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Sustainable Invention

The world’s population is growing by roughly 200,000 people every day, in the midst of a massive global migration underway from the countryside to cities. With this much pressure on our food, water, and energy resources, Earth Day marks another important reminder of the massive investments in invention needed to make entire economies more sustainable.  

Sustainable Invention

Intellectual Ventures’ President and COO, Adriane Brown, often remarks that, “We believe in invention not just as an economic opportunity, but as a distinctly human characteristic that empowers us to improve our world.” At IV, we have had the opportunity to spinout, launch, partner, and collaborate with companies that are focused on producing more with less.

For example:

  • IV recently helped to launch Coffee Flour, a company that creates a nutritious and high protein flour from the billions of pounds of discarded coffee cherries that are harvested every year.
  • Dairy production may not be the first industry you associate with inventive sustainability, but IV has partnered with the Finnish company Raisio to create and market a new cattle feed that increases the protein content of milk and reduces the greenhouse gas emissions from cows.
  • Water scarcity is becoming a serious problem, particularly in Australia, where IV is working with Irrigation & Water Technologies (IWT) - a company focused on deploying new underground irrigation solutions for commercial, agricultural and domestic use that use water up to 60% more efficiently than traditional systems.
  • Most progress in terms of sustainability happens incrementally, but IV’s spinout company TerraPower is seeking a major environmental breakthrough with their traveling wave reactor (TWR). The TWR would have a significantly lower environmental impact than traditional nuclear energy by requiring far less uranium mining and producing at least 7X less waste.

For more information on how to add your “act of green” and show your support for Earth Day, visit http://www.earthday.org/takeaction/ or follow #EarthDay on Twitter. 


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#Shelfies @IVInvents

“Selfie” might have been the Oxford Dictionaries designee for 2013’s word of the year, but at Intellectual Ventures (IV), we admit to being more partial to the rise of the “shelfie,” a photo of a favorite bookshelf shared on social media. Not to be confused with an April Fool’s joke, the #shelfie  has been referred to as the “ultimate antidote to the selfie” and first credited to the children’s book author Rick Riordan. So it’s probably no wonder then that a company with a place for everyone from paralegals to nuclear physicists has an equally eclectic taste in #shelfies. Here we review our five favorites at IV:

#Shelfies @IVInvents
Photo: IV Lab Insectary 

Believe it or not, the IV Lab hosts approximately 3,500 new mosquitos every week. In a 200-square-foot insectary, we raise species from both the Aedes and Anopheles mosquito genera, to help our Global Good team working on disease eradication better understand everything from how mosquitos reproduce and carry malaria to what it takes to kill them with a laser.
 

Photo: IV’s Metamaterials Commercialization Center

A dedicated team of engineers, physicists, and scientists in IV’s Metamaterials Commercialization Center show off some of their early proof-of-concepts that have helped launch two spin-out companies already, Kymeta in Bellevue, WA and Evolv in Boston, MA.
  

Photo: IV Japan

IV’s office in Japan puts the rest of us to shame for most tasteful, best organized and bilingual #shelfie.
 

Photo: IV Corporate Communications & Marketing

No two days are the same for the Corporate Communications & Marketing team at IV. Case in point, our resident Art Director might be shooting stills for a new website, or clamping down a green screen for a video shoot.
 

Photo: IV Founders’ Library

And the #shelfie that started it all: the library collection of our founders, Nathan Myhrvold and Edward Jung. While any IV employee can check out a book from their library, some old school rules still apply. Books are checked out by signing a log sheet attached to a clipboard and must be returned to their original location, as identified by the Dewey Decimal System. Most recent employee check-outs, you ask? “Patent Law and Practice” by Herbert F. Schwartz and “Ceviche: Peruvian Kitchen” by Martin Morales.

Keep your eye out for more #shelfies from @IVInvents


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Girls Bust Myths About STEM Jobs

“Has anyone ever told you that girls are not good at science, technology, engineering or math? By the time you leave today, I want you to bust this myth wide open.” This was the challenge that IV President and COO Adriane Brown tasked to hundreds of girls attending the Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) conference in Seattle this spring.

