Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Innovation Quotes #6

Our Favorite Quotes

On the Language of Innovation - The Patent Argot - The more things change, the more they stay the same.

“The difficulty of forming a clear conception of the subject is increased by the fact that while we have to deal with novel and strange facts, we have also to use old words in novel and inconsistent senses.”

-Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1873, Discussing how even the intelligent and well-informed continued to find the technology surround the telegraph inscrutable.


"An idea does not pass from one language to another without change."

-Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (1864 - 1936), The Tragic Sense of Life, 1913


“In patent applications and legal documents, too, the inventors had reason to think about their topic in the broadest possible terms: e.g. The giving, printing, stamping, and otherwise transmitting signals or the sounding of alarms, or the communication of intelligence.  ...Confusion inspired anecdotes which often turned on awkward new meanings for familiar terms.” 

-Describing inventions in the time of the telegraph - The Information by James Gleick, 2010

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Innovation Quote #5

Our Favorite Innovation Quotes

On Trade Secrets and Red Herring Conversations...

It doesn’t count as a trade secret if it’s left out in the open. The law would say one cannot put the burden on someone who happens on the information inadvertently, ... 

You can’t sue someone for overhearing what you say in a crowded elevator.

- Susan J. Kohlmann, Partner at Jenner & Block LLP, NY Times October 23, 2011.

And on the same day...

...a close competitor, sitting right next to your colleague, flashing sensitive information right in front of your face - are you sure he wasn’t trying to fake you guys out?

- Ariel Kaminer The Ethicist, October 23, 2011 - NY Times.

This year we bring you a compilation of some of our favorite quotes on innovation, innovation, inventors, and patent insanity as part of our year end wrap up.  Send us yours at and we'll publish them and add them to our collection.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Innovation Quote #4

Our Favorite Quotes

Innovation is unruly.

- Nathan Myhrvold of Intellectual Ventures and Microsoft Fame

He ought to know.

This year we bring you a compilation of some of our favorite quotes on innovation, innovation, inventors, and patent insanity as part of our year end wrap up.  Send us yours at and we'll publish them and add them to our collection.

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Innovation Quote #3

Our Favorite Quotes - 2012

If the inventory of ready-made words in our language determines which concepts you are able to understand, how would you ever learn anything new? 

Guy Deutscher
Honorary Research Fellow, School of Languages, Linguistics, and Cultures at the University of Manchester.

This year we bring you a compilation of some of our favorite quotes on innovation, innovation, inventors, and patent insanity as part of our year end wrap up.  Send us yours at and we'll publish them and add them to our collection.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Non-Practicing Entity Conundrum University Edition

When is an NPE not a patent troll?

On December 26th, the verdict in a patent infringement lawsuit was announced.  A nine member federal jury ordered Marvell Technology and its US operating subsidiary Marvell Semiconductor Inc. to pay $1.17 billion in damages to Carnegie Mellon University.   The patent infringement lawsuit was brought by Carnegie Mellon University.  The verdict came after a month-long trial in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh, the home of Carnegie Mellon.  The jury decided that the infringement was willful which means that the judge can award triple damages potentially raising the verdict to over $3.6 billion.

Carnegie Mellon University sued Marvell (MRVL: NASDAQ) for infringement of two patents, 6,201,839 issued in 2001 and 6,438,180 granted in 2002.  The patents cover ways to filter out noise and unwanted electrical signals when detecting data stored on a computer hard-disk drive.

Marvell is based in Hamilton, Bermuda. Its U.S. operating unit Marvell Semiconductor Inc is based in Santa Clara, California.  According to Marvell's inventor relations page, Marvell ships over one billion chips a year. Marvell’s expertise in microprocessor architecture and digital signal processing, drives multiple platforms including high volume storage solutions, mobile and wireless, networking, consumer and green products (LED lighting). The firm has 5,700 employees with design centers and research and development operations around the world.  The firm's research and development expenses were $1,014 million, $898 million, and $828 million in fiscal years 2012, 2011, and 2010 respectively.  Marvell Technology is a practicing entity. The firm owns patents and uses patents to protect the product it makes.  Its most recent patent, 8,341,503, "Methods and systems for storing data in memory using zoning" , was granted December 25, 2012.

