Robert Dale Gunderman
U.S. & Canadian Patent Agent; President & CEO, Hydratics®
Rochester, New York
Apollo 11 Inspired Entrepreneur to Build Life of Invention
Robert Dale Gunderman – entrepreneur, licensed professional engineer and registered U.S. and Canadian patent agent – has built his life around invention. From the time he watched Apollo 11 land on the moon from a small cottage in Bobcaygeon, Ontario, science and invention have been his life. His first job out of college was his own company, a small automated testing business he started with a college roommate. He reminisces about that experience, “There’s not much glamour in a startup. Long hours and rotten pay. But in the end, you created something that did not exist beforehand. That’s a very satisfying feeling.”
Beyond being an inventor, Gunderman understands the value of patents as assets that can be bought, sold and transformed into the core of a new startup company. Gunderman is president and CEO of Hydratics®, a startup that’s pioneering a low-power desalination technology that turns saltwater into pure clean drinking water. Unlike most startups, Gunderman created Hydratics by purchasing patents and funded it by selling other patents of his own. “The ability to create an asset, monetize it, and feed the profits back into a business is a truly creative undertaking,” says Gunderman.
First Buy a Patent, Then Start a Business
In late 2009, Gunderman began discussions with a company that was divesting patents that were no longer essential to its business. He realized he could build a company around those patents, and that’s how Hydratics® was born. After bootstrapping the company, which Gunderman had done for his previous startups, he decided to sell some of his own inventions in order to further finance his new venture. He holds patents in areas including software, electronic devices, microtechnology and nanotechnology, and medical test and treatment equipment.
As a patent agent, Gunderman was familiar with Intellectual Ventures and knew that it could be a good potential buyer for his patents. He contacted IV through its website. Gunderman says IV replied promptly and courteously, and then conducted extensive due diligence before reaching an agreement. “Intellectual Ventures’ process is streamlined and everyone that I interacted with really had their act together,” says Gunderman.
The Case for an Invention Marketplace
Five years on, Gunderman says IV’s position in the market, creating a marketplace for buying and selling patents, is “right on.” He argues that the more activity in the patent market, the more companies like IV help to make patents more tangible and predictable for investors – and inventors. “Patents are worthless to the inventor if you can’t monetize,” says Gunderman. He worries, however, that current calls for patent reform in the U.S. are short-sighted and could even harm this growing patent economy.
In fact, Gunderman still works with businesses and universities to help them prepare, file and prosecute their patent applications. When discussing his own experiences with his startup company, he believes that treating intellectual property as a financial asset “opened the door to experimentation, encouraging his team at Hydratics® to explore new areas in their research that would otherwise be untouched.”
Inventions Can Change the World
That experimentation only continues for Gunderman. Today, the small research and development team at Hydratics® is pursuing an offshoot of their desalination work with an electrostatic seed germination system, where patent-pending technology helps seeds to germinate faster and more vigorously. This germination technology could save significant water and energy resources, space and time for growers on both a large and a small scale. By sprouting faster and more vigorously, plants are less susceptible to drought or other adverse environmental conditions. In addition, time to harvest is reduced, an important benefit for both mature crop growers, as well as the seed sprouting industry.
But without intellectual property protection or access to a marketplace for inventions, Gunderman says his start-up would not have survived. “Patents are a business tool,” he says. He wants his company to be able to license or sell the seed germination technology to other companies and reinvest the capital into the next technology that will make a difference in the world, just as the moon landing did years ago. To be a serial inventor requires not only good ideas, but the financial resources to turn these ideas into reality.
Intellectual Ventures shares Gunderman’s vision. By treating intellectual property as a financial asset that can be bought and sold, IV acquired valuable patents from Gunderman to bolster its own portfolio. Hydratics® received funding to pursue new inventions
"The ability to take an asset, monetize it and feed the profits back into a business is a truly creative undertaking."
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