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

(Page 2 of 2)

when they somehow think their success is their own, when it’s really coming from this grand platform.”

On why most companies have trouble inventing: “They aren’t as interdisciplinary as we are. Companies have to focus. If you’re a big company, you can’t invent something that’s going to cannibalize your revenue stream. That’s a rational decision. There’s an opportunity for people like us. We’re not held captive to existing revenue streams.”

Other factors get in the way, too, Ennis says. “I was humbled by being a VC for 10 years. It’s hard to build a company. What’s the limiting factor in building VC-backed companies? It’s management and entrepreneurs—full stop. There’s plenty of inventions for venture capitalists. So if it’s a shortage of management, why don’t you let us focus on invention, and let others focus on entrepreneurs?”

On the differences between product development, research, and invention: “When people say there’s basic research that’s ready to commercialize, they’re usually wrong,” says Ennis. A physicist by training, he tells the story of being at the 1987 American Physical Society meeting in New York where high-temperature superconductors were first talked about. Because of all the excitement, the meeting was dubbed the “Woodstock of physics.”

“At that conference, even the most conservative people said that within five years, the world’s going to change, and everything was going to be high-temperature superconductors. They talked about having high-tech ‘Star Trek tricorders’ that could diagnose medical ailments from afar. Twenty-one years later, there’s been some niche products and a public company that Arch built [Illinois Superconductor], but by and large, nada, nothing.” And why? The materials were brittle, expensive, and difficult to maintain. “People assumed that away: ‘Oh we’ll give it to the engineers. We’ve done the physics, we’ve got the Nobel Prize,'” Ennis says. “At the Woodstock of physics, if they had some real inventors in the room, they might have said, ‘Let’s be cautious about making claims.’ It’s the same thing with fusion power, the same thing with an AIDS vaccine…The engineering is not so easy.”

On the need to look for inventions globally: “If you’re a large corporate lab with 300 PhDs, or MIT, with a couple thousand professors, that’s still nothing compared to ‘every university in the world.’ Go to Tsinghua University or Peking University, they’re huge. There are some top-notch folks there. It’s not like the old days…where all my friends from Asia came here at 21 to do their PhDs, and they said, ‘I don’t want to go home, I want to stay here.’ Now, the middle class has risen, there’s a lot of wealth in Asia. I can have a good life in Shanghai, or Seoul…It’s going to happen with or without us [Americans]. We’re blessed, pretty much all of us came from somewhere else, so if there’s one country that can continue to look out and open our borders, it’s us. Every other country is going to have trouble doing it. We need to get out there. And if we’re not on board, the train’s going anyway.”

“I don’t think the U.S. has ever been afraid of competition, and I know China’s not afraid,” Ennis says. “So let’s all work together and invent.”

Stay tuned for Ennis’s thoughts on intellectual property protection and other topics in Part 2—Eds.

Single PageCurrently on Page: 1 2 previous page

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Editor in chief. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

Trending on Xconomy

By posting a comment, you agree to our terms and conditions.

Comments are closed.