Marvell Technologies may need to issue shares to cover the judgement according to several financial news reports.

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) does not manufacture disk drives or semi-conductors (chips.)  It's primary product is education and research.  It doesn't produce products based the technology it invents.  This makes CMU a non-practicing entity,  or, using the pejorative, a patent troll.

The patents involved in the case were granted in 2001 and 2002 respectively, both were based on a provisional patent application filed in May of 1997. Published articles on the invention from the inventors began appearing in 1998. The patents cover technology that is almost 16 years old. Older than most of the patents enforced by non-practicing entities according to the now urban legend patent troll study written by Boston University Law School professors Mike Meurer and Jim Bessen.

K&L Gates, the law firm representing Carnegie Mellon University, claimed that Marvell copied the University’s technology for allowing hard disk drives to read information from high speed magnetic discs.  The expert witnesses in the case claimed that the CMU invention was a foundational piece of technology and that the university had been deprived of the revenue stream from its invention.

The inventors, Aleksandar Kavcic, and Jose M. F. Moura do not own a business that produces the inventions disclosed in the patents. Both are academics and researchers.  The inventors and the resulting patents in the suit benefited from a National Science Foundation under Grant No. ECD-8907068. The inventors and the university had the benefit of taxpayer funded research.

So here we have a patent troll case in which the non-practicing entity is a major research university.  The home town jury in Pittsburgh determined that willful infringement of the home town university's patents took place. The media reports on the case make no mention of the fact that CMU is a non-practicing entity despite the significant drop in the value of the publicly traded company's stock upon announcement of the verdict.  As of this writing there is no, "patent trolls are stifling innovation" rhetoric.  None of the usual suspects are circling the wagons screaming that there are over a gazillion patents that you need to look at when you make a smartphone even though technology made by Marvell Technology is essential to the smartphone, mobile, data storage ecosystem.  No one is preaching the end of an industry because of those pesky patents.

So where does this leave us?

It leaves us with a reality that sometimes someone who owns patents but doesn't make stuff but enforces their patents is doing what is good and right and sometimes someone who owns patents but doesn't make stuff and enforces their patents is an evil doer stifling innovation.  The line is very hazy.  It depends on your vantage point and what side you are on.

The discussion of the monetization of patents and who can legitimately enforce patents without public outrage continues.

About the Reporting on the Verdict:

As of December 27, 2012 only included the patent numbers in their article along with a brief description of the invention.

None of the media reports on the case discussed the age of the patents or the technology being enforced.  None of the reporters or bloggers asked why it took so long for CMU to seek to enforce its patents.

The announcement caused a significant drop in the price of Marvell's shares did not cause much in the way of explanation of the patents, or the invention covered by the patents.

2012 Innovation Quote #2

Our Favorite Quotes - 2012

"My view is that people are creative animals and will figure out cleaver ways to use tools that the inventor never imagined." 

- Steve Jobs as quoted in Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

A potential explanation on why patents have overly broad language - inventors want their invention to cover all of the cleaver ways to use their invention that they haven't imagined.

This year we bring you a compilation of some of our favorite quotes on innovation, innovation, inventors, and patent insanity as part of our year end wrap up.  Send us yours at and we'll publish them and add them to our collection.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 Innovation Quotes #1

Our Favorite Quotes - 2012

This year we bring you a compilation of some of our favorite quotes on innovation, innovation, inventors, and patent insanity as part of our year end wrap up.  Send us yours at and we'll publish them and add them to our collection.

"If I listened to my customers I would have invented a faster horse."

- Henry Ford

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas Patent Style

In the spirit of the season we bring you our latest invention, patent argot style.  The prosecution of our claim continues.  Feel free to infringe while we wait for the first Office Action.  Not to worry, the practicing, non-practicing, and patent assertion entities are all in on the fun.
All the Best From the Crew at Way Better Patents.

Holiday Greetings from Frosty the Article Holding Figurine.