Girls Bust Myths About STEM Jobs

Photo: Women from Intellectual Ventures show some of the ideas — infographics and new scooter inventions  girls created during Expanding Your Horizons. 

During her keynote, Brown asked girls to imagine themselves as future business leaders, engineers, or inventors. Then, in traditional EYH style, girls met female role models who helped them transform imagination into real-world possibility.

Through a series of hands-on workshops that paired elements of science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM) with modern-day careers, girls became STEM professionals for a day. Some were biologists or project managers; others were graphic designers, architectural engineers, or patent examiners.

For the third year in a row, IV women were among the role models hosting workshops.

IV’s Beth Schubert and Eleanor Goodall taught girls how new ideas are developed and patented during their workshop. “Girls were challenged to invent a new scooter design and submit a mock patent application,” said Goodall. Then, each patent application was reviewed by a panel of thirteen and fourteen-year-old peers to determine whether the inventions were new, useful, and non-obvious. “The girls were generous; everyone’s scooter design was ‘granted’ a patent.”

Claudia Myers and several of her IV colleagues invited girls to invent a technology or product solution to address the problem of teens not getting enough sleep.

“The goal of our workshop was to teach girls to solve a problem using different approaches,” said Myers. “Girls came up with ideas that ranged from sensory deprivation masks to wearable computers that monitored teen’s caffeine intake.”

At the end of the EYH conference, whether the girls imagined themselves as computer programmers, robot engineers, heart surgeons, or none of the above, each girl had newfound confidence to push past stereotypes and see themselves as smart, capable, STEM professionals.

It won’t be a surprise if one or two of them become the next Grace Hopper.

Learn more about IV’s commitment to educating next-generation inventors.


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Inventor Spotlight: Griff Neal

Griff Neal, U.S. inventor and CEO of Encap Technologies, a company that designs and manufactures small motors, watched a growing number of customers break their contracts and move business to overseas manufacturers that incorporated Encap’s inventions without proper licenses. Not wanting to undertake costly and time-intensive legal action against former customers suspected of IP infringement, Neal approached Intellectual Ventures for help and, in 2012, sold Encap’s intellectual property to IV.

Inventor Spotlight: Griff Neal

Almost immediately, Encap began to see results. According to Neal, “Working with IV helps level the playing field for small businesses like us. And because they handle the licensing, we can focus on what we’re truly passionate about – creating great products.”

Read more here about how Encap and IV are working together. 


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Inventions to Start-Ups: Coffee Flour is off to the Races

Today marks the launch of a new company that demonstrates the role invention plays in transforming even the most established industries. Based on patents developed and owned by Intellectual Ventures, CF Global Holdings, Inc. will produce and sell Coffee Flour™ – a new, sustainable food ingredient derived from coffee cherries.

Inventions to Start-Ups: Coffee Flour is off to the Races

CF Global is the brainchild of Dan Belliveau, one of more than 4,000 inventors in Intellectual Ventures’ global inventor network. Dan approached us with the idea for Coffee Flour more than two years ago and the Seattle-area company is based on a collection of inventions we developed with him and his team.

When we first saw Dan's inventions for turning discarded coffee cherries into a nutritious flour, suitable for making baked goods, pastas, energy drinks, and granola bars, we loved the idea. We also quickly realized commercializing the inventions – for what has now become a product called Coffee Flour – would be best served by forming an entirely new company around them.

So how exactly did it all come together? In addition to working with Dan and his team to develop an IP strategy, we helped them access a supply of coffee cherries, recruit global partners in the coffee industry, and introduced the Coffee Flour concept to some of the world’s largest food and beverage companies. 

Coffee Flour is a great example of how the group I run here at IV, the Invention Development Fund (IDF), works with inventors to bring new ideas to life. Among other things, our assistance with developing, patenting, and licensing these ideas allows inventors to focus on the art of inventing and helps to make sure they are rewarded for their creativity and hard work.

We have a long history of investing in invention and we’re proud to team with a company like CF Global. This is a big milestone for the IDF team and I expect the launch of this new company is the first of many to come. 


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Misleading Indicators (Part 2)

In my earlier post, Misleading Indicators, I asserted that relying on traditional economic indicators, such as GDP, may be sabotaging the development of thriving innovation economies.

