Everything Ventured, Everything Gained

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 reached the moon. 45 years ago, man took his first steps there. Today we’re reminded of how fast technology can develop in the right environment and the distance that invention can take us when inventors, investors, big and small companies, governments, universities and communities work together.

Edward Jung, IV founder and CTO, calls the Apollo program a historical example of the impact of collaborative invention:

 “The Apollo space program created a $25 billion (more than $150B in today’s dollars!) innovation economy and put a man on the moon in less than a decade — thanks to the cooperation of government and industry, the individual and the team.”

To give this accomplishment more context, travel back with us seven years before 1969 to 1962, when President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech at Rice University in Houston, TX.

His main focus was to persuade Americans to support NASA's mission in the space race. At the time of his speech, no one had ever completed a spacewalk, the U.S. had only first put a man in space the previous year, and we hadn't yet fired a rocket capable of sending a mission to the moon.

Needless to say, we had a long way to go in order to reach this distant and little-known frontier. And that's where the importance of the inventive spirit kicked in. Look where it led us:

Exploration is at the heart of invention, and as venturers we're building a marketplace that will encourage even greater leaps. Learn about the modern-day challenges and opportunities made better through invention on


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What Not to Miss In the Insights Archive

We combed the IV Insights blog archive for the most read posts. From IP strategy to geek masterminds, take a look at a few reader favorites that you won’t want to miss.

What Not to Miss In the Insights Archive

The Next Age of Invention
The “lone genius” model of invention has a problem with scale. How will we solve long-term, large-scale problems? Here’s IV Founder and CTO Edward Jung on the importance of cooperation.

5 Inconvenient Truths About Patent Reform
If you listen to a rising banter of critics, you might think that patents are killing innovation. Here’s another perspective from the man who coined the term “patent troll.”

Inventions to Startups: Coffee Flour is off to the Races
Can good IP strategy spur new business? Learn how Intellectual Ventures Invention Development Fund used an IP portfolio to helped launch startup company CF Global.

Software Patents: Just Because it’s in Code Doesn’t Mean it isn’t an Invention
Within the loud and often incoherent chorus of anti-patent “reformers,’’ there’s a particularly shrill sub-group who rails against software patents. Are you among them?

10 Must Reads for Inventors
Curious about invention? Check out the list of IV’s must-reads among the inventor community.

Which Geek Mastermind Are You?
Are you more like Einstein or Tesla? Just for fun, take a quick quiz to find out which inventor you share a wavelength with.

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Defining a Disruptor

Last month, Clayton Christensen’s favored theory of disruptive innovation was ripped apart by the New Yorker, and then put back together again in Businessweek.

Defining a Disruptor

Love the term or hate it, there’s no doubt disruptors challenge the status quo. “Because it’s always been done that way,” is not in their vocabulary. They’re risk-takers and change advocates who are unafraid of the controversy and resistance stirred up by their ideas.

Being a disruptor sure can come with its fair share of misinterpretation as well. Nathan Myhrvold, our cofounder and CEO, has said, “You can’t do anything significant in life if you’re not willing to be misunderstood for some period of time.” This requires courage and a strong belief in your mission – a willingness to step into a different territory and to create something new.

In the business of invention, challenging the status quo is a necessity. At Intellectual Ventures, we’re proud to consider ourselves disruptors –  we aren’t shy about taking risks; we’ve built the invention capital market from scratch and fundamentally believe invention is the foundation for solving the world’s toughest challenges.

For more insight into just a few of the disruptors we work with, check out 700 for Science’s interview with Global Good’s Maurizio Vecchione or Nathan’s “Funding Eureka!” article in the Harvard Business Review.

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Patently False

We’ve often wondered: If “patent trolls” and the “explosion” of lawsuits are strangling innovation as some critics claim, then why are the most blazingly innovative industries also the ones with the most new patents and lawsuits?

Patently False

Take smartphones for example, one the most patent-intensive industries. There have been epic patent battles in court.

