Cuba, Metamaterials, Silkworms and More: Twelve Must-Read Stories From October

At the GeekWire Summit 2016, Nathan Myhrvold said, “Every great idea starts off as a spark. We live in a society that has been completely technologically transformed by ideas that worked out.” Our favorite links this month tell stories of inventors and inventions that embody that kind of transformation. 

Cuba, Metamaterials, Silkworms and More: Twelve Must-Read Stories From October

Nathan Myhrvold speaks with Alan Boyle and Todd Bishop of Geekwire earlier this month

IV in the News

If you click on the video above, you’ll get a first-hand look at Nathan Myhrvold’s fireside chat with Todd Bishop and Alan Boyle of Geekwire earlier this month. Nathan spoke about the importance of metamaterials, investing in invention and the vast potential for technological innovation to improve the lives of those in need. Bonus – check out these photos from the event.

The Military Times shows how Global Good’s Photonic Fence beats bed nets and bug spray when it comes to keeping troops safe from vector-borne illnesses.

What if you could cordlessly connect your cell phones, TVs and computers to power without interruption? Duke University, the University of Washington and Intellectual Ventures are collaborating on technology that could make it possible.

Seattle Photonics Association announced that it will build on the work of our own Invention Science Fund on retinal imaging technology that can monitor changes in astronauts’ eyes during missions.

GeekWire highlights IV spinout Kymeta as it showcases its flat-panel antenna at the Monaco Yacht Show, delivering internet to 80 yachts at once.

Developing life-saving technology

MIT Technology Review features a new flexible mesh that may make open new doors for novel treatments for neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s.

Scientific American profiles the work of Yingying Zhang and her colleagues at Tsinghua University who are developing reinforced silk that could transform technology for wearable electronics and medical implants.

The magazine also highlighted the work of Thubi Kolobe, a physical therapist and researcher at the University of Oklahoma, who developed a high-tech onesie and three-legged, wheeled robot to help babies with cerebral palsy learn to crawl.

Finally, you won’t want to miss the story of this 13-year-old from Oregon who invented a bandage that can tell doctors when it needs to be changed.

Envisioning the future

President Obama sat down with MIT’s Joe Ito and Wired’s Scott Dadich to discuss artificial intelligence, neural nets, self-driving cars and the future of the world.

With a more open U.S.-Cuba relationship, steps are being taken to break down economic barriers and give way to more scientific collaboration, unlocking new opportunities for innovation. Check out this USPTO blog on protecting the rights of American innovators in Cuba.

Don’t forget to check out these photos from the World Maker Faire of robots, 3-D printers and dozens of other DIY technologies.

Want more News You Can Use? Follow us on Twitter and get the good stuff in real-time. 

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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How a Seattle Doctor is Taking the Fight Against Breast Cancer Global

Breast cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, with approximately 1.7 million new cases diagnosed each year. It is a disease that does not discriminate based on racial and ethnic groups, experiences or age. With 58 percent of deaths from breast cancer occurring in developing countries, it is also a disease that crosses international lines. In fact, breast cancer is increasing rapidly in the developing world, where cases are often diagnosed in late stages and treatment options are severely limited. 

How a Seattle Doctor is Taking the Fight Against Breast Cancer Global

Photo courtesy of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

Last week, we introduced you to our Innovating for a Cure series in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Today, we spotlight a pioneering medical oncologist and women’s health advocate with a powerful vision that knows no boundaries.

Dr. Julie Gralow is the director of Breast Medical Oncology at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and a professor in the oncology division of the University of Washington School of Medicine. She has earned numerous awards for her research, chairing several committees, and participating in expert panels for breast cancer treatment and research as a member of the Southwest Oncology Group.

But Dr. Gralow is perhaps most truly defined not by the awards she earned within labs and clinics, but by her compassion for her patients and her tireless work to empower and educate women around the world on breast cancer detection and treatment. 

Taking the Fight Global

Dr. Gralow has launched an international movement of dedicated experts and volunteers arming women with the resources they need to take control of their health. She recognizes that, for far too many women around the world, fear, or the simple access to knowledge, stands in the way of early detection, treatment and ultimately, a happy ending.

Fighting to change this reality and bring action and early detection strategies to all women, Dr. Gralow works with the Global Task Force for Expanded Access to Cancer Care and Control in Developing Countries and founded the Women’s Empowerment Cancer Advocacy Network (WE CAN).

Dr. Gralow’s WE CAN initiative is saving lives through breast cancer education, outreach and advocacy summits in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Africa where the need is great. In Ukraine, for example, Dr. Gralow discovered that often, doctors were not revealing to breast cancer patients their actual diagnosis. From 1991-2001, she worked to change this through the creation of 15 breast cancer support groups.  

