Nathan Myhrvold

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Nathan Myhrvold
Nathan Myhrvold.jpg
Nathan Myhrvold, March 8, 2007
Born (1959-08-03) August 3, 1959 (age 57)
Seattle, Washington
Institutions Intellectual Ventures, University of Cambridge, Microsoft Research
Alma mater UCLA (B.S., M.S.)
Princeton University (M.S., Ph.D.)

Nathan Paul Myhrvold (born August 3, 1959), formerly Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft, is co-founder of Intellectual Ventures and the principal author of Modernist Cuisine. Myhrvold was listed as co-inventor on 17[1] patents at Microsoft and has since co-sponsored applications for over 500 other patents for which his corporation is funding the patent monetization effort.[2][3]

Early life and education[edit]

Myhrvold was born in Seattle, Washington. He attended Mirman School,[4] and began college at age 14.[5] He studied mathematics, geophysics, and space physics at UCLA (BSc, Masters). He was awarded a Hertz Foundation Fellowship for graduate study and studied at Princeton University, where he earned a master's degree in mathematical economics and completed a PhD in theoretical and mathematical physics.[6] He also attended Santa Monica College. For one year, he held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Cambridge working under Stephen Hawking (along with a number of other students).


Early career[edit]

Myhrvold left Cambridge to co-found a computer startup in Oakland, California. The company, Dynamical Systems Research Inc., sought to produce Mondrian, a clone of IBM's TopView multitasking environment for DOS. Microsoft purchased DSR in 1986 for $1.5M.[7] Myhrvold worked at Microsoft for 13 years. At Microsoft he founded Microsoft Research in 1991.[8]

Intellectual ventures[edit]

After Microsoft, in 2000 Myhrvold co-founded Intellectual Ventures,[9] a patent portfolio developer and broker in the areas of technology and energy, which has acquired over 30,000 patents.[10] Myhrvold allegedly owns approximately 40% of Intellectual Ventures Management Company, generating $20M-$40M annually in "management fees" for Myhrvold. Intellectual Ventures exploits the market for inventions and patents, buying patents from inventors under the assumption the patents will be more valuable in the future. IV also files patents through the work of a team of on-site inventors and thousands of other inventors within their network who respond to IV-created "Requests for Invention", although nothing from these labs has reached commercial use. It also buys patents from companies and inventors. In certain, limited, circumstances, IV reduces these inventions to practice. However, in most cases, IV's "inventions" are limited to the descriptions cited in their patent applications. IV then licenses the patents in patent-portfolios (bundles). IV purports to be assisting in the creation of a market for patent-backed securities.[11] The business practices of Intellectual Ventures have caused controversy and the company has been widely criticized for being a patent troll.[12] Myhrvold has publicly defended his firm's practices, arguing that they foster innovation by serving as a marketplace for intellectual property. He noted in 2012 that many of the largest companies in Silicon Valley, including Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook, have also bought large patent portfolios to 'further their strategic game'.[13]

Nuclear power[edit]

TerraPower, a subsidiary of Intellectual Ventures, aims to develop a nuclear reactor that is "safe and cheap" as part of Bill Gates' strategy to reach the goal of zero carbon emissions globally by 2050.[14] Gates unveiled this plan at the TED 2010. The plant will run on natural or depleted uranium with the potential for 30 years without refuelling.


Myhrvold is a prize-winning nature and wildlife photographer and a member of the USA Science and engineering Festival's Advisory Board. He has also been involved with paleontological research on expeditions with the Museum of the Rockies. His work has appeared in scientific journals including Science,[15] Nature,[16] Paleobiology[17] (With Philip J. Currie), PLOS ONE,[18] and the Physical Review,[19] as well as Fortune, Time, Scientific American,[20] National Geographic Traveler, and Slate. He and Peter Rinearson helped Bill Gates write The Road Ahead, a book about the future that reached No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list in 1995 and 1996. Myhrvold has contributed $1 million to the nonprofit SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA, for the development of the Allen Telescope Array, which was envisioned to be the most powerful instrument for SETI.[21]

