the impact of innovation on all of the world’s problems, our population is more educated than ever before. Whether it’s through the internet or another means, we’ve never had a better opportunity to communicate with people across the globe— which means we also have the possibility for an idea in one part of the world to affect everyone. So my message to the next generation is this: you have an incredible opportunity to change the world, far more than existed when I was young and vastly more than most of human history for all human history, so let’s see what you do with it.”

Interested in learning more about Nathan? Check out his recent UCLA commencement address, where he discusses the positive aspects of failure, and take a look at his personal page to read more about his numerous interests and talents. You can also check out our recent Behind the Breakthrough with Dhileep Sivam, who works closely with Nathan.

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From the Archives: The Evolution of Invention

Technology is constantly evolving around us – in fact, if you don’t stop to take note of it, you might completely miss it. Depending on your age, you’ve likely seen some of today’s most advanced technology in its infancy — a mere prototype of an idea born from zealous inventors. Remember these?

Before there were online music curators, there were mixtapes.

If only Zack Morris’ brick phone had a “Track Mr. Belding” app.

The Model T was just as amazing in its feats of engineering as Tesla’s Model S.

Looking back at current technology in its infancy, we’re reminded of all of the great ideas inventors mobilized to bring us into the modern age. To do so requires constant commitment to ingenuity, team work, and the willingness to take risks – and sometimes fail.

So occasionally when you look at your smartphone, play a song with an online streaming service, or appreciate the fuel savings of a hybrid engine, take a moment to appreciate the inventors who’ve worked hard and invested deeply to make our world a more connected, more livable – more fun! – place.

Want real stories about inventors? Check out our Behind the Breakthrough series that’s featured inventors who’ve worked on many different technologies and projects.


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Behind the Breakthrough Answers: “What’s the best part about inventing?”

There’s something unique about being an inventor. Let’s face it: waking up and creating something new isn’t easy – especially when one success often evolves from many failures. This is why IV loves transformative inventions and the inventors who work so diligently to make them happen. On this Behind the Breakthrough, we’re reflecting on what our participants described as the most meaningful aspects of invention:  

Behind the Breakthrough Answers: “What’s the best part about inventing?”

“You could say that I’ve been an inventor since I was a kid. I used to mess around with science and electronics since I was 10 or 11 – dissecting technology and trying to make something new out of it. I even had this “tinker space” all through school. But beyond the general love of inventing, I’m an inventor because I want to create things that deliver important value to society. My team and I strive to make a meaningful impact wherever we can – the medical world, materials, energy, anywhere. So my work is something I love to do and it makes the world a better place. It’s a great combination.” – Dr. Michael Manion

“Inventing as a group can be extraordinarily productive. My ideas get cross-pollinated with the knowledge and ideas of other inventors, and vice-versa. Sometimes it can take a dozen people to take an initial idea and morph it into a patentable invention. That is always a fascinating process – someone has an outside-the-box idea and we all harshly critique it and then offer constructive suggestions and suddenly it all clicks. I love this form of invention because I always have crazy-sounding initial ideas that sometimes end up having quite a bit of utility.” – Pablos Holman

“To me, invention means creating something that is good for humankind in any form, whether it’s abstract like a computer algorithm or something more solid, like a robot. Invention ideas are often improved with collaboration and StudentRND is really helpful because it provides such a powerful community. Being surrounded by people who share similar inventing interests is both beneficial and inspiring.” – Pat Pataranutaporn

Want to hear more from these impressive inventors? Check out our original profiles of Michael, Pablos, and Pat. And don’t forget to follow the rest of our Behind the Breakthrough series by subscribing to our IV Insights blog and following our Facebook and LinkedIn pages. 



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News You Can Use: IP around the World

Intellectual Property (IP) underpins invention, innovation, and even economic growth. So it’s no wonder why virtually every country on Earth aims to promote an effective and flourishing IP strategy. In fact, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) boasts a membership of 188 countries who work together to create IP systems that enable innovation and creativity for the world’s benefit. This month’s News You Can Use highlights recent global IP developments, including cooperation between countries – sometimes half a planet apart.