And Dr. Gralow’s legacy continues, as the first WE CAN summit in Africa was held in Uganda in 2013 patient advocates from 10 countries participated and it was so popular, the cancer survivors asked for a yearly conference. With Dr. Gralow’s support, WE CAN Summits have now been held in Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia.

The Battle on the Homefront

Beyond the movement Dr. Gralow has launched abroad, she is also dedicated to improving the lives of her patients at home. She is steadfast in the belief that a breast cancer diagnosis does not have to define and constrain the lives of her patients.

After helping cancer survivors train for a triathlon in 1995, Dr. Gralow co-founded Team Survivor Northwest, an exercise and fitness program for women cancer survivors. Dr. Gralow – quite literally –embarks on the long journey of a breast cancer diagnosis with her patients, joining survivors as they climb mountains, snowshoe, run in marathons and complete triathlons.

Dr. Gralow is a trailblazer who was able to bring a new perspective to one of the world’s most challenging health problems. Through advocacy and mobilization, she has created a global support system with the goal of creating the support for and getting the resources needed, to assist women in the fight against breast cancer everywhere.

At IV, we admire the tenacity shared by those working to find a cure. Innovation requires the ability to envision a better world, and the creativity and courage to find a way to make it happen. Through the determination of innovators like Dr. Gralow, and the strength of patients fighting breast cancer every single day, we are one step closer to finding a cure and turning this vision into a reality. 

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The FTC PAE Report: One Crucial Finding and Some Useful Statistics – but Also a Missed Opportunity

The FTC has released its long-awaited Patent Assertion Entity (PAE) Activity Report.  It is detailed, comprehensive and quite long – almost 270 pages!  I apologize for the length of this blog posting, but a report five years in the making deserves more than passing attention.

By far the most important finding of the Report – what the FTC describes as its first “Key Finding”[1] – is that not all PAEs are created equal. Instead, the FTC found that there are dramatic and significant differences between “Portfolio PAEs” such as IV, which emphasize licensing and high-value patents, and other types of litigation-oriented PAEs, which often draw criticism and negative marketplace scrutiny. 

The Report is disappointing in many respects – for example, it offers legislative recommendations not supported by the evidence in the report, and it misses a key opportunity to analyze the fundamental issue of how to value the mission and impact of PAEs.  But overall the in-depth analysis of the different models of PAE should provide useful insights in the ongoing discussions of patent policy.

Crucially, the Report highlights a significant flaw in virtually all prior academic studies in this field.  It observes, accurately, that most prior studies of PAE activity “have focused on publicly observable litigation behavior and relied on publicly available litigation data.”  And it notes that relying on only public data conceals key information that is required for a “deeper understanding of PAE business models,” such as “their confidential... licensing terms and data.” [2]  As is noted in the study, for PAEs such as IV, which reach negotiated licensing agreements far more often than they litigate, this information is critical to any well-founded analysis of the market impacts of its business model.  This Report attempts to gather that essential information and as a result is able to make a valuable contribution to the ongoing policy debate in this area. 

As noted, the Report draws an important distinction, supported by extensive analysis and evidence, between two very different modes of PAEs.  On the one hand, the Report recognizes what it calls “Portfolio PAEs” – firms like IV, which focus their efforts on investment, IP innovation and development, and wide-scale licensing of high-value patents to further develop significant technologies. (Indeed, the Report at various points notes the similarities between the strategies and business methods of Portfolio PAEs and those of other Non-Practicing Entities (NPEs) and of manufacturing firms).  In contrast, while the Report goes out of its way to eschew the term “patent troll,”[3]  it also draws a clear distinction between the methods and approach of high-value Portfolio PAEs with the strategies and approach of what the Report calls “Litigation PAEs” – PAEs that, according the findings of the Report, focus their efforts on low-value patent settlements that are generally consistent with nuisance settlements and appear driven by the interest of defendants in avoiding litigation costs.  The collection of hard data and statistical evidence and the FTC analysis of the clear differences between these two very different business models is an important and compelling aspect of the Report, and it alone makes the Report worth reading. 

In particular, the Report details these differences and specifies a number of ways in which Portfolio PAEs such as IV differ dramatically from those Litigation PAEs that participated in the Report, and the ways in which Portfolio PAEs such as IV are more like other NPEs or like manufacturing concerns. 

