5 things I learned from a MD inventor and serial entrepreneur

by Ashwin Patel

As a MD/PhD candidate, I enjoy learning how medicine interfaces with other fields. I found that MDs that have ventured into these fields have the best stories and insights to share.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Dr. David E. Albert, MD. He’s a physician, a successful inventor with 30+ patents, and a serial entrepreneur. He has sold two of his companies, one to GE, and licensed his patents to many others like TIMEX and HP. His most recent product, the iPhone ECG, is awaiting FDA approval and subsequent launch.

I wanted to learn from him. I wanted to hear his story in his words. Here are 5 gems of wisdom I gathered:

1. Take matters into your own hands. When in medical school at Duke University, Dr. Albert’s father had a heart attack. His father’s cardiologist wanted him to exercise and monitor his heart rate. At the time, there were no consumer heart rate monitors. Motivated to help his father, he wanted to make one. However, he had no technical background. So the young David Albert paid a graduate bioengineering student to build him a heart rate monitor. His hard earned $250 bought him a prototype that didn’t work. He was infuriated. He took matters into his own hands, and there began his journey into the technology world.

2. Pursue your passion. It’s not easy to develop your own technology when you have no technical background. In undergrad, David was a government major. He could operate a TV and radio, but that was about it. Nevertheless, as a medical student with just 8 months of medical school left, he took a leave of absence and went back to take undergrad and grad bioengineering courses. More than 18 months later, he emerged with his first invention. Then his first licensing deal. And then the journey really gained traction.

3. Expect adversity. With multiple patents licensed, David started his own company Corazonix. All was roses, until his company was sued for patent infringement. Initially, the case went in his favor. But on appeal, he lost. In all, Dr. Albert had spent 1/2 million dollars of his net worth on the case. Undeterred, he sold his company to the same company that sued him and then went on to start his second company. That one he sold to GE a few years later.

4. Dots connect backwards. The Corazonix patent infringement lawsuit ended up being a landmark case. That ruling allowed software to be patentable. Since then, Dr. Albert has become a great beneficiary of this same ruling. This case, to this day, is still credited with helping change the landscape of intellectual property law forever.

5. Live by the Entrepreneur’s Prayer. “God, Grant me the Wisdom to Only Make New Mistakes.” We all will make mistakes, just don’t make the same ones over again. Learn from them.

Ashwin Patel is a MD/PhD candidate between the Weill-Cornell Medical College and the Wharton Business School. He blogs at The Molding of Medicine.

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