Singapore and UK increase IP cooperation

Very recently, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the UK’s Intellectual Property Office. The MOU allows both countries to share best practices on IP protections, IP research, and more. Importantly, the cooperation between both countries builds on the increasing economic ties between Southeast Asia and the rest of the world.

This wasn’t the only IP news coming out Singapore. A few weeks ago, IPOS teamed up with the Institution of Engineers Singapore to create a certification program for engineers to become IP specialists. This program will enhance engineers’ ability to manage IP portfolios while researching and developing new ideas and products for their respective companies.

Philippines and Mexico sign MOU on IP Cooperation

In other corners of the world, the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines and the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property signed an MOU to further enhance IP cooperation and protections between both countries. Specifically, the agreement encourages joint symposia, seminars and workshops to collaborate on the future of IP rights and development. This is a positive advancement for a growing economic relationship between both countries, which will see Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto make an official state visit to the Philippines in November.

Indonesia Strengthens IP Infrastructure

Last but not least we pivot to Indonesia, where the country has been gradually enhancing its IP system to allow for flourishing creativity and innovation. Today, Indonesia’s comprehensive IP system helps to promote and disseminate technological inventions and ideas, while also maximizing scientific research. This fantastic piece from the Jakarta Post delves into more detail about Indonesia’s IP journey – and its future.

Want to learn more about the importance of IP? Check out how IV uses intellectual property to accelerate our partners’ growth and see why companies of any size, at any stage, can benefit from developing a proactive IP strategy.

News You Can Use

Intellectual Ventures regularly shares roundups of invention and intellectual property news. To read the other posts in this series, see below:

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Behind the Breakthrough Answers: “What advice would you give to young inventors?”

Since our Behind the Breakthrough series began, we’ve profiled 14 innovative thinkers, scientists, and, of course, inventors. While each individual told a unique and compelling story, we’ve identified some common links between them. On this Behind the Breakthrough – the start of a new journey for the series – we’re featuring the inventors and thinkers who gave advice to young inventors and innovators about tapping into their full potential and positively transforming society. Here’s a recap of their advice:  

Behind the Breakthrough Answers: “What advice would you give to young inventors?”

“The youngest inventors are, in fact, kids of any age who are interested in how things work. My advice for them is to find something you’re passionate about and pursue it creatively. With a hands-on approach, you can easily experiment to increase your knowledge – and that process is the very first step to being an inventor.”

“And don’t forget that communication is important! Effectively explaining your ideas can make you an even better inventor – you’ll be better at convincing the right people that your creation is valuable and can make the world a better place.” – Jake Russell, IV’s Invention Development Fund

“A quote from Marie Curie has inspired me for years: ‘Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.’ I always keep this in mind, because I can be intimidated by the idea of working on cutting edge ideas, even when I know I have something potentially groundbreaking in my head. So as young inventors and innovators, we should believe in ourselves and our ideas. If we don’t, our progress for humankind will stall.” – Pat Pataranutaporn, Student and Software Designer

“Any young person with a knack for learning can be an inventor. School and education are important because they teach you to learn. If young people can find a way to get interested in learning and then spend a lot of time doing it efficiently, they can go a very long way. They won’t have to worry about much else because they will be adaptable and always able to learn new things. My best advice is this: find anything that leads to learning and the rest will happen naturally. That is what makes learning and inventing so exciting – it never ends. It’s like getting new superpowers every single day.” – Pablos Holman, IV’s Resident Futurist

“We are part of an innovation society today, in large part because of young people. If we passionately explain to younger generations that they have the unique ability to develop technologies that can be leveraged for monetization, it would go a long way. Additionally, we need to educate younger individuals about innovation and invention, and patents in general. This will make them better “IP citizens” in the sense that they will understand how to obtain their own IP rights. They will also understand why respecting the IP rights of others is so important. It all comes down to education. Our younger generations are enthusiastic and intelligent. I have a lot of faith in them to not only understand and defend IP rights, but also to lead our innovative future.” – Phyllis Turner-Brim, IV Chief IP Counsel and Vice President

Want to hear more from these pioneers? Check out our original profiles of Jake, Pat, Pablos, and Phyllis. And don’t forget to follow the rest of our Behind the Breakthrough series by subscribing to our IV Insights blog and following our Facebook and LinkedIn pages. 