Misleading Indicators (Part 2)

So what does valuable innovation look like, in terms of macroeconomic data, years before it gives rise to the next Google, Bayer, Porsche, or Alibaba? What numbers best characterize a thriving innovation ecosystem in its birth stages?

We already know some of the essential ingredients. They include top-level talent, serial entrepreneurs with good track records, start-ups backed by reputable capital, and breakthrough products protected by intellectual-property rights. Analysts at my company recently investigated whether these ingredients could be quantified. Our preliminary results suggest that they can.

For example, we learned that five of today’s most successful start-ups in the information-technology sector had two attributes in common by the end of their third year in business: they had filed more than one patent and been funded by more than one top venture-capital firm. In subsequent years, these five companies’ cumulative revenue was six times higher than that of start-ups chosen at random.

Economists could extend such analyses to develop a set of key performance indicators for young innovation economies. Governments could then use these innovation metrics to identify start-ups, talent, and products with the strongest potential for future success. This approach could be applied to any high-tech incubator project – within or beyond the developing world – that currently measures success only in dollars.

Of course, such metrics would merely improve the odds of succeeding, not point to a sure thing. Innovation economies will always require investments in a multitude of prospects to produce the few big winners that will ultimately anchor the mature ecosystem. But even a modest improvement in odds will deliver outsize results if it means landing two Apples or Samsungs rather than one – or none.

Changing how we think about economic value will not be easy. Yet countries where GDP has been flagging – an ever-increasing cohort – might welcome new metrics that can show signs of real progress. And there is a growing awareness among policymakers and planners that virtual assets like creative talent and entrepreneurial skill make up an increasing portion of a country’s wealth.

The US Bureau of Economic Analysis acknowledged as much last summer when it changed the definition of GDP to represent better the contributions of intellectual property and research and development to productivity and economic vitality. Broader efforts to reform GDP, including initiatives sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the European Commission, seek to encompass sustainability, living standards, and other important aspects of a country’s wellbeing. Groups like the Institute for New Economic Thinking are championing the study of innovation economics to provide data and analyses for these efforts.

As former US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke noted in a 2011 speech, “We will be more likely to promote innovative activity if we are able to measure it more effectively and document its role in economic growth.”

In fact, metrics that help countries drive innovation could change our very understanding of economic growth. Governments want them, economies need them, and the global community will benefit from them. It is time for macroeconomics to measure up to the ambitions of twenty-first-century innovators.


This article originally appeared in full in Project Syndicate’s exclusive series The Innovation Revolution, where the world’s leading experts in architecture, industrial design, medical research, economics, and other fields examine the causes and consequences of breakthrough innovations in communications, transport, energy (and energy storage), biotechnology, and similarly crucial sectors.


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Misleading Indicators

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” That is the wisdom behind metrics like gross domestic product and other aggregate indicators that signal the health of national economies around the world. Policymakers and planners have used these numbers for decades to help them understand how to guide domestic economic growth.

Misleading Indicators

But reliance on GDP and other traditional indicators may be sabotaging a keenly sought goal: the development of thriving innovation economies. Today, some vital parts of the information-technology sector barely register in the national accounts. While GDP measures the market value of all goods and services produced within a country, many stars of the digital age (think Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, Netscape, and so on) produce no goods and provide free services.

These same star players also tend to undercut the productivity of traditional businesses. Free navigation apps have shrunk sales for Garmin, the GPS pioneer that was once one of the fastest-growing companies in the United States. Skype is killing the international phone call “one minute at a time.”

These developments point to the need for new growth metrics that recognize new kinds of enterprise. And, because these metrics concern innovation, they should be forward-looking as well. Policymakers need to understand how to establish, manage, and thus measure the conditions that encourage innovators to flock to a region and forge a prosperous future there. Innovation metrics must capture the value of new ideas years before those ideas become profitable in traditionally measured ways.

The need for such metrics is especially urgent in the developing world. Emerging economies commonly use foreign direct investment (FDI) as a yardstick to measure progress. That metric makes sense in the early stages of development: poor economies need foreign capital to build factories, train workers, and put money in the pockets of ordinary citizens.

