Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The theory of invention, illustrated with dinosaurs and Alexander Graham Bell

The opening cartoon (captioned "the history of science is full of ideas that several people had at the same time") of a piece by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker evoked a March 30 story by MATT RICHTEL in the New York Times titled: Edison ...Wasn’t He the Guy Who Invented Everything?. However, the Gladwell piece is a bit deeper, going into some details of Nathan Myhrvold and Intellectual Ventures:

In 1999, when Nathan Myhrvold left Microsoft and struck out on his own, he set himself an unusual goal. He wanted to see whether the kind of insight that leads to invention could be engineered. He formed a company called Intellectual Ventures. He raised hundreds of millions of dollars. He hired the smartest people he knew. It was not a venture-capital firm. Venture capitalists fund insights—that is, they let the magical process that generates new ideas take its course, and then they jump in. Myhrvold wanted to make insights—to come up with ideas, patent them, and then license them to interested companies.

Of the people -->

Chairing the meeting was Casey Tegreene, an electrical engineer with a law degree, who is the chief patent counsel for I.V. He stood at one end of the table. Myhrvold was at the opposite end. Next to him was Edward Jung, whom Myhrvold met at Microsoft. Jung is lean and sleek, with closely cropped fine black hair. Once, he spent twenty-two days walking across Texas with nothing but a bedroll, a flashlight, and a rifle, from Big Bend, in the west, to Houston, where he was going to deliver a paper at a biology conference. On the other side of the table from Jung was Lowell Wood, an imposing man with graying red hair and an enormous head.

One sees an immediate difference in "patent attitude" between Intellectual Ventures and Cisco. Clarence ("Casey") Tegreene, the chief patent counsel at Intellectual Ventures is a registered patent attorney (number 37951). Mallun Yen, IP head at Cisco, is not. Cisco's focus is defending patent lawsuits. IV creates patents.

The Hertz Foundation come up -->

Myhrvold and Wood have known each other since Myhrvold was a teen-ager and Wood interviewed him for a graduate fellowship called the Hertz. “If you want to know what Nathan was like at that age,” Wood said, “look at that ball of fire now and scale that up by eight or ten decibels.” Wood bent the rules for Myhrvold; the Hertz was supposed to be for research in real-world problems. Myhrvold’s field at that point, quantum cosmology, involved the application of quantum mechanics to the period just after the big bang, which means, as Myhrvold likes to say, that he had no interest in the universe a microsecond after its creation.


Lowell Wood was on the East Coast for a meeting of the Hertz Foundation fellows in Woods Hole.

[LBE was a Fannie & John Hertz Foundation Fellow at Stanford.]

The Alexander Graham Bell/Elisha Gray matter is covered, but in a different way than one usually finds.

See also

Is Lemley right about Bell and Gray?


If multiple groups are working on everything at the same time, why have patents?


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