IV In the Community – September and October

From Washington State to Washington, D.C., members of IV’s team will speak about innovation, inventing for impact and public-private collaboration. Check out what’s on the calendar below, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for updates from these events.

IV In the Community – September and October
  • On September 18, CEO Nathan Myhrvold will keynote Microsoft’s annual Global CIO Summit 2015. Nathan will talk with Adi Ignatius, editor-in-chief of Harvard Business Review, about principles for managing innovation and leadership in technology development.
  • On October 9, Maurizio Vecchione, IV’s senior vice president of Global Good and Research, will keynote the IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference in Seattle, Washington. The event will bring together IEEE members and business leaders to discuss how technology can address critical issues facing the developing world with Maurizio speaking about saving lives through invention.
  • Maurizio Vecchione will also present case studies from the front lines of global health and discuss new opportunities for public-private collaboration in research and innovation at the Italian Scientists and Scholars of North America Foundation's 2015 Annual Event in Washington, D.C. on October 28. Founded in 2008, the ISSNAF brings together Italian researchers and scholars to cooperate on science and technology projects.

If you’re attending any of these conferences, we hope that you’ll join us in the discussions. For more information about IV speaking engagements or to inquire about a speaker for your event, please contact

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Behind the Breakthrough: Dhileep Sivam

On this week’s Behind the Breakthrough, we’re profiling Dhileep Sivam, a Senior Manager of Special Programs at IV. Dhileep’s held a number of roles at IV since he joined in 2011, but right how he works directly with IV CEO Nathan Myhrvold on paleontology, asteroid detection, mathematical modeling, and more. Here are some of his reflections:

On his advice for young learners:

“I always tell any motivated young person to go out there and survey the landscape. Read about music, philosophy, engineering, and everything else that has an impact on this world. Some of the greatest discoveries happen at the intersection of numerous fields, including some that you would never guess overlap. And the more you know about different subjects, the more you can identify what is important and how they connect. This is a vital skill for even the most technical of people, who might not see how history, literature, and other humanities help them. But I promise they do. Being well-rounded makes you think differently. It expands your mind.”

On working with Nathan Myhrvold:       

“Working with Nathan has been a one-of-a-kind experience. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with someone who can grasp so many topics so quickly. One of the things that I observed in grad school is there are two different thinking styles: depth-wise thinking and breadth-wise thinking. Depth-wise thinkers like to delve deep into the details of a specific project. Breadth-wise thinkers are more interested in the broader landscape of things. Nathan is one of the few people I know who is both a breadth-wise and depth-wise thinker.”

“I’ve also learned so much from Nathan, like that you shouldn’t be afraid to dive into new and unfamiliar topics. I’ve seen him delve into subjects that he wasn’t originally familiar with by simply reading as much as he can about an issue and talking to the right experts. Working with him has shown me that there are questions in almost every field that no one has ever asked, even the experts.”

On the process of problem solving:

“Before IV, I worked on a comparative genomics project, where I looked at a variety of very similar parasites that cause diseases like malaria. I wanted to find out why some of these parasites make people really sick and why other very similar ones, for whatever reason, don’t. At first, the questions we had seemed unsolvable. But after we broke the problem down in structured ways, we noticed patterns that ultimately started to make sense. The process involves systematically approaching a seemingly incomprehensible system and finding a way to understand its dynamics.”

“We work similarly at IV, starting with very complex problems at an early stage and figuring out unique ways to approach them. The difference is that IV has a team that can accomplish almost anything. For example, when someone formulates a potential solution to a complicated issue, IV’s lab and machine shop can physically create that solution, even if it’s highly elaborate. It’s one of the unique things about IV – seeing the process of developing an idea from the earliest stages to the end. It’s the only place I know where that happens regularly.”