But foreign investment most often goes to low-risk, low-margin projects: iron foundries, cement plants, and so forth. Innovation, by contrast, is a high-risk, high-reward effort. Even big multinationals do not put a lot of money into a new idea at first. Tomorrow’s most disruptive innovation may have no effect on FDI or GDP today.

Thus, for countries like China, India, and Brazil that are trying to jump-start their domestic innovation cultures, FDI targets actually prevent government planners from reaching out to the people and companies that are most likely to take creative approaches to problems.

So what does valuable innovation look like, in terms of macroeconomic data, years before it gives rise to the next Google, Bayer, Porsche, or Alibaba? What numbers best characterize a thriving innovation ecosystem in its birth stages?

More on that tomorrow … 


This article originally appeared in full in Project Syndicate’s exclusive series The Innovation Revolution, where the world’s leading experts in architecture, industrial design, medical research, economics, and other fields examine the causes and consequences of breakthrough innovations in communications, transport, energy (and energy storage), biotechnology, and similarly crucial sectors.


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Move Along Stark Industries. Washington FIRST Robotics Rules the Robot World

“Robot! Robot!” Walk the halls of a high school in Washington state and you’ll likely hear this chant as Washington FIRST Robotics teams wheel hand-made robots from the maintenance pit to the arena (aka gymnasium). Though it may be a few years away from having the kind of March Madness style brackets and recognition, the remote-controlled bot games rival the excitement and passion of any basketball championship.

Move Along Stark Industries. Washington FIRST Robotics Rules the Robot World

*Geoff Deane, vice president of Intellectual Ventures and Washington First board chair, checks out a team’s robot.

A “varsity sport of the mind,” Washington FIRST Robotics competitions help high-school-aged youth discover how dynamic and rewarding the life of engineers, scientists, and researchers can be. The competitions call upon teams of young people to solve a common challenge by building robots from a standard kit of parts.

“As we say, in FIRST every student can go pro,” said Geoff Deane, Intellectual Ventures Lab vice president and general manager. Deane volunteers as the Washington FIRST board chair. “FIRST is one of the coolest ways I’ve seen of connecting kids to science and technology in a hands-on way.”

Intellectual Ventures has been a dedicated sponsor of Washington FIRST programs for several years now. In additional to financial support, our employees volunteer as team mentors, sharing their expertise in everything from engineering to fundraising and team leadership.

Kay, president of IV-mentored Team 2907 at Auburn Mountainview High School, says mentors play a big role in helping her team succeed. “Mentors are a huge part of our team; we honestly could not do this without them. Students build the robots, but our mentors guide us, teach us, and help us with strategy.”

You would think that building an Ironman-like robot would be the top of any FIRST student’s agenda, but watch the competition and you’ll see that these teens have the energy, enthusiasm, and intelligence that drives them well beyond comic books and blockbuster movies.

“If I was to build a robot, it would be to improve healthcare,” said Hannah, Iron Rams Team 4304 participant. “It would be able to dispense medicine to older people so they wouldn’t have to worry about remembering when to take their medicines.”

That’s the spirit of innovation that Intellectual Ventures believes in, and we’re excited to watch what brilliant ideas this next generation of inventors and engineers will come up with next.

Catch a live stream of the FIRST competition action, and view our FIRST photo gallery on Facebook.


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What Explosion in Patent Litigation?

You won’t find a lot of coverage in the news, but we’re in the midst of a surprising and sharp drop in new patent lawsuits.   

What Explosion in Patent Litigation?

*Reference line at 322 cases, representing January 2014 level.

That’s contrary to everything legislators have been hearing in Washington about an “explosion’’ of patent litigation suffocating productive enterprise and Congress needing to rush to pass additional patent system and patent litigation reforms.

New data compiled by Lex Machina, and updated by Gene Quinn of IP Watchdog, casts doubt on the whole notion that reforms are necessary. According to the data, the number of new patent cases filed in January and February of 2014 was about 25 percent lower than for the same two months last year. Only 322 new lawsuits were filed this January, a 34.3 percent drop from January 2013 and the lowest number since October 2011. The number of lawsuits rebounded somewhat in February, but it was still 16.8 percent lower than in February 2013.

