Nathan Myhrvold is CEO of Intellectual Ventures, the Bellevue company with a huge stockpile of patents that has garnered a reputation as a patent troll. His company has spent $700 million acquiring patents, of which it has more than 70,000 in its name. It has collected more than $3 billion in fees and sued more than 30 companies. In all, it sounds like a solid business plan: Invent stuff, patent it, and then make companies pay licensing fees.
It appears Intellectual Ventures is on the wrong side of a trend gaining steam in the tech world. To many, the best way to speed innovation is by open sourcing technology, the antithesis of patents. This month, Google and Microsoft have open-sourced artificial intelligence programs, opting to let outside developments advance the field in favor of forcing them to pay licensing fees to use their products.
Myhrvold, in an interview with the Puget Sound Business Journal, said patents are valuable incentives for inventors. He illustrated his point by comparing inventors with athletes. “Some incentives, you would say, are selfish incentives – like the big gold medal,” he told PSBJ. “But then you get the endorsements, contracts and so forth. They enable you just to keep going.”
The patent-open source dichotomy is one with plenty of ramifications. For example, the two scientists primarily credited with discovering the gene-editing capabilities of CRISPR sequences both want to open-source the intellectual property, but the universities in play are in litigation over the patent.
Taking credit for inventions is a strong reason to patent, but as the notion of teamwork and collaboration pervades in the tech world, will open sourcing beat out Intellectual Ventures’ business model?
GMO salmon coming your way
The Food and Drug Administration this week said a genetically-modified salmon is fit to eat. The Atlantic salmon developed by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies grows far faster than the natural fish, meaning less time, food, and energy is needed for the fish to reach consumption size.
Many grains and vegetables we eat are genetically modified, and some say fast-growth animals like the AquaBounty salmon can improve agricultural and aquacultural output. The fish are unlikely to affect natural populations — they’re raised in onshore tanks, and they are all sterile females. Nevertheless, the GM fish is controversial. Kroger and Safeway say they won’t carry GM fish, but salmon labeling is not very accurate, so it’s feasible an altered fish could find its way onto your plate without your knowledge.
HoloLens’ stodgy start
The visual everyone gravitated toward when Microsoft first unveiled the HoloLens augmented reality headset was of a Minecraft game superimposed on the user’s living room. But Microsoft’s early strategy for the device is decidedly enterprise: Volvo is the latest customer.
But virtual reality companies are preparing the fun stuff: Movie studios and game makers are making content for the immersive medium.
The crazy world of Twitch
E-sports makes sense to me. Critics wonder why someone would watch video games instead of play video games, but watching pros is fun: It’s often more enjoyable to watch LeBron James than to toss up an airball in the driveway.
Twitch, the online video-game streaming channel owned by Amazon, is an e-sports hub. But this Businessweek article focuses on the element of Twitch that makes less sense to me: watching other play games just as you would.
I’d watch LeBron James play against another team; I would not, however, watch LeBron James shoot on his driveway hoop. But plenty of folks on Twitch do the equivalent of the latter: They watch folks just play video games for a few hours. And then they donate them money. Like, $7,000.
Tweet of the week
Seattle Times data guy Gene Balk gives a nice shoutout to Cheezburger and confirms all suspicions about Seattle and Portland being cat-lady havens.
— gene balk (@genebalk) November 18, 2015