Follow our Behind the Breakthrough series by subscribing to our IV Insights blog, and check out more quotes from inventors and scientists on our Facebook and LinkedIn pages.

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Invention is a Global Enterprise

Over the past several years, here in the U.S. we have engaged in an intense debate about how best to promote innovation – including, of course, perennial calls to upend our patent system. Whatever one thinks of the merits of these ideas, a striking aspect of the debate has been its lack of global perspective. And while it may be natural for Americans to focus on homegrown inventions, our national laws and their impact on our domestic economy, the fact is that invention today is a global enterprise.

Indeed, the most valuable inventions of our age are the ones that touch people of all walks of life in all parts of the world.

As an inventions company with offices around the world, we at Intellectual Ventures know that the challenges to invention are the same the world over. Invention requires access to talent, ideas and a system, which takes investment. Invention is high-risk everywhere in the world. And once a promising patented invention is ready for the marketplace, the challenges don’t end. In an age of intense competition between companies and countries, cutting edge inventions are at risk of being used by others without permission or compensation.

Given how hard and rewarding invention is, sometimes we should take a step back and marvel that it happens at all.

The reason invention still does happen in our world today is that over the course of centuries, countries around the globe have built institutions, markets and laws to promote and protect invention. The countries that have done the most to advance invention are also the ones that have reaped the rewards of the industrial and knowledge economies.

As an inventions company, we are a small part of that vast infrastructure supporting the work of invention globally. That includes our state-of-the-art research lab that pursues breakthroughs that can become spin-out companies with far-reaching impact. Already, our researchers have come up with exciting innovations related to nuclear energy, metamaterials, and our vaccine storage device, Arktek. With a single batch of ice, Arktek can store up to 300 doses of vaccines or enough to serve a remote community of 6,000 for more than a month, without electricity.

Our global network of some 4,000 individual inventors from universities, labs and companies from every continent have collaborated to produce clever solutions such as Mazzi, a cost effective and durable 10-liter food-grade plastic container designed specifically to address breakdowns in the dairy supply chain of rural, developing countries.  IV also collaborates with companies to create joint ventures, like Benemilk and Coffee Flour, to accelerate business development and licensing activities.

To unlock the value of inventions for more inventors and businesses that could benefit from utilizing those inventions, IV also acquires patents from inventors globally and licenses them to companies around the world. This “marketplace” delivers monetary rewards to deserving inventors, while providing licensees with access to great ideas. We have a global customer base and partnerships including Asia Optical of Taiwan, Leica Camera AG, Seiko Epson Corporation, and Shazam, among others.

The work of promoting and protecting invention is often complex. Like anything of value – money, a work of art, a precious object – are at risk of being misappropriated, sometimes intentionally, other times unwittingly. In all such cases, companies should stand ready to defend their inventions through the appropriate legal processes within the jurisdictions involved. To not do so would be to de-value invention itself, which ultimately means less invention and a world with less progress.

But as challenging as this work is, the rewards are equally clear. There are few things in the human experience that match the feeling of being associated with a real breakthrough. The chance to see an idea that is wholly new come into the world is often compared to birth. The analogy is apt. It can be a hard process – but the result is simply amazing.

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Developing a Technological Mindset

Landing a dream job is, well, everyone’s dream. But how do you get there? This is a question IV Lab wanted to answer. It turns out there’s probably not a cut and dry path. For some, it’s taking challenging educational course work and for others, it’s the eye opening internship or other life experience. And for most of us, it’s likely a combination of factors.


IV Lab’s David Piech recently shared his perspective on how to develop a toolkit that can help STEM students achieve their goals. David started at IV as an intern immediately after graduating from Duke University, and is heading off to graduate school this falls. For David, finding his path wasn’t only about education and experience – it was about developing the right mindset.

We’ve previewed a few of David’s tools below, but for the full set, make sure to check out his post on IV Lab’s blog.

