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President Lincoln and the “Fire of Genius”

In honor of Presidents Day, it seems fitting that we profile the only president to ever hold a patent: President Lincoln. Lincoln shared a common ethos with many inventors – he relished the opportunity to design new objects, especially those that had the potential to improve an industry or make work more efficient. 

President Lincoln and the “Fire of Genius”

In Lincoln’s early years, he worked on a ferry boat on the Mississippi that ran aground multiple times. Inspired by the technological challenge the issue presented, he designed a device to buoy vessels over shoals. His system allowed the crew to inflate waterproof fabric bladders when they needed to lift the ship over an area of shallow water. On May 22, 1849, he was granted patent No. 6,469 for the idea. Proud of this accomplishment, Lincoln stated that the patent system “added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.”

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Lighting the Way: Lewis Howard Latimer

In honor of Black History Month and Thursday’s National Inventors’ Day, we wanted to profile the incredible story of Lewis Howard Latimer. A groundbreaking inventor and draftsman, Latimer made amazing strides on inventions that remain crucial to our everyday – like the light bulb. 

Lighting the Way: Lewis Howard Latimer

Image by Unknown - http://www.lrc.rpi.edu/resources/news/pressReleases/img/Lewis.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2032528

Lewis Howard Latimer was an African-American inventor and draftsman. After serving in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, Latimer gained employment as an office boy with a patent law firm. He learned to use a set square, ruler and other tools, quickly becoming a skilled draftsman. His boss recognized his talent for sketching patent drawings and eventually Latimer was promoted to head draftsman.

In 1876 while a draftsman at Alexander Graham Bell’s patent law firm, Latimer was asked to draft the necessary drawings required to receive a patent for Bell’s telephone. Latimer later left Bell’s law firm when he relocated with his family to Connecticut; there he was hired as an assistant manager and draftsman for the U.S. Electric Lighting Company, owned by Hiram Maxim, a rival of Thomas Edison.

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Global Good and MobileODT Team Up to Prevent Cervical Cancer

In recognition of World Cancer Day, Intellectual Ventures' Global Good and biomedical technology startup MobileODT discuss a new partnership where they will develop a new version of the startup’s cervical cancer screening device.

By Celina Schocken, Maternal and Child Health Advisor, Global Good

Cervical cancer is one of the most deadly – and the most preventable – diseases in the world today. In 2016 alone, nearly 300,000 women are expected to die of cervical cancer, and the number of cases are increasing. The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, about 443,000 women will die each year from cervical cancer worldwide.[1]

Global Good recently teamed up with MobileODT, a company based in Tel-Aviv, Israel, to develop a new version of their cervical cancer screening device. Global Good is a collaboration between Bill Gates and Intellectual Ventures aimed at developing technology solutions to some of the world’s most difficult health and development problems.

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The Hallowed Ground of African American Invention

For Black History Month, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History is building on the National Park Service’s “Journey through Hallowed Ground” to honor the contributions African Americans have made to our country. The Black History Month 2016 theme, Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories includes a complete list of historic landmarks that have been certified by the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. Today, we're building on this theme further and highlighting the African American inventors who brought innovation and breakthroughs to these same historic locations –  impacting and changing our world for the better. 

The Hallowed Ground of African American Invention

Charles Richard Drew, “Father of the Blood Bank”

Chicago, Illinois – Where Sarah Goode was one of the first African American women to receive a U.S. patent. Sarah invented a folding cabinet bed, earning U.S. patent number 322,177, which would later be called the “hide-away bed.”

See also the Oscar Stanton De Priest House, the apartment building where the first African American Congressman, elected in 1928, lived.

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Behind the Breakthrough Answers: The Influence of Mentors

At Intellectual Ventures, we’ve talked extensively about the importance of mentors. From Nathan Myhrvold’s relationship with Steven Hawking to Adriane Brown’s encouragement of mentorship for students everywhere, engaging with role models can unlock incredible opportunities for personal and career growth.

Behind the Breakthrough Answers: The Influence of Mentors

Adriane Brown speaks with students in Washington, D.C., about pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM).

It comes as no surprise that our Behind the Breakthrough participants also repeatedly emphasize how mentors shaped them into the people they are today. Here are some of their thoughts:

“My father is an engineer and my uncle was a biochemistry professor. Without their guidance, I don’t know that I would have pursued a career in science and engineering. Everything came together during my second year of college when my professor asked me to work on a telecommunications project. I doubt I would be in this field without that initial introduction and mentoring. It goes to show that people who take you under their wing can make all the difference.”

David Paranchych, Engineering Director and expert in the field of cellular wireless communication

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Failing for Success: Thomas Edison

“I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!” – Thomas Edison

Failing for Success: Thomas Edison

As one of the most recognizable names in inventive history, Edison’s numerous innovative ideas and creations are legendary. He held more than 1,000 patents, a record only broken very recently, and developed ground-breaking technologies like the electric light bulb, phonograph, batteries, and so much more.

But despite his outstanding success, Edison failed frequently. In fact, it sometimes took thousands of attempts – literally – to perfect his experimentation. That was exactly the case when Edison was working to devise a novel storage battery. According to his close friend Walter S. Mallory, Edison had already tried 9,000 experiments and hadn’t yet found a solution. When Mallory commented about the lack of results, Edison promptly responded, “Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!”