Granted, two swallows don’t make a spring.  But there are sound reasons to think these numbers are significant, as we’ll explain in a moment.  At the very least, data over the past few years confirms what we and others have been saying for a long time: The much-bemoaned “explosion” in patent litigation is a fairy tale.

Take a look at the chart above from Lex Machina that tracks the number of new lawsuits per month over the past seven years. What the chart shows is a lot of volatility, but no meaningful trend at all. Yes, there appears to be a jump in numbers after 2011. But as the Government Accountability Office concluded in an exhaustive study last year, that jump is mostly an illusion. It was driven by new filing requirements in the America Invents Act (AIA) of 2011. Prior to the AIA, companies could sue dozens of alleged infringers in one sweeping lawsuit. The AIA stopped that, requiring companies to file separate lawsuits. The actual number of companies being sued didn’t change much at all; it just became divided across a larger number of lawsuits.

The Lex Machina and IPWatchdog data is important. The political push in Congress for patent litigation reforms is based heavily on the much-ballyhooed – but undocumented – surge in lawsuits. We’ve argued all along that lawmakers have been rushing to pass legislation that purports to knock out “patent trolls,” without having sound data about the problem they believe they’re addressing.

There’s another important point here: other provisions of the AIA already may be solving what problems do exist. To stop lawsuits based on shoddy patents, the AIA created new opportunities for companies to demand that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office re-examine the validity of disputed patents. These re-examinations provide a relatively cheap – at least compared to litigation – and fast way to stop many frivolous lawsuits dead in their tracks. And this process apparently has become very popular. The number of re-examinations doubled from fiscal year 2010 to 2013, from 281 to 563, and it’s on track to double again this year.

This appears to be exactly what the AIA was supposed to do. It’s a very good bet that the recent decline in patent litigation is tied to all the new re-examinations.  That’s why the recent numbers are likely more than just statistical noise. In other words, the patent reforms of 2011 were a success, but like many public policy actions, they take a while to bear fruit.

As Gene Quinn remarked on IP Watchdog, “All of this has to make you wonder whether any new patent legislation is necessary at this time….Why not allow the reforms of the AIA time to work before once again tinkering with the patent laws and potentially upsetting the incentive to innovate?”

So why did the House pass its deeply-flawed new “reform’’ bill after just one hearing? Why are some Senate lawmakers pushing a similar bill? 

Good question.


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IV President Receives Achievement Award

Adriane Brown, Intellectual Venture’s President and COO, was honored last night by Legal Momentum with a Women of Achievement Award, celebrating the accomplishments of extraordinary women in business, law, and public service.

IV President Receives Achievement Award

Adriane is an active supporter of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) initiatives especially for women and girls. Her work with STEMConnector, Million Women Mentors, Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) and Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) are just a few of the ways she inspires and motivates people to pursue their education and work in STEM-related fields. Adriane regularly speaks about the importance of mentorship and how mentors have personally helped her career. She is a leader who consistently takes on bigger and bigger challenges, yet always takes the time to lift others on her journey. 

Congratulations to Adriane and each of the 2014 Women of Achievement Honorees on the much deserved recognition!


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Chris Alliegro

Chris Alliegro

Chris Alliegro is the executive vice president for the Invention Development Fund (IDF) at Intellectual Ventures.

Edward Jung

Edward Jung

Edward Jung is a founder and CTO of Intellectual Ventures.

Edward Jung

Edward Jung

Edward Jung is a founder and CTO of Intellectual Ventures.

Russ Merbeth

Russ Merbeth

Russ Merbeth is chief policy counsel for Intellectual Ventures.

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IV CEO @nathanmyhrvold on our “Irrational Fears” of nuclear power techre.vu/1fpmVKI >@techreview

Apr 23

Invention is a distinctly human characteristic that empowers us to improve our world #EarthDay ow.ly/w3ceO ow.ly/i/5kjs1

Apr 22

What’s on IV CEO's intellectual to-do list? Change Agents: Nathan Myhrvold's many missions ow.ly/w2rro via @USATODAY

Apr 22