After the Science Museum in London successfully built the computing section of Charles Babbage's Difference Engine #2 in 1991, Myhrvold funded the construction of the output section, which performs both printing and stereotyping of calculated results. He also commissioned the construction of a second complete Difference Engine #2 for himself, which was on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, from May 10, 2008 to January 31, 2016.[22][23][24][25]


In addition to his business and scientific interests, he is a chef, earning his culinary diploma from École de Cuisine La Varenne in France.[26] Myhrvold's early culinary training was as an observer and unpaid apprentice at Rover's, one of Seattle's leading restaurants, with Chef Thierry Rautureau.[27] Myhrvold is the principal author of a culinary text entitled Modernist Cuisine, released in March 2011, on the application of scientific research principles and new techniques and technology to cooking.[28] He has also won first place at the Memphis barbecue championship and appeared as a guest judge on Top Chef.


On December 20, 2009, Myhrvold appeared on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS and discussed his patented idea to eliminate global warming/climate change using geoengineering. It involves using hoses suspended from helium balloons 25 kilometers (16 mi) above the Earth. The hoses would be placed near the North Pole and the South Pole and emit sulfur dioxide, which is known to scatter light. Myhrvold estimated that such a configuration could "easily dim the sun by one percent, and even do it in a way that wouldn't be visible."[29] An evaluation of the potential negative impact of releasing large amounts of sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere, which, when combined with water moisture ( H2O ) can produce sulfuric acid ( H2SO4 ) is needed. Significant environmental efforts aimed at scrubbing SO2 from automobile exhausts and coal-burning power plants over since the 1970s have been largely successful in eliminating acid rain as an environmental pollutant.


In the popular press, Myhrvold and Intellectual Ventures have been repeatedly accused of acting as patent trolls and stifling innovation by buying patents and then forcing inventors to license their ideas by means of litigation. Walt Mossberg interviewed Myhrvold about Intellectual Ventures' role as a "patent troll" during the 10th annual All Things Digital conference.[30] This American Life's Laura Sydell ran an investigative story about patent trolling and Intellectual Ventures' role in that business.[31] According to CNET, Intellectual Ventues controls nearly 40,000 intellectual assets (patents and patents pending) that it has used to extract approximately $2 billion (as of 2011) in the form of license fees. Companies ranging from SAP to Samsung are currently licensing their patents.[32] Myhrvold is critical of a potential NASA mission called NEOCam—the Near-Earth Object Camera, his work, yet to be peer reviewed is heavily criticized by Phil Plait.[33]

Affiliations and awards[edit]

Myhrvold is a member of the USA Science and Engineering Festival's Advisory Board.[34] In 2010, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine to its list of top 100 global thinkers.[35] He was selected as the keynote speaker for the UCLA College commencement ceremonies on Friday, June 12, 2015.