We claim a method of communicating holiday greetings comprising a representational snowman like figure offered in combination with a social expression communication associated with an occasion, holiday, or event; delivered via a communication network wherein the communication network comprises a computer connected to a telecommunications device that facilitates exchange of greetings via the Internet through posts on a weblog, a weblog being a web-based journal that contains periodic posts usually in reverse chronological order.

Frosty the Article Holding Figurine with his preferred embodiment article, the jacket, casually thrown over his shoulder and the inscrutable yet determined look on the upper orbital section of the facial structure is no ordinary a snowman shaped object, he is a figurine of action. He strikes a dashing pose with his top hat-like structure affixed to the upper portion of the preferred embodiment snowman-like shape. The representational human visage let's us know this article holding figurine is no victim of the politically correct as represented by the corn-cob pipe like smoking apparatus clinched in dual elliptical indents designed to represent a notional mouth. In the preferred embodiment he is on the way to a festive holiday gathering to join his other patented figurine, ornamental, and decorative cohorts including the snowman shaped Christmas tree, in celebration of the holiday season.
In some preferred embodiments, Frosty, the Article Holding Figurine, an ornamental member in deed, further comprises a variety of features, including, but not limited to, one or more means for attachment to a Christmas Tree.  In the preferred embodiment, the ornaments are provided with hooks whereby our man Frosty may be hung from a Christmas tree. Alternatively, he may be placed on a flat surface, such as a fireplace mantel. where the display is intended as a Christmas display.  In the fireplace mantel embodiment  tunes, preferably  Christmas carols, are provided to enhance the social occasion experience.  Nowhere within the prior art to the best of applicant's knowledge is there found a more sincere wish for a happy and healthy holiday season to all of our friends and colleagues.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Reminder of Summer

As we in the Northern Hemisphere move into winter, it can be helpful to consider summer flowers from time to time. An iconic summer flower that we’ve discussed in the past is the sunflower, Helianthus annuus.

Three recent patents from Dow Agrosciences offer innovations in the area of sunflower breeding, combining traditional plant breeding across multiple generations, tissue culture, and transgenic manipulation of the plants’ genome.

The Company

Dow Agrosciences is a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals. Dow Agrosciences, headquartered in Indianapolis, IN, provides diverse insecticide, herbicide, fungicide, fumigant and seed technologies for customers around the world, according to its web page. In order to meet future challenges to food production, the company seeks to increase crop productivity “through higher yields, better varieties, and more targeted pest management.”

The Patents

The Dow Agrosciences sunflower patents presented here are all closely related, and are found in the Way Better Patents Agriculture Index. US 7,923,614, “Inbred sunflower line CN1703,” was granted in April 2011 to Robert Martin Benson (Ellsworth, WI). James Todd Gerdes (Breckenridge, MN) received two patents on the same date in late March 2011: US 7,915,502, “Inbred sunflower line CN1229R,” and US 7,915,501, “Inbred sunflower line CN2343.”

Some Background

We’ll use the ‘614 patent to summarize these inventions, but first, some fast-facts from the patents:

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) now ranks second among all oilseed crops in the world as a source of edible vegetable oil.

Food uses of sunflower include snack foods, cooking mediums and salad oils. Whole achenes are an important component of bird and other small animal feeds. Sunflower silage has utility as a livestock feed.

Sunflower oil is also used in the manufacture of margarine, soap, pharmaceuticals, shortening, lubricants and as a source for biodiesel fuels.

Sunflower hulls can be pressed into logs for use in the fireplace and cooking stoves.

Sunflower hybrids can be classified into two broad categories: confection (non-oil) and oil types.

Confection sunflower seeds may be further divided into three classes: in-shell, kernel and birdseed. In-shell seed refers to larger sunflower seeds which may be roasted, salted and packaged for human consumption. Kernel seed refers to medium sized seeds which may be dehulled and also packaged for human consumption. Smaller seed may be sold in birdseed markets. Oil-type sunflower seed is richer in oil and therefore better suited to the production of sunflower oil and is used to produce ingredients for animal feed.
Oil sunflower hybrids may be further divided into three classes: linoleic (regular oil type), NuSun (mid-oleic), and high oleic.

