This Inventor Zaps Mosquitoes And Pours Wine In Blenders

Oct 16, 2013

Nathan Myhrvold was the former chief technology officer at Microsoft when he took a leave to attend culinary school in France.

Now the CEO of Intellectual Ventures, a Bellevue company that buys and licenses patents, Myhrvold has taken food to a new level: photographing lentils under a microscope, shooting gelatin and eggs and blending wine, which he says takes the edge off a young wine.

“We have this idea that wine is this privileged ceremonial kind of thing,” Myhrvold told The Record’s Ross Reynolds. “When you pour wine into a blender at the table, your guests think you’re joking. And you turn it on and the shock! Because everyone thinks, 'Oh, I have to mollycoddle it, and treat it so specially, and there’s this snootiness.'”

He takes photos of his food, which he calls food porn (“If you take food pictures that make you hungry, that’s a good thing”), which he’s compiled into a multi-volume book called "Modernist Cuisine" on the science of cooking. Included in the book is a time-lapse photograph of what happens when a row of eggs are shot by a high-caliber pistol.

His company also comes up with its own inventions, including some that are kind of kooky: There’s the laser to zap malaria-carrying mosquitoes and a scheme to counteract greenhouse gasses using a giant hose lifted by helium balloons to pump tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. He calls it Stratoshield.

But critics have accused him of being a patent troll – gaming the patent system to extract lucrative legal settlements. This American Life did a two part series on patent trolls called "When Patents Attack."

But Myrhvold rejects the critics. He says the patent system is working just fine, and that it’s working because, “We don’t make frivolous lawsuits.”

Listen: This American Life on Myrhvold’s Intellectual Ventures

Listen: This American Life follows up with an episode on patent trolls