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Inside the mind of a prolific innovator

By Jason Norris
Published: December 17th, 2008

Ever wonder how world-class innovators think? Or how to help your researchers think less like professors and more like inventors? An interview published in technology blog xconomy offers a look inside the head of Intellectual Ventures’ global head of technology, Patrick Ennis. The Bellevue, WA-based firm, founded by Nathan Myhrvold and Edward Jung, is sometimes called an “invention company.” It has stirred controversy in tech transfer circles by buying up large numbers of technology patents worldwide, but maintains that it is anything but a “troll” and is spending plenty of time developing not only purchased IP but generating its own innovations. Ennis, a physicist by training and a former VC exec with Arch Venture Partners, described how invention sessions work at the firm. Quoting from the xconomy article:

He was fiddling with the Saran Wrap on his sandwich, wondering about its material properties and how they might relate to thin-film coatings for medical stents, say. “Inventors see inventions everywhere,” he says. “Invention is not taught, except for kids. When you’re a little kid on the playground, you’re allowed to do this. But as an adult, this would be viewed as weird — ‘this person is not focused.’ But that’s what inventors do.” He ran through a hypothetical thought process with his sandwich. “Before we go to bed, we’d know if there are opportunities to invent a better film for food. I suspect we’d find the only opportunities are to reduce a little bit of cost, and maybe to change the marketing of it. A lot of the times at IV [Intellectual Ventures], we look at things like this and it turns out — because it was boring, or viewed as pedantic or mundane — people missed something obvious,” Ennis says. “You want to do a realistic market study. If it turns out there’s only 5 million a year of this sold around the world, it’s not worth your time to invent it. We’d quickly get a number for how much Saran Wrap is sold around the world….Then, someone will raise a hand. ‘You’re just talking about food preparation. These thin films are used for insulation to cover houses.’ Hmm, that’s 100 times bigger than a hamburger…That’s how invention sessions go.”

Ennis also shared his views on the patent system, gave high marks to Arch Venture for its approach to investing in and helping to develop early-stage ideas, and commented on U.S. global competitiveness.

Go to: Xconomy

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  • Intellectual Ventures is a Troll

    Innovation is not merely conceiving an idea and looking at market size, it includes bringing the idea to useful and productive practice. As I understand the Intellectual Ventures model, they do not intend to does not practice – their innovation is to the patent troll process, not to any particular technology.

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