Here are just a couple of Edison’s other failures, which ultimately became footnotes of his wildly successful career:

Iron Extracting

During the late 1880’s Edison was very concerned about the cost of iron, which was impacting the price of some of his inventions, like the electric generator. After some thought and research, he believed he found a solution: build a separation plant to pulverize low-grade iron ore and produce an abundant supply of iron.

Once the massive plant and supporting town was built, things didn’t quite go as planned. The machines disastrously failed, causing Edison to lose a substantial amount of money. A few years and a new successful design later, the entire endeavor still failed when iron extractors began to mine the Mesabi iron range in Minnesota, cutting iron costs so dramatically that Edison closed his plant entirely.

Nonetheless, there was a major silver lining in the failure. Edison took what he learned and later applied some of the methods to concrete production, which ultimately became one of his major entrepreneurial successes.

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News You Can Use: Energized

On this installment of News You Can Use, we’re highlighting some of the most amazing new energy-related news from the past month. From the farthest reaches of the universe to the everyday household lamp, these breakthroughs illustrate how science continues to not only dazzle us but how it is working to improve our everyday lives.

News You Can Use: Energized

IV Spinout TerraPower New Public Private Partnership with DOE

Among Intellectual Ventures efforts over the years has been the development of alternative energy technologies. Our work on this front eventually lead to the creation of TerraPower, an independent corporation dedicated to breakthrough ideas that solve our pressing energy crisis. The Department of Energy agrees and has named TerraPower as one of two projects to receive funding for advanced nuclear reactor concepts. This new public-private partnership will dramatically increase opportunities to advance R&D initiatives that are vital to the U.S. and the world.

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Behind the Breakthrough Answers: What Inspires Your Work?

Pursuing cutting-edge research and development is hard work. Often, even small components of a larger breakthrough require years of trial and error and creative thinking. So we asked the men and women of our Behind the Breakthrough Series – what inspires you? What keeps you focused on the goals of your work? Below, hear from two interviewees from Global Good, a collaborative effort between Bill Gates and Intellectual Ventures to invent, develop, and deploy commercially-viable technologies that improve life in developing countries, on how they approach some of the world’s most significant challenges.

Behind the Breakthrough Answers: What Inspires Your Work?

From L to R: Manan Shukla, Anna Bershteyn

Global Good’s work inspires me. We are a mission-driven organization that aims to make lives easier all over the world. It really grounds me when I meet with end-users and hear their feedback about our work. They are excited about what we are doing because it positively impacts them. For example, we’ve heard from numerous people who are so grateful for having vaccines because of our passive vaccine storage device, Arktek. And dairy farmers consistently tell me that our work will improve their farming and livelihood. Meeting our end-users makes me realize that what we do matters. It’s inspiring. It’s why I always tell people that I have my dream job.

– Manan Shukla, Associate Commercialization Lead, Global Good

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Failing for Success: Benjamin Franklin

Founding Father, inventor, politician, diplomat, scientist, and author: Benjamin Franklin is one of American history’s most significant figures. Even a cursory look at his career reveals groundbreaking accomplishments. However, Franklin’s success didn’t come without challenge, mistakes, and in a few cases failures.

Failing for Success: Benjamin Franklin

“Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.” – Benjamin Franklin

Founding Father, inventor, politician, diplomat, scientist, and author: Benjamin Franklin is one of American history’s most significant figures. Even a cursory look at his career reveals groundbreaking accomplishments. For one, Franklin heavily influenced both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. He also proved that lightning was electrical, which helped him to invent the world’s first lightning rod. He even invented bifocals, his own versions of a stove and odometer, and a urinary catheter.

However, as his quote above reveals, Franklin’s success didn’t come without challenge, mistakes, and in a few cases failure. In fact, some of his first attempts at inventions needed revision, his political proposals weren’t always enacted, he dropped out of school at a very young age, and he was seriously electrocuted during one of his famous experiments. But with hard work, tenacity, and a spirit of curiosity, Franklin bounced back after every obstacle and became one of history’s great renaissance men.

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From the Archives: Nathan Myhrvold on Mentorship

In my early twenties, when I was a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge University, I told my employer Stephen Hawking that I was going on a three month leave of absence. We were unlocking the mysteries of the universe together, and I wanted to part ways to go build a tech startup.

From the Archives: Nathan Myhrvold on Mentorship

Photo: Nathan Myhrvold (left) with his mentor Stephen Hawking.

My interests have always been all over the map. I’m an inventor, a CEO, a chef, a photographer. I recently finished a study about dinosaur growth rates. And I’ve been lucky enough to become pretty good at some of these things, in large part because of the people who’ve mentored me along the way.

Stephen was one of my first great mentors. I wanted to be a physicist at the time, so after graduate school I applied to a whole bunch of places. I think I wrote sixty-three letters. I remember being in Japan when I got the call. It was four in the morning when the phone rang. My wife (girlfriend at the time) answered the phone and said, “It’s for you. It’s from England.” The phone connection was bad and this woman with a British accent was saying “I’m here with Stephen Hawking.” Right. I thought it was a joke. But then I heard this murmur on the other end of the line. It was Stephen, and he wanted to offer me a job. So I said yes.

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