Portfolio PAEs typically[4]:

 -Funded initial patent acquisitions through capital raised from investors, including manufacturers

-Negotiated licenses covering large portfolios (at least hundreds and often thousands of patents)

-Commonly began the negotiation process with a demand letter, and usually reached license agreements without suing the infringer first – indeed, litigation preceded only 29% of Portfolio PAE licenses [5]

-Negotiated licenses with a value that was typically in the millions of dollars (“65% of Portfolio PAE licenses generated royalties of greater than $1 million per license, and 10% generated royalties of greater than $50 million per license.”)  [6]

The clear picture that emerges from this evidence is that Portfolio PAEs such as IV are engaging in responsible business negotiations with other commercial entities, licensing high-value patents that provide legitimate benefits to those other entities, and resolving these negotiations in a timely and mutually beneficial manner.  

In contrast, the evidence gathered by the FTC paints a far more troubling picture of the so-called Litigation PAEs.

Litigation PAE’s typically[7]:

-Acquired separate patent portfolios and held those in newly created affiliate entities that have little or no working capital and hold fewer than 10 patents each

-Routinely sued potential licensees prior to licensing[8] and quickly settled for license agreements on small portfolios – for amounts below the costs of defending the litigation

In stark contrast to the FTC’s positive description of the business methods of Portfolio PAEs, this analysis of Litigation PAE conduct led the FTC to conclude that “the behavior of Litigation PAEs is consistent with nuisance litigation.” [9]

Not only does the FTC clearly draw the contrast between Portfolio PAEs and Litigation PAEs, but it also notes the significant similarities in the Portfolio PAE licensing practices as compared to other NPEs and to practicing entities such as manufacturing companies[10], and the many benefits that Portfolio PAEs offer to the marketplace.

“Portfolio PAEs most closely resembled the licensing arms of manufacturing firms; they were highly capitalized and often raised money from investors that included both investment funds and manufacturing firms.  Typically, these investors received a share of the Portfolio PAE’s future revenue and a license to the Portfolio PAE’s patents.” [11]

The Report goes on to offer a more detailed description of how Portfolio PAEs conduct business, providing even more evidence of the value of this business model. It describes the “large up-front payments” often made to the manufacturing firms who own the patents, and the formation of the patents into large portfolios for licensing.[12]  It notes that the Portfolio PAEs “employed dedicated management and licensing executives that frequently had prior licensing experience” and that the PAEs executed “71% of their licenses without litigation.”[13] And perhaps most important, the Report acknowledges the liquidity function and risk mitigation opportunities that Portfolio PAEs can offer.

“The Portfolio PAE model may serve as a mechanism for shifting the financial risk of assertion activity to individuals or entities more able and willing to bear such risk, which may be more attractive to some patent owners than asserting the patents themselves.  By raising capital from investors and purchasing patents with a large up-front payment, the Portfolio PAE provides the patent seller with guaranteed revenue and zero risk.  The investors, who may have greater risk tolerance, then stand to enjoy the financial upside of successful assertion activities.  In addition, manufacturing firms may transfer patents to Portfolio PAEs for assertion because Portfolio PAEs may enjoy lower costs, lack of reputational concerns, or licensing experience owing to their specialization in patent assertion.  

Additionally, for manufacturing firms that are potential investors, the Portfolio PAE model also offers an extra upside benefit, a chance not only to be an investor but also to avoid becoming a target of assertion activity. Several PAEs adopted a practice whereby investors acquired a license to the patents in which they invested, in addition to an interest in revenue generated by future assertion against third parties.  In such cases, investors obtained assurances that the patents would not be asserted against them, as well as the opportunity for potential financial gain.”[14]

In contrast, the Report makes clear that the very different Litigation PAE model offers far less value and creates significant transparency and efficiency concerns. Litigation PAEs are “thinly capitalized,” often relying merely on outside attorneys to maintain records and drive the litigation process.[15]  As noted previously, Litigation PAEs routinely sue before licensing negotiations and those suits are often in the name of Affiliates, which are legally distinct entities that exist only on paper and with a relationship to the Litigation PAE that is murky and difficult for the licensee to determine.[16]  Rather than up-front payments, licensees are often offered only contingency payments, payable only on net proceeds calculated after a deduction of legal and other fees.[17]  Further, the complex Affiliate structure create by many Litigation PAEs make it difficult for licensors to understand who the counterparty is and whether in fact the licensee may already have a license to some of the patents at issue.[18]  The problem is amplified by the strategy employed by many Litigation PAEs of using multiple Affiliates to send demand letters.[19]

Thus, in multiple ways the Report provides a clear, evidence-based and compelling verification of what IV has always said – different PAEs offer different services to the market, and PAEs such as IV are providing an efficient, cost-effective and useful market-clearing liquidity function.  Recognition of the differences between “Portfolio PAEs” and “Litigation PAEs”, as described by the FTC, is critical to any productive policy debate about the proper role of PAEs going forward.