Yet the pace of smartphone innovation has been off the charts, while prices for consumers have fallen dramatically. Twenty years ago, few people had cellphones and those who did paid $1,000 for a basic model. Today, you can buy a smartphone for less than $100.

This evidence always strikes us as a clear and common-sense rebuttal to what the anti-patent crowd is saying. And now there’s rigorous new research that confirms what we’ve always believed to be true.

The study, led by Stephen Haber at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and Ross Levine at the University of California’s Berkeley-Haas School of Business, compared the innovation rates of industries with their patent-intensity. You can read highlights from the report in their Wall Street Journal op-ed, “The Myth of the Wicked Patent Troll”.

The bottom line: “Innovation rates have been strongest in exactly the industries that patent reform advocates claim are suffering from ‘trolls’ and a broken patent system.”

Levine and Haber are referring to the likes of software, telecommunications and media technology. Since 1992, they calculate the quality-and-inflation-adjusted price of telephone equipment has fallen at an annual rate of 6.7%. For televisions, the annual drop has 14.4%. For portable computers, it’s been 26.7%.

Haber and Levine’s larger point is that the “explosion” of litigation is a myth, and so is the harm caused by “trolls.” As historian Zorina Khan of Bowdoin College has vividly documented, we had identical surges in litigation, and almost identical debates about patents, during every other significant wave of new inventing: the telephone and telegraph; railroads; automobiles and aviation. Even vulcanized rubber for tires.

Many of America’s greatest inventors, including Thomas Edison, Charles Goodyear, the Wright Brothers, and Cyrus McCormick, were embroiled in big patent disputes. And most of the great inventors were also partly or entirely “non-practicing entities” – people who hold patents but don’t manufacture the products themselves – and might well be denounced as “trolls” in today’s lexicon.

The “golden age” of inventing in the 19th Century saw brutal patent wars. George Campbell Carson’s patents for steel smelting were held to be worth $260 million in damages. Adjusted for inflation, that would be many times more expensive than even the most costly patent battles of today. 

Somehow, we not only survived those early patent wars but produced wave after wave of new technology that improved lives around the world at just about every income level.

No matter what side of the fence you’re on, litigation is costly and distracting. But advances in technology go hand-in-hand with disputes over inventorship and ownership. As Haber and Levine point out, an uptick in lawsuits isn’t necessarily a sign of dysfunction.

“It might instead reflect a healthy, dynamic economy,’’ they write. “Rapid technological advances have spurred more innovation and patents, and courts are now clarifying the nature and boundaries of intellectual property and contract rights.”

That’s a good thing. It means that patented inventions are worth fighting for, and that independent inventors, small businesses, and corporations don’t have to accept someone using their intellectual property without permission.

In fact, Haber and Levine argue that “Big [Corporate] Money” is behind today’s attack on “trolls.”   

“Many patent-intensive products – the smartphone in your pocket, the laptop computer in your briefcase – are produced by corporations that license many patents,” they write. “These corporations can make higher profits the less they pay to use patented technology they do not own, and higher profits still by paying nothing at all.”

That’s an important point for Congress to remember the next time a herd of lobbyists claims the patent system needs “reform.” 

“When policy makers consider reforming the patent system,” Haber and Levine warn, “they should not rely on often-repeated, but never substantiated, claims that patent trolls and lawsuits stymie innovation… They should demand robust evidence that the current system is slowing down innovation. It does not exist.”

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Staff Spotlight: IV Patent Acquisitions

Intellectual Ventures (IV) has one of the largest patent portfolios in the world, which we’ve built up through our own in-house invention process, a worldwide network of inventors, and by working closely with some of the most inventive individuals, startups, and companies in the world.

Staff Spotlight: IV Patent Acquisitions

To help explain how we have developed such a diverse patent portfolio, we asked Troy Niehaus, director of acquisitions at IV, how a 22-year career as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and a decade of coaching baseball and softball has helped shape his search across a huge range of technologies to find and purchase the next-generation of inventions for IV customers.

How did you find your way to Intellectual Ventures?

