Sunday, November 14, 2004

Research driven, brainstorming companies: old idea rediscovered?

from a post on slashdot:

"Microsoft alum Nathan Myhrvold so strongly believes intellectual property is the next software that he's studying for the patent bar exam. His company, Intellectual Ventures, doesn't actually make anything - only patent attorneys roam the hallways. Myhrvold isn't the only true believer. Microsoft, Intel, Sony, Nokia, Apple, Google, and eBay have contributed to a $350M bankroll which the firm is using to buy up existing patents that can be rented to companies who want to produce real products."


Intellectual Ventures is a private firm founded in 2000 by Nathan Myhrvold and Edward Jung to invest in innovation and invention. We have a unique, multidisciplinary invention process paired with an invention-focused business model. While most venture capital firms invest in the business of technology (including start-ups that design and manufacture products), Intellectual Ventures invests in pure invention: creating, funding and commercializing innovative new ideas. We apply our creativity, brainpower and capital to foster innovation across many different fields because we believe that successful innovation can improve productivity, health and, ultimately, quality of life.

Myhrvold: Invention is a side effect at corporate labs, not the focus. When it comes to mission vs. invention at most companies, mission wins.

The belief at such companies is that creative people are fueled to find problems that interest them.

[Gee, sounds like Bell Labs during the 1940's and 1950's; what happened to Bell Labs? Why didn't GE think Sarnoff Labs had any value?]


John Markoff in the Nov. 16, 04 NYT reported:

-->A Silicon Valley investor who is in contact with potential bidders [for the patents of now bankrupt Commerce One], however, said that Intellectual Ventures, a venture capital firm founded by Nathan Myhrvold, a former top Microsoft executive, was considering making a bid. The company also declined comment.<--

If true, buying up someone else's issued US patents on business methods might not seem like --creating, funding and commercializing innovative new ideas.--

Markoff also presents an obscure quote attributed to Mark Lemley:

"There is a potential risk to society in business models that says we're neither going to come up with an innovation nor create products ourselves," said Mark A. Lemley, a patent law expert at Stanford University. "As a business model it makes sense, but it's not clear that innovation is going to flourish."

[Incidentally, Mark Lemley is not a registered patent attorney.]

UPDATE on Nathan Myhrvold from

Myhrvold, who is co-founder and chief executive officer of Intellectual Ventures in Seattle and retired in 2000 as chief technology officer at Microsoft, will be awarded the James Madison Medal on February 26, 2005.

Myhrvold is renowned for his visionary thinking as well as his success in linking research to product development and commercialization. He earned his master's and doctoral degrees in applied mathematics from Princeton in 1981 and 1983, respectively, then was a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge University. He worked with Professor Stephen Hawking on research in cosmology, quantum field theory in curved space time and quantum theories of gravitation.

After one year, Myhrvold returned to the United States to co-found a company, Dynamical Systems, that produced a software product on which he had worked as a graduate student. That product, a precursor to the Windows operating system, attracted the interest of Bill Gates and the company was acquired by Microsoft in 1986.

During his 14-year tenure at Microsoft, Myhrvold held various positions and was responsible for founding Microsoft Research and numerous technology groups that resulted in many of the company's most successful products. ''At a time when other corporations and even government agencies were scaling back basic research, Nathan had the vision and ability to convince some of the greatest business leaders of our time that an investment in basic science is indeed a wise investment,'' wrote an alumna in support of his nomination.

Myhrvold holds 14 patents and has numerous patents pending. With his latest undertaking, Intellectual Ventures, he is focused on a variety of business interests relating to the funding, creation and commercialization of inventions. In 2000, he partnered with Paul Allen and pledged $1 million to the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute to fund the development phase of the world's most powerful telescope -- the Allen Telescope Array.

Myhrvold has served as a member of the advisory board for Princeton's Department of Physics and as a trustee at the Institute for Advanced Study. He also has served on several other educational, charitable and civic boards, including the Children's Scholarship Fund, through which his donations have provided many scholarships for low-income families. In addition, he has contributed numerous articles to scientific journals and general interest publications. ''In a word, I would describe Nathan as a visionary,'' wrote another alumnus. ''Fortunately, he shares his vision generously in a number of arenas. We are richer for it.''


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