Jay Walker, ’77

Once a curator of travel deals, Walker now curates ideas

When it comes to intellectual property, few countries rival the United States. Yet according to Jay Walker ’77, the U.S. still has a long way to go in order to harness the power of this ingenuity.

“Essentially, there is an enormous problem in the United States, which is that the vast majority of patents never enter the U.S. economy and never create jobs and solve problems,” he said.
Walker, who delivered the keynote speech at Johnson’s inaugural New York City Predictions Dinner on Jan. 29, knows a thing or two about innovation. In addition to founding Priceline.com and curating TEDMED, an annual conference focused on health and medicine, Walker has more than 700 patents to his name.
In addition to being a prolific inventor, Walker, who was named Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009, is passionate about communicating transformative ideas. To that end, he launched the U.S. Patent Utility in January to help companies better utilize the strength of the U.S. Patent database.
“Most businesses are stuck in a paradigm where they’re going it alone on improvements and they’re competing against the entire world,” he said.
The U.S. Patent Utility will help companies to take advantage of this collective ingenuity by offering broad access to patents through a monthly subscription.
“It turns out that the U.S. Patent Database is the greatest library ever created of product improvements,” he said.
Walker’s love for knowledge began early. As an undergraduate at Cornell University, Walker went out of his way to take courses across the university, involve himself in extracurricular activities, and spent time in the library.
“I used to go up there all the time, especially in Olin [Library] and just spend time in those stacks. It’s just like walking around in somebody’s brain,” he said.
Today, Walker’s love for ideas extends to his curation of the Walker Library of the History of Human Imagination, a private library featuring rare books, maps, manuscripts, artwork, and artifacts that celebrate the power of the human mind. Built in 2002, the library also contains rarities like an original Sputnik satellite and a field surgeon’s medical kit from the Civil War.
For someone with who describes himself as “infinitely curious,” Walker’s desire to be engaged comes as no surprise. “Entrepreneurs don’t have a choice,” he said. Instead, they just do.
“You get one life to live. You have to live it consistent with what you want to be. What I want to be is productive. I want to be engaged. I want to be helpful and useful. In a certain stage of your life you want to start to do things that are legacy-driven,” he said.
Demonstrating his wit, Walker continued, “I’m glad that none of my friends are senior people in government, asking me to serve. What would I do then? I’d have to go serve.”
Claire Lambrecht ’06, MBA ’15, is a freelance writer based in New York City.