Over the past several years, here in the U.S. we have engaged in an intense debate about how best to promote innovation – including, of course, perennial calls to upend our patent system. Whatever one thinks of the merits of these ideas, a striking aspect of the debate has been its lack of global perspective. And while it may be natural for Americans to focus on homegrown inventions, our national laws and their impact on our domestic economy, the fact is that invention today is a global enterprise.
Indeed, the most valuable inventions of our age are the ones that touch people of all walks of life in all parts of the world.
As an inventions company with offices around the world, we at Intellectual Ventures know that the challenges to invention are the same the world over. Invention requires access to talent, ideas and a system, which takes investment. Invention is high-risk everywhere in the world. And once a promising patented invention is ready for the marketplace, the challenges don’t end. In an age of intense competition between companies and countries, cutting edge inventions are at risk of being used by others without permission or compensation.
Given how hard and rewarding invention is, sometimes we should take a step back and marvel that it happens at all.
The reason invention still does happen in our world today is that over the course of centuries, countries around the globe have built institutions, markets and laws to promote and protect invention. The countries that have done the most to advance invention are also the ones that have reaped the rewards of the industrial and knowledge economies.
As an inventions company, we are a small part of that vast infrastructure supporting the work of invention globally. That includes our state-of-the-art research lab that pursues breakthroughs that can become spin-out companies with far-reaching impact. Already, our researchers have come up with exciting innovations related to nuclear energy, metamaterials, and our vaccine storage device, Arktek. With a single batch of ice, Arktek can store up to 300 doses of vaccines or enough to serve a remote community of 6,000 for more than a month, without electricity.
Our global network of some 4,000 individual inventors from universities, labs and companies from every continent have collaborated to produce clever solutions such as Mazzi, a cost effective and durable 10-liter food-grade plastic container designed specifically to address breakdowns in the dairy supply chain of rural, developing countries. IV also collaborates with companies to create joint ventures, like Benemilk and Coffee Flour, to accelerate business development and licensing activities.
To unlock the value of inventions for more inventors and businesses that could benefit from utilizing those inventions, IV also acquires patents from inventors globally and licenses them to companies around the world. This “marketplace” delivers monetary rewards to deserving inventors, while providing licensees with access to great ideas. We have a global customer base and partnerships including Asia Optical of Taiwan, Leica Camera AG, Seiko Epson Corporation, and Shazam, among others.
The work of promoting and protecting invention is often complex. Like anything of value – money, a work of art, a precious object – are at risk of being misappropriated, sometimes intentionally, other times unwittingly. In all such cases, companies should stand ready to defend their inventions through the appropriate legal processes within the jurisdictions involved. To not do so would be to de-value invention itself, which ultimately means less invention and a world with less progress.
But as challenging as this work is, the rewards are equally clear. There are few things in the human experience that match the feeling of being associated with a real breakthrough. The chance to see an idea that is wholly new come into the world is often compared to birth. The analogy is apt. It can be a hard process – but the result is simply amazing.