How To Invent: Tips on Global Technology from Patrick Ennis of Intellectual Ventures (Part 1)

Why can’t big companies invent? How should inventors handle their intellectual property? And what are countries around the world doing on these fronts? I recently stopped by Intellectual Ventures in Bellevue, WA, to get the scoop from Patrick Ennis, IV’s global head of technology. Ennis was a venture capitalist with Arch Venture Partners in Seattle for 10 years before taking his current post in early 2008. (Between jobs, he took some time off and, among other things, chopped wood full-time for a week.)

Back in October, Xconomy reported that Ennis is heading up Intellectual Ventures’ expansion in China, Japan, Korea, India, and Singapore. The invention company, which is led by founders Nathan Myhrvold and Edward Jung, currently has some $5 billion under management, 450-plus employees, and 160 university partnerships around the world. I wanted to get a deeper sense of Ennis’s philosophies on invention and intellectual property on a global scale.

Ennis organized his thoughts loosely around a talk he gave last month at the Ready To Commercialize 2008 conference, run by the Office of Technology Commercialization at the University of Texas (which happened to be IV’s 100th university partner). In Austin, he spoke on game-changing approaches to commercializing inventions. The conversation we had over lunch in Bellevue was free-flowing and touched on everything from anatomy and antibiotics to Sumerian culture and the Renaissance.

I was particularly intrigued by Ennis’s take on the current state of global competition and its historical context. “It’s a complicated world,” he said. “Leonardo da Vinci could do what he did because the world was not as complicated. Leonardo could not be a Renaissance person today—there’s too much to know.”

A few more highlights from Ennis, in his own words:

On doing business at Intellectual Ventures: “We want to create a market for invention. We want to reward inventors, perfect the process of invention, and make invention respectable…We don’t ask for exclusive deal sourcing agreements, we like to earn our business a deal at a time, the old-fashioned way. All organizations, if they succeed, have to fight the hubris thing. You see that with all big companies. IBM had it, Microsoft had it, and Google, quicker than any other startup, got it. It’s amazing how the hubris seeped into Google real quick. And the backlash is coming—you see it in the EU and, to a certain extent, in the States.”

“We’re a collection of individuals, and business is always done personally, one on one, whether you work for a 10-person company, or 450, or 4,000,” Ennis says. “That’s when companies lose their way, … Next Page »

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