  • First Principles: Learn the first principles of at least one field (likely the one you are studying) and how more complex ideas and capabilities in the field are built from those first principles. A deep knowledge of first principles in one area will help your understanding of how they work in general and will help you understand how other fields build up complex ideas and capabilities from their first principles. This will take the mysticism out of other field's impressive capabilities and turn it into a respect for their first principles and methods of systematic inquiry, which in-turn makes you more confident to interface with other fields.
  • Breadth: Build technical confidence by being exposed to a number of different areas and problems. This is NOT intended to make you deeply knowledgeable in those areas, but will make those areas less unknown, less frightening to work with, and will give you a better sense of how problems are worked and solutions built in general.
  • Tinker: Tinkering allows you to test a core concept, develop your mind's eye and intuition for an idea, and (importantly) communicate the idea to others. Be aware that while tinkering has immense value, sometimes a well-engineered system behaves fundamentally differently than one quickly put together. As long as this is acknowledged, both tinkering and thoroughly-engineered systems are valuable. Tinkering allows you to quickly iterate through simple physical prototypes.

David’s Note: I have found these techniques to be useful in developing a technical mindset. I provide neither guarantee that they will be of similar aid to you, nor assuredly that they are even correct in their advice. They are biased towards the fields and projects I have been involved with, and are not intended to be exhaustive. I fully acknowledge that I am far from having a full grasp of these techniques and having a mature technical mindset. Take them for what they are. 

For more on David and all of the compelling work that IV Lab is doing, check out the Invent, Investigate, and Inspire blogs.


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Metamaterials Momentum: IV Spinout Kymeta

Nathan Myhrvold once described metamaterials as the closest thing to magic he’s ever seen. And if IV spinout Kymeta’s recent success is any measure, magic is something that the market can get behind. It’s been quite a year for the company, so we thought we’d take some time to highlight just a few of the ways Kymeta’s technology is making an impact.

If you follow our social channels, you’re likely aware of Kymeta’s latest partnership with electronic powerhouse Sharp. It’s a great match – Kymeta’s innovative antenna, known as mTenna, is made from liquid crystal-based metamaterials and will be complemented by Sharp’s liquid crystal-based display production technology.

Here’s how it works: the lightweight antennas use software to accurately point toward a satellite, a huge improvement from the current system of large and costly mechanical steering technology. Combine Kymeta’s satellite design with Sharp’s production capabilities, and there is huge potential for product innovation. As an example, imagine a car connecting to a satellite. Right now that’s almost impossible unless you place a heavy, expensive piece of equipment on top of the vehicle. But with a Kymeta antenna, the technology is compact enough to be built into the roof of the car – making it effectively invisible.

Like we mentioned, Kymeta’s been busy, and the Sharp partnership is far from its only news:

  • Earlier this year, the company announced its partnership with Airbus Defence and Space to deliver mTenna technology for maritime markets, including the commercial shipping industry, on an exclusive basis. And in March, Intellian announced that it would be integrating Kymeta’s mTenna technology into its maritime satellite terminals. These partnerships move Kymeta towards executing its vision of lower cost, high-speed satellite Internet connectivity to traditionally Internet-deprived areas, like the open sea.
  • Just a month later, Kymeta announced its collaboration with Honeywell Aerospace and Inmarsat to develop a new, high-speed wireless antenna. The three companies are working together to bring faster broadband service to aircraft all around the world, from small business jets to major commercial flights. Kymeta’s role in this venture is to develop smaller and more compact antennas, which will not only reduce weight and drag on the aircraft, but also lower fuel and maintenance costs.  

From everyone at IV, we congratulate Kymeta on their fantastic momentum. We can’t wait to see what the company has in store for the future of global connectivity and communication.

Want to learn more about Kymeta? Check out the company’s history. And learn about IV’s Metamaterials Commercialization Center, where the idea for the company was incubated.

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Today on the Insights blog: Nathan Myhrvold’s thoughts on #entrepreneurship and #innovation:

Oct 06

BREAKING NEWS The 2015 #NobelPrize in Physics to Takaaki Kajita @UTokyo_News_en and Arthur B. McDonald @queensu

Oct 06

I ask @nathanmyhrvold of @IVinvents why ideas can spread & commercialise so rapidly now -

Oct 04