My journey to IV has been unique. I spent time in the military when I was younger and eventually left in order to enter the world of sales. For about 12 years, I managed sales and business development for a variety of companies, and also ran a company for a period of time.

Eventually, I became focused on IP, which then led me to patents. If you are in the world of patents, IV is going to be on your radar, and I became very interested. In general, I wanted to be working at IV because it was a mixture of taking on different challenges, new business opportunities, and being actively involved in the patent and IP space.

At IV, my main role is to develop and maintain relationships with companies who might be interested in selling patents. I have the opportunity to talk with a wide span of people in a variety of different markets, which I find very interesting.

What's the most interesting project you've worked on at IV?

The most interesting project I have worked on is a patent acquisition deal with a startup company. It’s rare for startups to sell their IP. However, through a relationship with IV, this startup is able to capitalize on their existing inventions to continue inventing. This project has been exciting because of the potential of an ongoing relationship that could greatly benefit this startup. 

How do you explain IV to people outside of the company?

I typically say that IV is like a venture capital firm, but rather than investing in companies, we invest in patents. We buy, license, and sell patents. Additionally, we are creating a marketplace for invention where we are able to acquire technologies and give capital to inventors so they can continue developing their ideas. We are able to license these patents and technologies to major corporations who need invention rights. IV facilitates the marketplace for invention.

Do you ever think about the impact that you're making on future technologies?

It is one of the main things I love about my job. You never know what we might buy that could be extremely valuable for the company and the next big thing on the market. A lot of my job is evaluating all types of technology so we can see what might support building this marketplace for invention. Whether we are acquiring and licensing, or partnering with another business unit, the opportunities for invention are unlimited.

Learn more about the people that make IV so unique, or how you can sell your patents to IV here.

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Patriotic and Peculiar Fourth of July Inventions

Here at the Intellectual Ventures headquarters in Washington state, we’re raising our stars and stripes this Independence Day to salute our nation’s innovative spirit. American inventors have done extraordinary things; they gave us the telephone, the assembly line, and the polio vaccine. It’s also important to honor the inventors who don’t have a dedicated chapter in the American history books. Their inventions may not be well known, but they are just as extraordinary in their creativity.

Patriotic and Peculiar Fourth of July Inventions

In addition to saluting America’s famed inventors, let’s recognize a few patriotic and peculiar inventions you might see this Fourth of July weekend.

Backyard BBQ Inventions

No one knows who invented the first barbeque. There are stories that Henry Ford invented the first charcoal briquette in 1920 with Thomas Edison's help; however, a patented designed filed by Ellsworth B.A. Zwoyer of Pennsylvania trumps Ford’s claim.

Design for Fuel

Do you enjoy classic hotdogs and cheeseburgers on July 4, or are you willing to get inventive with your barbeque recipes? IV Founder and CEO Nathan Myhrvold won 1991's World Championship of Barbecue 1st & 2nd place titles. Try this recipe for lamb skewers from the Modernist Cuisine kitchen.

Waterworks Inventions to Beat the Heat

Sometimes drenching yourself in water is the only effective way to stay cool in July’s heat. See how Intellectual Ventures Lab invented an automated system for filling and tying thousands of water balloons in an attempt to beat the world record for largest water balloon fight. 

If you don’t like the idea of being soaked, bring your own air conditioning system instead.

Personal Cooling Device

Fireworks Inventions for the Tame and the Rowdy

There’s something elegant about celebrating with sparklers. Simple, yet dazzling.

Two-day Burning Sparkler

For those who like their fireworks loud and proud, go for the projectile launcher.

Combustion Chamber for Launching Fireworks Projectiles

Patent US8402893

Inventions for the Sweet Tooth

For a summery dessert, do you go for the fruit pie and ice cream or the popsicles? Eleven-year-old Frank Epperson left a stir stick in some fruit-flavored soda water outdoors on a cold winter night in 1905. Nineteen years later, he applied for a patent for “frozen ice on a stick” called the Epsicle.