A third category of sunflower seed referred to as hybrid seed has attributes of both confection and oil type sunflowers.

Sunflowers have both male and female organs on the same flower; sunflower breeding techniques take advantage of the plant’s ability to be bred by both self-pollination and cross-pollination.

Dow Agrosciences’ patents teach us much about sunflower breeding, improvements, and methods:

Why Breed Plants?

The goal of a sunflower breeder is to improve a sunflower plant’s performance and therefore, its economic value by combining various desirable traits into a single plant. Improved performance is manifested in many ways. Higher yields of sunflower plants contribute to a more abundant food supply, a more profitable agriculture and a lower cost of food products for the consumer. Improved quality makes sunflower kernels more nutritious. Improved plant health increases the yield and quality of the plant and reduces the need for application of protective chemicals. Adapting sunflower plants to a wider range of production areas achieves improved yield and vegetative growth. Improved plant uniformity enhances the farmer’s ability to mechanically harvest sunflower.

A Little Botany

Because sunflower has both male and female organs on the same flower, sunflower breeding techniques take advantage of the plant’s ability to be bred by both self-pollination and cross-pollination. Self-pollination occurs when pollen from the male organ is transferred to a female organ on the same flower on the same plant. Self-incompatability is a form of infertility caused by the failure of sunflower plants with normal pollen and ovules to set seed due to some physiological hindrance that prevents fertilization. Self-incompatability restricts self-pollination and inbreeding and fosters cross-pollination. Cross-pollination occurs when pollen from the male organ on the flower of one plant is transferred to a female organ on the flower on a different plant.

Add Some Genetics

Natural, or open pollination, occurs in sunflower when bees or other insects transfer pollen from the anthers to the elongated stigmas that protrude from the florets and may include both self- and cross-pollination. Such pollination is accomplished almost entirely by the bees or other pollinating insects and accordingly, interplant transfer of pollen by the wind is of little importance. Vigor is restored when two different inbred lines are cross-pollinated to produce the first generation (F1) progeny. A cross between two defined homozygous inbred sunflower plants always produces a uniform population of heterozygous hybrid sunflower plants and such hybrid sunflower plants are capable of being generated indefinitely from the corresponding inbred sunflower seed supply.

When two different, unrelated inbred sunflower parent plants are crossed to produce an F1 hybrid, one inbred parent is designated as the male, or pollen parent, and the other inbred parent is designated as the female, or seed parent. Because sunflower plants are capable of self-pollination, hybrid seed production requires elimination of or inactivation of pollen produced by the female parent to render the female parent plant male sterile. This serves to prevent the inbred sunflower plant designated as the female from self-pollinating. Different options exist for controlling male fertility in sunflower plants such as physical emasculation, genetic male sterility, cytoplasmic male sterility and application of gametocides. Incomplete removal of male parent plants from a hybrid seed production field before harvest provides the potential for unwanted production of self-pollinated or sib-pollinated seed which may be unintentionally harvested and packaged with hybrid seed. [note: A plant is sib-pollinated (a type of cross-pollination) when individuals within the same family or line are used for pollination (i.e. pollen from a family member plant is transferred to the stigmas of another family member plant).

The Process

The development of new inbred sunflower plants and hybrid sunflower plants is a slow, costly interrelated process that requires the expertise of breeders and many other specialists. The development of new hybrid sunflower varieties in a sunflower plant breeding program involves numerous steps, including: (1) selection of parent sunflower plants (germplasm) for initial breeding crosses; (2) inbreeding of the selected plants from the breeding crosses for several generations to produce a series of inbred lines, which individually breed true and are highly uniform; and, (3) crossing a selected inbred line with an unrelated line to produce the F1 hybrid progeny having restored vigor.

The Result

Inbred sunflower plants and other sources of sunflower germplasm are the foundation material for all sunflower breeding programs. Despite the existence and availability of numerous inbred sunflower lines and other source germplasm, a continuing need still exists for the development of improved germplasm because existing inbred parent sunflower lines lose their commercial competitiveness over time. The present invention[s address] this need by providing … novel inbred parent sunflower line[s] … that [contribute] improved seed yield and oil yield per acre to hybrids relative to other similar hybrids in the same maturity groups. To protect and to enhance yield production, trait technologies and seed treatment options provide additional crop plan flexibility and cost effective control against insects, weeds and diseases, thereby further enhancing the potential of hybrids with [these lines as parents].