The Report concludes with recommendations for litigation reforms, most of which have been discussed for years and are currently under consideration in Congress.  IV has no philosophical or business objection to the notion of litigation reform and indeed, as correctly noted by the Report, these reforms are aimed, at least in principal, at a business model quite different from the “Portfolio” business model operated by IV.  IV certainly has no interest in a patent litigation system optimized for the litigation of low-value patents and no interest in promoting litigation aimed at seeking nuisance settlements, because those are not the patents that IV asserts, not the litigation strategy that IV employs, and because IV agrees that such nuisance litigation is costly and inefficient for all involved. 

But we caution that a wholesale change in the long-standing rules regarding patent litigation must not be undertaken lightly.  While some modest changes may be beneficial, modifying the fundamental balance between litigants creates a very significant risk of undermining the ability of all patent holders to vindicate their legitimate patent rights in court.  Changing the balance would incentivize licensees to reject reasonable licensing offers and dare patent holders to take them to court – which would have the perverse effect of forcing even Portfolio PAE’s such as IV into litigation far more often, diverting resources and energy from more productive endeavors.  This would exacerbate the very problem that the litigation reforms were intended to address – and, far worse, would dramatically decrease the value of legitimate patents, harm inventors, dis-incentivize innovation and decrease economic activity.  There may be some benefits to well-crafted litigation reform, but those reforms must be very carefully considered and any changes must be targeted to ensure that they do not create very significant and negative unintended consequences. 

More broadly… while the FTC did a great job analyzing different business models, it missed an opportunity to analyze the larger market in which these models operate.  Despite the reams of data collected in the course of this study and the many resources devoted to it, the Report disappointingly fails to address fundamental questions about the impact of PAE activity on innovation and patent generation.  IV highlighted this concern early on.  In its public comments regarding the design of the FTC’s 6(b) study, IV expressed concern that “the study as designed does not appear likely to yield meaningful results” because its sample of PAE activity would not be statistically meaningful and because the FTC’s study would not seek comparable information about non-PAE patent enforcement activity.  And, indeed, the FTC’s Report draws no conclusions regarding the effects of PAE activities on innovation or competition.  At the most fundamental level, the Report fails to provide a concrete, evidence-based assessment of whether and how patent assertion by PAEs differs from patent assertion by manufacturers and other patent holders.

The FTC gathered information from PAEs regarding all patents, no matter what the industry, but gathered information from non-PAEs in only the wireless industry.  And the staff dutifully notes that it found some differences in the way that those in the “Wireless Case Study” behave as compared to PAEs – manufacturers more often used demand letters prior to litigation, while the Litigation PAEs tend to file a lawsuit without first sending a demand.  Portfolio PAE lawsuits tend to take the longest to settle, while Litigation PAE cases settle the fastest, and NPE and manufacturer lawsuits are somewhere in between.  NPEs and Litigation PAEs tended to use counsel paid on a contingency basis, while Portfolio PAEs and manufacturers tended to pay on an hourly basis.[20]  But what are we to make of these differences?  They are of some value in helping to reach the conclusion that Portfolio PAEs are a different (and better) beast than are Litigation PAEs, and that Portfolio PAEs share more common characteristics with NPEs and manufacturing concerns – but they cannot tell us more broadly how valuable either form of PAE is, and what, if anything, should be done to modify the legal and market environment in which they operate.  

The Report provides some interesting statistics about litigation strategy, but it does not provide any insight regarding the critical bottom-line question of whether PAEs writ large are good for innovation or bad for innovation.  Nor does it provide insight on whether PAEs offer a better return on investment for the original patentee than do non-PAEs, or how inventors might change their innovation activity without PAEs as an outlet to purchase their patents.  How often would inventors assert on their own versus selling to operating companies? What would be the competitive effects of these choices?

The Report has some other flaws as well.  For example, it fails to take into account the fundamental notion that the competitive impact of patent assertion will always vary on an individual level – by technology, by strength of the patent and strength of the infringement claim and defense, and by the potential damages associated with each claim.  Nor was it able to effectively compare the data it gathered because of differences in the way that data was held.  

Notwithstanding these flaws the Report is extensive, and the FTC should be commended for the thorough data collection it performed and the analysis, as far as it goes, is well-done.  Thus the Report deserves thorough review and continued consideration over time.  We are pleased that the Report recognizes the differences among PAE business models and has gathered evidence supporting what IV has always known – that the IV business model is fundamentally different from other, litigation-based, PAE business models that have generated concerns among certain stakeholders in this industry. While we are disappointed that the Report does not provide answers or insights to some fundamental questions, and that the Report jumps to some unfounded conclusions, we look forward to working with the FTC and others in ongoing discussions about these critical issues, and again offer our thanks to the FTC staff for its diligent work.