  1. ^ Search for Myhrvold's Microsoft patents - use search argument in Query box: IN/Myhrvold and AN/Microsoft
  2. ^ Search for Myhrvold's pending patent applications - use search argument in Query box: IN/Myhrvold-Nathan-P
  3. ^ Search for Myhrvold's non-Microsoft patents - use search argument in Query box: IN/Myhrvold-Nathan-P andnot AN/Microsoft
  4. ^ "Where Bright Minds Can Shine", Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times, November 22, 2000
  5. ^ Oversight Testimony “Patent Quality and Improvement” before the Subcommittee on the Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property, House Committee on the Judiciary, United States Congress, April 28, 2005
  6. ^ Corcoran, E. (1993) Profile: Nathan P. Myhrvold – The Physicist as a Young Businessman, Scientific American 268(2), 34-35.
  7. ^ Roy A. Allan. A History of the Personal Computer: The People and the Technology. 
  8. ^ "Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold Takes Leave of Absence". PressPass (Press release). Microsoft. June 1, 1999. Retrieved October 14, 2006. 
  9. ^ "Myhrvold of Intellectual Ventures" (PDF). Retrieved September 15, 2008.  Wall Street Journal, September 15, 2008
  10. ^ Harris, Mark (May 16, 2010). "Green Pioneers: Godfather of nutty inventions". The Times. London. Retrieved June 2, 2010.  Mark Harris, The Sunday Times, May 16, 2010
  11. ^ Myhrvold, Nathan (March 16, 2010). "The Big Idea: Funding Eureka!". Harvard Business Review. Cambridge. Retrieved October 21, 2012.  Nathan Myhrvold, Intellectual Ventures, March 2010
  12. ^ "This American Life: When Patents Attack". July 24, 2011. Retrieved July 25, 2011.  Ira Glass, NPR, July 24, 2011
  13. ^ "Nathan Myhrvold's Patent Investing Returns Are Still Lousy". Forbes. June 19, 2012. 
  14. ^ Bill Gates on energy: Innovating to zero!
  15. ^ Myhrvold, N. (1998). "ESSAYS ON SCIENCE AND SOCIETY: Supporting Science". Science. 282 (5389): 621–622. doi:10.1126/science.282.5389.621. 
  16. ^ Barsbold, R.; Currie, P. J.; Myhrvold, N. P.; Osmólska, H.; Tsogtbaatar, K.; Watabe, M. (2000). "A pygostyle from a non-avian theropod". Nature. 403 (6766): 155–156. doi:10.1038/35003103. PMID 10646588. 
  17. ^ Currie, Philip; Myhrvold, Nathan (1997). "Supersonic sauropods? Tail dynamics in the diplodocids". Paleobiology. 23 (4): 393–409. 
  18. ^ Horner, J. R.; Goodwin, M. B.; Myhrvold, N. (2011). Roopnarine, Peter, ed. "Dinosaur Census Reveals Abundant Tyrannosaurus and Rare Ontogenetic Stages in the Upper Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation (Maastrichtian), Montana, USA". PLoS ONE. 6 (2): e16574. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016574. PMC 3036655Freely accessible. PMID 21347420. 
  19. ^ Myhrvold, N. (1983). "Runaway particle production in de Sitter space". Physical Review D. 28 (10): 2439–2444. Bibcode:1983PhRvD..28.2439M. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.28.2439. 
  20. ^ Gibbs, W. W.; Myhrvold, N. (2011). "A new spin on cooking". Scientific American. 304 (3): 23. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0311-23a. PMID 21438483. 
  21. ^ "Technologists Paul G. Allen and Nathan P. Myhrvold announce $12.5 million in support for revolutionary new telescope". August 1, 2000. Retrieved September 1, 2014. 
  22. ^ "Computer History Museum unboxes a Babbage difference engine". Retrieved April 28, 2008. 
  23. ^ "The Computer History Museum Extends Its Exhibition of Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2". press release. Computer History Museum. March 31, 2009. Retrieved November 6, 2009. 
  24. ^ "The Babbage Engine exhibit at Computer History Museum". Retrieved April 7, 2011. 
  25. ^ Difference Engine Leaves Computer History Museum, Mark Moack, Mountain View Voice, January 28, 2016
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Edge profile". Retrieved May 10, 2007. 
  28. ^ "Modernist Cuisine". Retrieved September 15, 2010. 
  29. ^ "Solving Global Warming with Nathan Myhrvold". CNN. 
  30. ^ "Nathan Myhrvold Full Session". 
  31. ^ "When Patents Attack!". 
  32. ^ "Inside Intellectual Ventures, the most hated company in tech". 
  33. ^ Plait, Phil (May 27, 2016). "A Physics Outsider Says NASA Asteroid Scientists Are All Wrong. Is He Right? (Spoiler: No)". Slate (magazine). Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  34. ^ Advisors. USA Science and Engineering Festival
  35. ^ "Foreign Policy's Second Annual List of the 100 Top Global Thinkers". Foreign Policy. Retrieved March 23, 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Auletta, Ken, "The Highwaymen", Harvest Books, 1998. ISBN 0-15-600573-5 — cf Chapter 17: The Microsoft Provocateur: Nathan Myhrvold, Bill Gates Corporate Gadfly.
  • Edstrom, Jennifer and Eller, Marlin, "Barbarians Led by Bill Gates: Microsoft From The Inside: How The World's Richest Corporation Wields Its Power", Holt Paperbacks, 1999. ISBN 0-8050-5755-2

External links[edit]