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Kymeta’s first “mTenna” product will be a portable satellite hotspot for individual users, about the size of a laptop.

Bill Gates is among the investors putting a total of $12 million into a new Seattle-area company, Kymeta, that plans to produce high-tech antennas to make it easier to establish a broadband connection between satellites and moving vehicles such as cars, airplanes and boats.

The new company, based in Redmond, has been spun out by Intellectual Ventures, the patent holding company and research lab founded by Nathan Myhrvold, the former Microsoft chief technology officer. Kymeta’s chief executive is Vern Fotheringham, a well-known Seattle-area entrepreneur who founded Advanced Radio Telecom.

Kymeta’s antennas, to be sold under the “mTenna” name, are based on an artificial material known as metamaterials that can manipulate electromagnetic radiation to electronically control a radio signal. Installed on a moving vehicle, one of the antennas will be able to establish a continuous broadband connection with a satellite, according to the company.

Intellectual Ventures says the technology is thinner, lighter, less expensive and more efficient than traditional antennas.

In addition to commercial applications, Kymeta says it will market a portable satellite hotspot, about the size of a laptop, for individual users. The company’s first products are expected to hit the market in 2015. Apart from Gates, other investors in Kymeta include Liberty Global and Lux Capital.

In the news release announcing the new company, Intellectual Ventures says there will be additional long-term applications for metamaterials.

“Metamaterials were an early focus for IV, so the spinout of Kymeta marks an important milestone in our invention work,” says Casey Tegreene, executive vice president and chief patent counsel at IV, in the release. “As groundbreaking as it is, the satellite antenna technology behind Kymeta only scratches the surface of what metamaterials can do.”

It’s the second project to be spun out of Intellectual Ventures since the company was founded in 2000. The other was TerraPower, spun out in 2008 to create a new type of nuclear reactor. Gates is also an investor in TerraPower.

Follow-up: Intellectual Ventures: Why haven’t there been more spinoffs?

Antenna based Metamaterials Surface Antenna Technology directing an RF beam to receive a signal on a moving plane. Rendering by Intellectual Ventures, showing the concept for the Kymeta technology.
Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold at a Gates Foundation event last week. (GeekWire photo)
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