[1] Patent Assertion Entity Activity Report, an FTC Study (hereafter cited as “Report”) at 3. Federal Trade Commission October 2016.
[2] Report at 1-2; see also Report at 38. 
[3] Report at 17.
[4] Report at 3; 42; 44-45; 56; 59.
[5] Report at 5; 56.
[6] Report at 5; see Report at 42, 44-45; 90.
[7] Report at 4; 43-45; 56; 59.
[8] Litigation PAEs accounted for 96% of the cases in the study, (Report at 4; 43; 71) and sued prior to licensing 93% of the time (Report at 8; 56).
[9] Report at 4; 43; 101.  77% of Litigation PAE settlement generated royalties of $300,000 or less, and 94% generated royalties of under $1 million (Report at 4-5; 43; 45; 91).
[10] For example, Wireless manufacturers, Portfolio PAEs and certain NPEs were more likely to settle cases than are Litigation PAEs.  See Report at 112.
[11] Report at 45.
[12] Report at 46.
[13] Id.
[14] Report at 46-47 (emphasis added); see also Report at 82-83 (describing Portfolio PAE approach to licensing more broadly).
[15] Report at 47.
[16] Report at 48.
[17] Report at 49.
[18] See Report at 50-52; 63; 79
[19] See Report at 60-61; 63; see also Report at 83 (describing more broadly Litigation PAE approach to licensing).  The Report also notes that while PAEs sometimes utilize demand letters to begin the process of negotiation, there is little evidence that PAEs are using deceptive demand letter campaigns to generate revenues.  See Report at 66-67.
[20] See generally, Report at 111-119.


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Innovating for a Cure — Dr. Mary-Claire King: Pioneering Advocate and Geneticist

Affecting one in eight women in the United States, the impact of breast cancer touches nearly everyone. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Intellectual Ventures is celebrating two visionaries in the Seattle area whose ideas about what the future holds in the fight against breast cancer is changing lives. These pioneering scientists envision a world free from the disease that takes more than 40,800 lives per year in the U.S. alone, and through their innovation and determination, are turning their vision into reality.

Innovating for a Cure — Dr. Mary-Claire King: Pioneering Advocate and Geneticist

Mary-Claire King and President Barack Obama at the White House during the medal ceremony. Photo courtesy of the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation and Ryan K. Morris.

A geneticist and professor of Genome Sciences and Medicine at the University of Washington, Dr. Mary-Claire King is known worldwide for her groundbreaking gene work related to human conditions such as HIV, lupus, inherited deafness, and also breast and ovarian cancer. Dr. King discovered her true passion for genetics in graduate school, where she eventually combined her innovative vision in the field of genetics with statistics and evolutionary biology to drive her work to the war on cancer. This combination led Dr. King to the assumption that certain cancers, like breast cancer, might be genetically linked mutations and not caused by viruses.

Dr. King’s relentless pursuit for answers and advocacy for women’s health lead to the breakthrough discovery of the “breast cancer gene,” proving that breast cancer is hereditary in some families. This work has revolutionized diagnosis and treatment, proving that genetics and complex human disease can have a relationship, saving lives and empowering women.

Science for Human Rights

A passionate advocate for social justice, Dr. King has dedicated her life and science acumen to improving lives worldwide. Not always popular at the time, Dr. King’s contributions to breast cancer research were driven by the need for women to be equipped with the genetic information to make critical health decisions for themselves and their families.

In addition, Dr. King has been a longstanding champion for human rights, working with organizations like Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty International, to identify missing people and unearth human rights abuses around the world. Among her accomplishments, King developed a DNA test to help find missing children in Argentina who had been kidnapped by the Argentinian military. Dr. King later applied this genetic approach to identify soldiers who went missing in action during World War II, as well as victims of extrajudicial execution on six continents.

In May 2016, Dr. King was honored by President Obama and received the National Medal of Science Award for her important contributions in advancing the fight against breast cancer. President Obama noted that “every single American should be grateful for the career path that King chose back in the late 1960s, when she was starting out in college.” We couldn't agree more.

Dr. King is an inspiration who reminds us that innovation, mixed with vision and determination, can dramatically change the world for the better.

Stay tuned as later this month we’ll spotlight another local visionary in our Innovating for a Cure series in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 

Nathan Myhrvold at GeekWire Summit 2016

Intellectual Ventures founder and CEO Nathan Myhrvold joined journalists Tom Bishop and Alan Boyle last week for a “fireside chat” at the 2016 GeekWire Summit. The conference brought together more than 800 thought leaders to explore technological advancements and the future of innovation. 