Frozen Confectionery

Patent US1505592

If you prefer pie, this pie plate attachment couldn’t be more patriotic—it was patented on July 4, 1905 (coincidentally the same year that Epperson had his chilling Eureka! moment).

The list of creative ideas goes on, because invention is ingrained in the American experience.  We flew the world’s first airplane. We landed on the moon. We invented the Internet and a motorized ice cream cone.

Happy Independence Day, and happy inventing!

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IV in the News: Institute for Disease Modeling

It’s been a busy couple of months for IV’s Institute for Disease Modeling. By developing detailed computer simulations of disease transmission for malaria, polio, tuberculosis, and HIV overlaid with real-time computer modeling of climate, migration and population shifts, IDM provides the scientific data for local governments, multi-lateral institutions and non-profits to make broad policy, program and funding decisions that will help eradicate deadly diseases.    

IV in the News: Institute for Disease Modeling

Recently, Philip Eckhoff, research scientist and IDM’s principal investigator, published a research paper he co-authored with fellow U.S. scientists and health officials in Nigeria studying historical polio caseload patterns and forecast future circulation of two types of wild poliovirus within districts in Nigeria. The paper, published in BMC Medicine, ultimately concluded that the modeling approach used by IDM for this particular study could be applied to other vaccine-preventable diseases for use in other control and elimination programs.

Philip also spoke with both KUOW’s The Record’s Ross Reynolds and Anna Azvolinsky at the Princeton Alumni Weekly about using computer modeling to eradicate infectious diseases in the developing world. Though optimistic about the probability of eradicating polio worldwide in the next five years and ending malaria in most countries in the next 20 to 30, Philip explained the importance of local level support in addition to the great work happening at IDM:

 “No matter how many times we eradicate malaria or another disease in our simulation models, unless the recommendations are put into practice at the local level, we won’t effect change.”

So what began as a modest epidemiological modeling project has grown today to a multi-disciplinary team that is made up of more than 35 physicists, mathematicians, and software developers, who have been making significant strides in determining the combination of health policies and intervention strategies that can lead to disease eradication.  In a recent interview with The Seattle Times, epidemiologist Mike Famulare explains how this approach drew him to IDM in the first place:

“I can sincerely say that I work with unreasonably smart people, and we are more cooperative than competitive. I love this. In the big picture — if I do my job well — I make tiny contributions to the massive effort underway to improve healthcare and control preventable disease world-wide. Maybe I help life get a little better for a lot of people.”

For more on how IDM is helping solve some of the most significant global health challenges we face today, please visit the Intellectual Ventures Laboratory.  

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What Makes a Person an Inventor?

It may sound trite to say that “inventors change the world,” but indeed, they do. Dating back to the first tool to the next generation of nuclear energy, inventors push the boundaries of science, industry and society.

What Makes a Person an Inventor?

At IV, we spend a lot of time talking about what those pioneers have in common. One person who knows better than most is Geoff Deane, VP and General Manager of the IV Lab, an organization that is fueled by risk-taking and creative license. Here’s how Geoff describes the tell-tale signs of an inventor: 

Inquisitive, fearless, intuitive and owner of a broken telephone. Sound familiar? 

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Patent Reform That Makes Sense, Part II

In my previous post, I described a constructive proposal in Congress to attack the mass-mailings of “demand letters,” but patent reform isn’t just happening in the halls of Congress. The court system is pushing through another series of reforms that will make it harder and riskier for so-called “trolls” to file frivolous patent-infringement lawsuits.

Patent Reform That Makes Sense, Part II

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court handed down two decisions that create more clarity about patent validity and will make it easier for companies to defend themselves against charges of infringement. Indeed, The New York Times praised the decisions in an editorial. In one case, Nautilus Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, the high court made it easier for a defendant to show that a patent is invalid because of its “indefiniteness” – meaning that the patent is too vague to explain the scope of the invention. It’s an important issue, because critics have charged that many patent claims are vague and overly broad. Until now, courts have held that a patent flunks the “indefiniteness” test only if the scope of the claim is “insolubly ambiguous.” The high court said that bar was too high, and set a new standard based on failing to provide “reasonable certainty” to those who are skilled in the art. 

