Xconomy Q&A: Intellectual Ventures Co-founder and CTO Edward Jung
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EJ: Well of course when you’re not popular, you can get operational difficulties, you can get morale difficulties. It’s kind of nice if you’re popular, as opposed to not being popular.
Nathan likes to joke that neither of us were particularly popular at school, so we’re used to it.
In fact, we do get some of the best inventors in the world to work on problems, and you can’t really do that if we don’t enforce the inventions. If we say, ‘Hey, come on here, use your best minds, and we’ll put you together in a room with other best minds to solve problems like energy problems for the world, but by the way, somebody could take it and we’ll just let them.’ That’s not going to work.
So it’s part and parcel of the whole system. Maybe right now, people—in the blind man and the elephant concept—don’t quite see how it all fits together, but they feel that trunk and they go, ‘I don’t like that. Must not like the whole thing.’
X: So IV has an enormous patent trove that it’s trying to put to productive use through startup companies that we’re hearing more and more about, in addition to licensing and other means. What are the most successful practices you’ve employed for connecting the right technologies with the right people to do something good with them?
EJ: Long ago, in fact at your Xconomy annual event [Xconomy’s 2011 XSITE event in Boston], I talked about this need to attack big problems, and that we have a system for doing that. One of the big problems I articulated had to do with urbanization.
What we do is we take those big problems and over a very long period of time, we look at things that you can solve quickly, things that take a long time and are more fundamental. You carve it down to smaller and smaller pieces. One of them happens to be about how you actually do modular, sustainable buildings, that can be very rapidly constructed, modified, and can be done very cheaply. You can manufacture your components differently from where you actually deploy the components, et cetera. It really changes end-to-end the business of construction, which is a big part of this urbanization of 400 million people that’s happening.
This joint venture [with Seattle architects CollinsWoerman] is a great success story in this larger activity we’re doing… about how do you get the deployment partners and the people who are coming up with the ideas and the manufacturers and the technology people and the inventors all connected together. This is an example of that, but there’s a lot more. It’s only a piece of a larger plan for how you actually make cities better.
There’re all these cities being built—more than in human history. And yet they’re being built the same way that cities have been built for the last 100 years. That’s just dumb. You gotta figure out the better way. But because of the way cities have been built in the past, the way construction is done, it’s very localized. So it’s very hard to put new technology into it.
We’re taking advantage of some of the strange economics that exist around why you want to build buildings quickly in places like China, having to do with the fluctuations of the economy. And it’s a great time to try to push this technology in.
X: That partnership has a lot interesting facets to it. Are you finding though that this becomes a bespoke activity for each new industry or each new technology, in terms of putting together that network of inventors and deployers, or are you learning the more you do this that there are some patterns that apply broadly?
EJ: I think I’m learning the patterns, but like I said, there’s no typical day yet, so we haven’t mastered the patterns. We’re constantly trying lots of different things and seeing what works. The more important thing than the process to produce it is the result you get. The result has to be very patterned and regular, because then companies can actually adopt it, startups can deploy to it. That’s the interface that has to be smooth. It’s like the API for iOS or something. What goes on underneath the covers, we don’t care as long it’s really good for deploying an application.
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