Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Those crazy inventors (with a not half-bad idea)

There was a very interesting story in Business Week recently. The article related to Nathan Myhrvold and Intellectual Ventures which is an invention company. More precisely, they buy existing patents, and file new ones, with the hope of commercializing these inventions through licensing agreements.

A former top scientist for Microsoft, Myhrvold views inventions as an under-invested asset class of its own. He argues, rather convincingly I believe, that this particular asset class suffers from a lack of interest, or even generally a proper process to commercialize results.

His company has both been buying up existing patents in what it currently sees as core areas (primarily around technology), and has also filed 500 patent applications over the past three years. The purchase of existing patents in particular has led some to be suspicious of Myhrvold and his intentions - whether "greenmail" techniques will be used to extract monies from companies wanting to avoid the uncertainty of lawsuits, a la, Research in Motion/Blackberry. He likens himself to the first generation of venture capitalists and private equity investors, who were initially widely vilified.
We think that if we specialize in invention, we can do it a lot better better than people who do it as a sideline."
- Myhrvold

However, Myhrvold says that from his experience at Microsoft, it's difficult to see which inventions will be commercially successful, and the only way to mitigate that risk is to invent on an enormous scale. Intellectual Ventures is doing just that, with its patent applications ranking them in the top 50 of companies who file patents worldwide.

I admit I have to think that this venture (or similar tack) is poised for enormous success as the rise of another recognized asset class. For those of the ...
Everything that can be invented has been invented.
(Charles H. Duell)

... thought process, need only consider the innovations just beginning to change the shape of the humble surgical scapel, an instrument that remained essentially unchanged for nearly 100 years, despite its obvious flaws and shortcomings (a story I related here).

Now, if I can only get Myhrvold to sit down for a meeting on my design for a water and energy saving bathtub ... initial target market ... nursing homes ...


The Confused Capitalist

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