In April, the Supreme Court handed down two decisions that are all but certain to increase the financial risks for people who file frivolous patent lawsuits. In those cases, Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Health Management Systems and Octane Fitness v. Icon Health and Fitness, the court gave judges more discretion to make the losing side pay the winning side’s attorney fees.  

And just this week, the Supreme Court delivered another important ruling, this time on the patentability of software. That case, Alice Corporation v. CLS Bank International, provides further guidance on the highly complex and controversial question of whether a software program that automates a business method truly counts as an invention and should be eligible for a patent.  

All of this activity, in Congress and in the courts, shows that real patent reform is advancing – without jeopardizing the crucial role of patents in sparking invention. 

For much of the past year, powerful lobbying groups have pushed for sweeping laws based on caricatures of “trolls” and other villains. The result was a raft of proposals that sparked serious objections from universities, pharmaceutical firms, biotech firms, independent inventors and entrepreneurs. None of these represent what most people think of as “trolls,’’ but they are major engines of American invention. 

After six months of trying but failing to reach agreement among the many different stakeholders, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy put his proposed bill on hold in early May. 

But the courts clearly recognize that there are bad actors who exploit weaknesses in the legal system, and they are making fixes that will have a big impact.

This new path is precise, balanced, thoughtful and ultimately better for the nation.

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From Teen To Techie In Twenty-Four Hours

“When we’re children, we’re natural inventors…. When kids come out of college, what happened to that inventive capacity?”

From Teen To Techie In Twenty-Four Hours

A student working on her programming skills at CodeDay

Innovative thinking and problem solving are in high demand, especially in industries facing big challenges such as healthcare, food supply, or sustainable energy.  That’s why IV—a company that invests in the technologies shaping our future—lends its support to youth who are learning to apply their ingenuity to real-world applications in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Edward Jung, Intellectual Ventures Founder and CTO, hopes more kids will keep their creativity as they get older. “When we’re children, we’re natural inventors,” says Jung. “When kids come out of college, what happened to that inventive capacity?”

Edward Jiang—different spelling; same creative tendencies—represents a young generation of innovators who, like Jung, want more youth to pursue tech fields. Jiang is one of the founders of StudentRND, a nonprofit organization with a goal to create the next generation of technologist by getting students excited to work on tech projects they care about. He started StudentRND out of his Seattle backyard after graduating high school in 2009. Today, StudentRND events span the U.S. and include the popular CodeDay.

The StudentRND team

CodeDay—sponsored in part by Intellectual Ventures—is a hackathon for students ranging from middle school to college. Teens gather for an intense 24 hours when everyone from coding newbies to seasoned programmers learn to pitch ideas, form teams, and build an app in a day.

IV caught up with a team from a recent New York CodeDay. Their idea: build an app for enhanced music discovery and sharing. The team created the YouPlay Radio software app, which draws from user-submitted music videos available on YouTube to help listeners find an array of original, covered, and remixed songs. App users can then then stream YouTube’s endless supply of music.

Through CodeDays alone, Jiang and the StudentRND team are bringing the creative brainpower of more than 2,000 teens together in cities across the country. With so much ingenuity sparked in a single day, imagine what problems these creative minds will solve once they join the workforce.

Read a Q&A with the YouPlay Radio team on Project Eureka!

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Adriane Brown

Adriane Brown

Adriane Brown is the President and COO of Intellectual Ventures.

Russ Merbeth

Russ Merbeth

Russ Merbeth is chief policy counsel for Intellectual Ventures.





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What Not to Miss In the Insights Archive |

Jul 22

Apollo’s Historic Lunar Landing #EverythingVentured | Via @WSJ

Jul 22

45 yrs ago now “That’s one small step for (a) man…one giant leap for mankind.” -Neil Armstrong  #Apollo45 #Apollo11

Jul 20