Intellectual Ventures founder on the rise of China as an 'invention superpower'
Origin:GeekWire      Time:2014-09-08 14:47:09     Views:523790

GeekWire (Syndicated by Tech Investor News)

Todd Bishop

September 5, 2014  

Intellectual Ventures, the Bellevue-based patent holding and technology company, has been through lots of ups and downs lately — laying off employees and trying to bring new products to market based on its intellectual property. Today the company is aiming to elevate its status on the world stage, as its co-founder appears at the Boao Forum for Asia in downtown Seattle, addressing the rise of Asia, and China in particular, as a "new superpower in invention." 

Edward Jung, the Intellectual Ventures chief technology officer who founded the company with Nathan Myhrvold, spoke with GeekWire in advance of his talk, previewing his remarks and addressing the ongoing controversy surrounding IV's business model and approach. 

Continue reading for edited excerpts from the interview. 

What's the message you're planning to deliver to the group? 

Jung: The United States has enjoyed dominance in the invention category for about 150 years. It's really an unprecedented dominance, because if you look at pretty much every major industry, it was invented or co-invented in the U.S. Automotive, or computing or the Internet, lasers, vaccines. It's quite an amazing track record for the last 150 years. But now that Asia in the aggregate is spending more on R&D than the U.S., and it's rising very quickly in terms of its inventive capacity, its education system, its connection to the problems of the world, I think we're going to see a new rising other superpower in invention. We need to figure out how to, as a country, as a society, work together to solve the big problems as opposed to getting a new Cold War going with a new superpower in invention. 

Intellectual property law, and treatment of IP, is very different across cultures and countries. Is that the biggest hurdle? 

Jung: That one is going to solve itself, actually. If you look at countries like Japan and Taiwan, Korea and now China, they've all evolved from a culture that didn't really prize intellectual property rights, and over time they actually do more IP enforcement, they prize the rights. Long ago the United States was actually not respected in intellectual property rights. We would grant citizenship to people who stole trade secrets out of Europe a long time ago. And we only started to respect intellectual property rights when the country itself became very inventive.


That is definitely happening in Asia. China is No. 2 to the U.S. in the number of lawsuits that are brought, and they actually find in favor of the patents more often. Their damages are still pretty small, but in some ways they're stronger now in injunctive relief than even we are. And I think over time they are, in a very measured way, ramping up their enforcement of intellectual property rights. 

The thing I think is the bigger problem is that there's a lot of rhetoric and distrust, and there aren't a lot of proven systems for how you actually get people from different cultures to work together on problems. When people hold up the IP issue as the largest issue, it's more often a barrier to cooperation than it is an incentive to cooperate. … Cooperation on invention is how we solve the world problems. 

Intellectual Ventures has been in the news lately as much as ever. You've been through some difficult times, and people are even more critical of the company than they have been in the past. Is that part of the reason you're speaking to the group, to make a statement that you're still forging ahead? 

Jung: No, it's always been part of the plan. There was a BusinessWeek article that came out today that focused a lot on IV producing products. We've always had a plan from Day 1 to produce products, but when you're inventing stuff, it takes a long time before it's ready. In fact, one of the key features of IV that's interesting that people really haven't picked up on is that when you look at something like Kymeta or our evolved meta-materials spinouts, we worked on those inventions 10 years ago. For us to be able to incubate a technology for so long, and then spin it out, is actually quite remarkable, because not a lot of places could do that. I think that's a lesson to take back to how you actually invest in fundamental technologies that become products. It does take a long time. 

You referenced the BusinessWeek article, which called Intellectual Ventures "Silicon Valley's Most Hated Patent Troll." How do you feel about how you're seen by the broader tech world? 

Jung: If I talk to some of my old friends in Silicon Valley, and give them the challenge of, how do you explain a company that has increased the vaccination rate of children in Ethiopia, and also had litigation with Xilinx, it's very hard for them to put it together. The industry has to mature in its ability to look at what we do as a whole. It really is embodied by our general point of view, which is, invention is important. And you can't make it important if you don't have the ability to defend your inventors from infringement, and also develop those inventions by partnering with whoever you can, who can do the best job of getting those inventions out to customers. But I think Silicon Valley has a problem understanding the totality of that. 

Will you address the Silicon Valley issue in your talk? 

Jung: No, I'm not addressing Silicon Valley. China definitely doesn't have that problem with us. I get a much better reception in China than I do in Silicon Valley. China wants to become an invention superpower. It's absolutely true, and they're absolutely willing to talk with me about ways in which that can be made efficient and good. They have a great desire to become better.

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