Nathan Myhrvold at GeekWire Summit 2016

With hundreds of leading technology experts in attendance – from top executives at companies like Expedia and Microsoft, to a former NFL wide receiver – the conference highlighted a diverse set of visionaries striving to transform the world through new ideas.  

Although covering a wide range of topics, Nathan touched on the importance of metamaterials, investing in invention, and the vast potential for technological innovation to improve the lives of those in need. Nathan illustrated how IV’s business model has led to numerous breakthrough spinout companies, focusing specifically on the newest addition to the list, Xinova.

Here are some of our favorite quotable moments from Nathan’s remarks:

On the importance of investing in invention: “Many companies have been created from venture capital firms. Most of them have failed. But that’s fine. You don’t count the failures; you only count the successes. I want someone to do that for invention – I want it to be easier to create inventions.”

On how new ideas emerge: “Every great idea starts off as a spark. We live in a society that has been completely technologically transformed by ideas that worked out.”

On why criticism is part of being a risk-taker: “If you obsess about what people think of you, you’re never going to change the world.”

On inventing for impact and the work of IV’s Global Good program and Institute for Disease Modeling: “The tech industry that makes the tools and toys that have transformed all of our lives. But, we didn’t actually need our lives transformed. It’s not life or death for us to get the next version of the iPhone… whereas for the 2 billion people living on $2 a day or less, if we could use technology to improve their lives, that could be life or death.”

On Seattle’s strong global development community: “Seattle is absolutely the Silicon Valley of saving the world.”

Watch the full interview here

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Photo Essay: Vaccine Access in Ethiopia’s Remote Danakil Desert

At Global Good, we draw on the power of invention to solve some of humanity’s toughest problems. Tonight, at Washington Global Health Alliance’s Pioneers of Global Health Awards Dinner, we’ll gather with other local development organizations to celebrate the tireless efforts of those in our own community who contribute to better health around the world. By inventing, developing and deploying commercially-viable technologies, we hope to advance their efforts.

Learn about one of these technologies and how it is helping a community in Ethiopia’s remote Danakil Desert to access vaccines. 

Last summer a team from Global Good returned to a remote health post in northeastern Ethiopia to observe how one of our products – the Arktek™ – is helping people in the region to access vaccines.           

Among others, the clinic serves a community of Afar nomadic herders.

Traditionally pastoralists, the Afar move from place to place in search of good grazing land for their goats, cattle and camels.

They primarily live in the Danakil Desert in northeast Ethiopia. Located hundreds of feet below sea level, the Danakil is one of the lowest and hottest places on earth. 

Many in the community we visited live in huts like the one pictured above.

The nearest hospital is a three-day walk away across a harsh and unforgiving landscape. The community’s only regular access to health care is this small rural clinic run by Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health in partnership with UNICEF.

Until recently, the clinic struggled to provide routine vaccination to their families. Vaccines need to be kept cool in order to remain viable, and with little to no electricity in the area to power a refrigerator, it was impossible to store the vaccines nearby. This left the group’s children vulnerable to diseases like measles and tetanus. Many did not survive past the age of five.

And this problem is widespread. Despite tremendous progress over the last two decades, according to UNICEF, close to a third of Ethiopian one year-olds still do not receive most of the routine vaccines they need.

In 2009, a team of Intellectual Ventures Lab scientists and our partners at Global Good set out to solve this problem. After five years of trial and error, they came up with the Arktek device. 

Arktek is a super thermos that can store a month’s supply of vaccines – approximately 300 vials – using ice packs for a village of 6,000 people in 100 degree plus heat, without electricity. Arktek uses thermal insulation technology – the same technology that has been used to protect spacecraft from temperature extremes while in space.

Today more than 200 Arktek devices are in use in clinics across Nigeria, Ethiopia, Senegal, India, Nepal and Fiji. In Ethiopia, the device was so effective that the Ministry of Health recently ordered an additional 1,500 devices.

One Arktek device is helping to give the children in this nomadic herding community a chance to survive and thrive.

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How the Road Less Traveled Led to Blue Jeans

Blue jeans have become an integral part of the clothing industry and our culture. They are fundamental, timeless and just plain ordinary. Yet, as Nathan Myhrvold points out in an interview with Bloomberg Advantage, the creation of blue jeans was not so ordinary. The man behind the jeans, Levi Strauss, a German-born émigré to the United States, developed the idea by seizing an opportunity that no one else had thought to pursue. 

