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WA Senators Highlight State Innovation

While our hunt for the world’s best inventors and inventions takes us around the globe, we often find some of the best ideas right in our back yard. With world-class research universities, a national laboratory, and a thriving start-up culture we are lucky to call Washington State home. We are also fortunate to be represented by members of Congress who understand the importance of innovation.

WA Senators Highlight State Innovation

This week both of Washington’s Senators have been working to ensure that the success of Washington’s innovators and inventors is encouraged and protected far into the future. Senator Patty Murray and Senator Maria Cantwell have been touring the state discussing how the federal government can be a strong partner in promoting research and development, and advancing innovation.

As part of these efforts, I was invited to speak at a hearing hosted by Senator Cantwell on how small business, the federal government, and universities can work together to solve complex technological problems. Yesterday, Senator Murray joined academic leaders in Washington in announcing a new study illustrating the economic benefits of our state’s academic institutions and the vital role they play in advancing innovation.

Thanks in part to the support of our Senators, innovation is thriving in our state, and particularly our universities. According to the most recent reports, Washington’s universities spent more than $1.5 billion on research and development, and university research in the life sciences alone had an estimated economic impact of $2.4 billion and resulted in 16,000 jobs in Washington State.

Nationwide more than 60 percent of basic research in the U.S. is performed in academia, and of the $61.2 billion research dollars spent by U.S. institutes of higher education in 2010, nearly $37.5 billion came from federally funded sources.

Tax payers and society at-large are the end beneficiaries of this federally funded research. According to the Association of University Technology Managers, in 2011 alone more than 650 new companies were created based on inventions coming out of our U.S. universities. Each of these start-ups has a chance to change the world, but this potential often hinges on the ability to protect its core ideas from competitors.

Unfortunately, many federally funded inventions may end up collecting dust instead of fueling progress if patent reform proposals in the other Washington go forward, which is why earlier this month the American Council on Education, the Association of American Universities, and others came out strongly against patent reform proposals.

These Universities worry that patent reform unfairly punishes patent holders, weakening their ability to enforce their patent rights, and potentially discouraging investment in the very start-ups created by tax-payer supported invention.

As Washington’s Senators look at ways to fuel innovation, support continued research, and the next generation of small businesses, they need to first ensure that the patent system provides protection for innovators so the seeds of invention can grow into thriving businesses.

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World IP Day: Celebrating Invention across the Globe

Every year on April 26th, the World Intellectual Property Association (WIPO) celebrates World IP Day – a day intended to promote discussion of the role of IP in encouraging innovation and creativity. In honor of World IP Day and all the fantastic invention happening the world over, below are a handful of some of our favorite inventors and inventions from around the globe.  

World IP Day: Celebrating Invention across the Globe

Africa: Seyi Oyesola

In a recent TED talk, Nigerian doctor Dr. Seyi Oyesola pointed out that beyond “high-visibility illnesses like HIV/AIDS, common, survivable ailments and injuries -- burns, trauma, heart attacks -- kill thousands of Africans each year because basic medical care can be so hard to get.” His solution? The CompactOR or Hospital-in-a-Box, a portable medical system that’s light enough to be dropped into inaccessible zones by helicopter and can be powered by solar panels.

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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.
 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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