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All Things D: Nathan Myhrvold, Founder of Intellectual Ventures

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This may not be a typical gadget post, but here's an idea that fascinates me. Nathan Myhrvold, former CTO of Microsoft, left to found a company called Intellectual Ventures. They invest in invention, not companies. He's been the subject of a New Yorker article on the abundance of big ideas by Malcolm Gladwell, which covers the basics of what they do at IV. I believe that Nathan also worked on a post-doc in Cosmology alongside Stephen Hawking. Mossberg is interviewing him at D, right now.

Nathan is talking about some of his patents, like a mini nuclear reactor. It's safe because most accidents in power plants are caused by human error, so automating this and using different fuels (like spent uranium and depleted rods from big plants) to make things less dangerous. I wish he'd talk more about their inventions but Walt and Nathan don't think it's appropriate to talk physics on stage.


Nathan and co. brainstorm ideas and license patents. Do they troll patent? They haven't.

They took the entire company to Iron Man to hear the line from the bad guy: "Just because you had an idea doesn't mean you own it." He hates that guy!


Walt is asking him about patent problems in tech, where terrible patents are being approved. Nathan says that originally, the patent office wouldn't approve software. Patents were ignored at first by software people, because speed was more important than "owning".

Nathan: "It was a good decision; many companies went huge and fair or foul said, hey, we're going to grow fast and copy everything we can whether it's patented or not. Big boys play rough." (Interesting perspective from an Ex Msft guy-B.L.)

By the way, Nathan has very entertaining voices, low and high. He'd be a great audiobook voice actor.

"You have to think that there's some technology that will take us from today to tomorrow, but there haven't been. We thought it was 3D, but it was not. No one has done that graphical treatment for office or research. Maybe that's a failure of imagination but no one has figured that out and I wish we would."


Mossberg asks about Apple's Multitouch on the iPhone, where Jobs claimed 200 patents in the device. Nathan suspects that the multitouch in the iPhone was done before, outside of both Apple and Microsoft, by someone who couldn't pull it off.

Calacanis had an interesting question: Is IV making an unethical land grab for patents? His answer was that he didn't know how to answer that question, except that people might complain if he has a lot of success, but no one was going to give him back his money. (Fair enough—B.L.)


Guy from Intel asks if an unintended consequence of IV's patent action and speculation is that big companies would keep extending patents to protect them. Nathan says it's BS. Most companies are doing R&D with a little R and a BIG D. They need to put more into the research. If people know they can spin out inventions, like they do divisions, they'll be more likely to do more research.

"If you're not doing something that is somewhat threatening to the apple cart, you're not doing something interesting."


[All Things D]