How the Road Less Traveled Led to Blue Jeans

Originally based with his family in New York City, Strauss became one of the many Americans to travel west and take advantage of the gold rush. After arriving in San Francisco, Strauss set up shop to continue the dry goods establishment that his brothers started. In addition to the shop, Strauss had another idea in mind. He wanted to make canvas tents for the forty-niners. However, those who arrived before him had a similar idea and built buildings that eliminated the need for tents.

It was then that Strauss found an original way to capitalize on the gold rush that this time, no one else had thought of – pants that would withstand the rugged conditions of a forty-niner’s lifestyle. As Myhrvold describes it, “[Strauss] wound up making blue jeans and created this gigantic fortune because the obvious opportunities were already taken.”

In 1872, Strauss received a letter from one of his customers, Jacob Davis, proposing an innovative way to make more durable pants. In 1873, Davis and Strauss were granted the patent.

The first jeans were not the pants that we know today. In fact, the original pants were made with a heavy canvas fabric. It was not until early after the jeans were patented that the fabric changed to denim. The jeans were then dyed in a synthetic indigo color to make them long-lasting through wear and laundering.

After he patented blue jeans, Strauss’s success continued. He became one of San Francisco’s greatest philanthropists and got involved in other ventures, including the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company, and Nevada Bank.

The story of Strauss and how he developed blue jeans highlights the importance of innovators who boldly look beyond the obvious and the ordinary for the next groundbreaking idea. Strauss once said, “an expert knows all the right answers – if you ask the right questions.” For Strauss and so many other great thinkers, perhaps the right questions are simply those that have not been asked before. 

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The U.S. May Lead the World in Invention, but There’s More We Need to Do

Decades of research demonstrate that diversity is a key driving force for innovation, fostering creativity and creating an environment where “outside the box” ideas can be heard. Yet, statistics show a harsh reality of missed opportunity: diversity in invention is seriously lacking for both women and minorities, today and throughout history.

The U.S. May Lead the World in Invention, but There’s More We Need to Do

A recent report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that more than 81 percent of patents include no women inventors. Unless real changes happen soon, it will likely take until 2092 for women inventors to reach gender equity in patenting. The report also found that women are particularly marginalized in patent-intensive STEM fields, where they were awarded only 20 percent of computer science degrees and 19 percent of engineering degrees in 2010.

Unfortunately, the industry’s lack of representation does not end with women. The Information, Technology and Innovation Foundation found that minorities make up a mere 8 percent of U.S.-born innovators. African Americans, despite comprising 13 percent of the native-born population, represent just half a percent of U.S.-born innovators.

As a global inventions company, we’re no stranger to these challenges—and we actively do what we can to encourage women and minorities to pursue STEM-intensive fields and achieve their invention goals. Our president and COO Adriane Brown speaks regularly on the topic, and our community relations program supports organizations like Expanding Your Horizons that encourage early interest in technology.

In a field like invention—one that lives and breathes visionary ideas and brave-thinking—diversity is not only important but vital. The enduring value of the following inventors shows just how much we gain when we add these voices to the world of innovation.

Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper invented the earliest computer compiler and was a leader in programming the first computers. Hopper was the first woman to be made Distinguished Fellow at the British Computer Society. She was also awarded the first ever Computer Science Man-of-the-Year Award (did you catch that it was the MAN-of-the-year award and Hopper won it before any men ever did?)

Charles Drew

Charles Drew was an African American physician and medical researcher whose contributions improved the process of blood transfusion. Drew invented a way to process and preserve blood plasma, improving the efficiency of blood banks and saving thousands of lives during World War II. Drew also bravely spoke out against the practice of separating blood from donors of different races during the war.

Ida Henrietta Hyde

Henrietta Hyde was an American physiologist who invented the microelectrode for stimulating single cells, a breakthrough in neurophysiology. Hyde was a pioneering woman in her field: she was the first woman admitted to the American Physiological Society and the first woman ever allowed to do research at Harvard Medical School.

At Intellectual Ventures, we feel it is imperative for our industry to support diversity initiatives moving forward. Follow our Insights blog to learn about our related community relations programming and more.

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News You Can Use: Don’t Just Think Big, Think Different

As Senior Vice President of Global Good and Research Maurizio Vecchione remarks, “innovation requires looking at a problem from a new perspective.” Our favorite links this month tell stories of outside-the-box thinkers — from students and scientists to mathematicians during the space race and even a 19th-century English noblewoman — whose unique outlooks on complex problems led to life-changing solutions.

News You Can Use: Don’t Just Think Big, Think Different

Problem Solving to Improve Lives

Robert Fischell, inventor of the rechargeable pacemaker and the implantable insulin pump, shared a look into his problem-solving approach and creative process.

“Hidden Figures” tells the story of African American women mathematicians who conquered complex math for the space race. Don’t miss this September must-read.

A 16-year-old is working on bringing the gift of sound to more people through his invention of a device that could make hearing aids more affordable.

Imaging scientist and social impact inventor Ramesh Raskar won the Lemelson-MIT Prize for his Femto-photography work that is, quite literally, impacting how we see the world.

IV in the News

This month, Puget Sound Business Journal took readers on a tour of IV Lab – home to a rocket engine, a particle accelerator, a simulated dinosaur tail and most importantly, our team of problem solvers.

The Invention Science Fund is partnering with the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) to harness the vast potential of 3D printing technologies in new ways.

Inventors Digest: A Perspective to Inform and Inspire  

This month — and every month – we are loving Inventors Digest. The publication provides a wealth of knowledge on all things invention and intellectual property, telling amazing stories of real-life inventors along the way. If you don’t already follow the magazine, be sure to add it to your reading list.

Fall is here, and back to school season means noses to the grindstone. In this month’s edition, explore the invention history of the blackboard and why it was a classroom staple for nearly 200 years

Summer is a time for students to gain hands-on experience and pursue their interests outside of the classroom. September’s issue tells stories about how this year’s Edison Nation interns spent their summers working with the shop’s industrial design and engineering teams to learn the tools and techniques of prototyping. 

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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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Our People: Adam Akullian

Adam Akullian is a postdoctoral researcher with Intellectual Ventures’ Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM). A National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship recipient, Adam is currently focused on mathematical and epidemiological modeling of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, with the goal of informing effective public health interventions. We met with Adam recently to discuss what brought him to IDM, his hopes for the future, and how collecting snails in China convinced him to pursue a Ph.D. in Epidemiology.  

Our People: Adam Akullian

What are you currently working on at IDM?

I am closing in on my first year of work with the HIV team at IDM, having recently received my Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of Washington. My background is in infectious disease epidemiology and geo-spatial analysis. At IDM, I’m helping the team gather data from regions of sub-Saharan Africa with the highest HIV burden and incidence. We’re using a mathematical model developed by my colleagues at IDM to simulate the potential impact of different interventions on the HIV epidemic. For example, we might ask, would a behavioral invention (like promoting condom use) or a biomedical intervention (like expanding access to antiretroviral therapy or increasing uptake of Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC)) prevent the most new infections? And, which groups should we target for these interventions?

How did you decide to pursue epidemiology?

I started out in the natural sciences at Brown University and got a job through UC Berkeley collecting snails in China. These tiny snails live in the ditches of rice farming villages in rural communities and transmit Schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease in humans that infects millions of people globally. It was a disease ecology project to understand how environmental change might expand the geographic habitat of the snail population and how that would drive disease spread in the region.

It was at that intersection of ecology, infectious disease, and geography that I really found a passion for public health and saw epidemiology as almost a natural fit for me. Once I completed my Ph.D., IDM was a great opportunity for me because it values multidisciplinary thinking.

What advice would you give someone who is considering a career in the sciences or specifically public health?

Being able to speak other people’s languages – both literally and in terms of the different scientific disciplines – is extremely important. It broadens your range of tools and makes you much more adaptive. Try and remember not to be intimidated by those already in the field and make a point to reach out to those who inspire you. In my experience, they’re usually pretty generous with their knowledge and excited to talk about their work.

What inspires you?

Traveling. One of the great things about my job is being able to travel to many different places. I spend much of my day doing quantitative analysis, so traveling allows me to meet the people we’re trying to help as well as connect with the local research community. Those interactions help me gain a more nuanced understanding of the context of my research. Being able to connect and share ideas with other people is really what inspires me.

What breakthrough do you hope to see during your lifetime?

We still don’t completely understand why HIV spreads so rapidly in certain demographic groups. We’re on the cusp of understanding why, but we’re not quite there yet. Really understanding who is transmitting to whom is very difficult information to obtain for numerous reasons, and in many ways, it’s a bit of a black box for researchers. Now there are new scientific methods that we can use to genotype the DNA from viruses so we can piece together a much better understanding of the transmission network. I’m hopeful, that in my lifetime, we’ll see the end of AIDS.

What’s the most rewarding part about working at IDM?

It’s the academic freedom. Because we are not beholden to granting agencies there’s a lot more freedom to explore high risk, high reward areas of research. In the true sense of the word, IDM feels like a laboratory.

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Peter Detkin

Peter Detkin

Peter N. Detkin is a founder of Intellectual Ventures, where he focuses on a variety of projects relating to intellectual property and invention.





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