The ‘614 patent includes seven independent claims, with an additional 53 dependent claims. The preamble of each of the independent claims serves to summarize the overall invention:

A seed of sunflower inbred line …
A method for producing an inbred sunflower plant …
A method of introducing a desired trait into sunflower inbred line …
A method for producing an inbred sunflower plant …
A method for producing a CN1703-derived sunflower plant … [CN1703 is the designation of the specific sunflower line to be produced via this invention]
A method for regenerating a sunflower plant … [using tissue-culturing methods]
A method for developing a sunflower plant in a sunflower plant breeding program

These claims, and their dependents, don’t just apply standard plant breeding and tissue-culturing methods. They also provide for genetic modification of the sunflowers that form this specific line. In particular, transgenic material is introduced that “comprises a gene conferring upon the sunflower plant tolerance to a herbicide” (claim 51) or “comprises a gene conferring upon the sunflower plant insect resistance, disease resistance or virus resistance” (claim 53).

Thus, the sunflower line produced by this invention (and the separate lines produced via the ‘501 and ‘502 patents) is a GMO plant intended to resist herbicides, insects, disease, or plant viruses.

A super-sunflower.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Curious Green Tech Patents - SUV Tents

The curious patents issued by the USPTO’s Green Technology Pilot Program continue with US 8,230,870, issued on the last day of July, 2012. “SUV tent traveler” was invented by Robert D. Horejsh of Altoona, WI. The patent abstract provides a summary:
"An elevated floor camper tent for SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) type vehicles having electric, hybrid or other energy-saving, lower horsepower engines and top hinged rear doors. The entire tent assembly fits inside the vehicle for aerodynamic maximization and the state-of-the-art materials minimize the total weight. A set of continuous slides provides support and, with integrated footpads, facilitates setup on hard or soft surfaces. The campers sleep within the relative safety of the vehicle and utilize the main part of the tent as a living area. The standard features, under actual test conditions, suggest the design as safe, effective and user-friendly plus the stable, framed living area having built in rail-type support braces and kick panels help prevent the users from accidents."
The specification of a patent is the “written description of the invention and the manner and process of making and using the claimed invention.” Much useful information can be found there, and for clean tech inventions particularly inventors’ statements regarding why they think their innovation is clean tech.

The spec of the ‘870 patent contains several statements of Horejsh’s intent:
  • The higher-mileage, hybrid and electric vehicles could be utilized for camping thus enhancing their versatility and general usage in the camping community. Our camper-tent invention is designed from the ground up to be specifically used by the vehicles of now and in the future.
  • The “SUV Tent Traveler” (name used for identification purposes only) is a concept of a tent, tent frame, elevated camper floor contained entirely within the vehicles’ storage area and mounted on continuous slides.
  • Earth-friendly vehicles are limited for camping although we purchased a Ford Escape Hybrid knowing the towing capacity was only 1,000 lbs. (passengers and cargo included). What we didn’t know was that already optimistic rating was based on a flat surface at lower altitudes and campers under 1,000 lbs. were barely available, those being very expensive. Alternatives involved roof top units with a MPG robbing aerodynamic drag; mini trailers with the inherent problems of pulling another object; and tents, set directly on the ground with a boot to connect to a vehicle. We found the vehicle rear area too short to comfortably sleep in so, in effect, that alternative (attached ground tent) was really just camping out. Earth-friendly vehicles include hybrid, electric, enhanced, dual or multiple mode-powered vehicles, or generally any vehicle with lower rated horsepower for higher MPG, designed by the manufacture to save energy through aerodynamic design with top hinged rear doors.
  • The key to its uniqueness is a continuous flat plane slide system comprised of a plurality of sections adjacent to each other to extend the main floor panel longitudinally out from under the cargo floor panel.
How is a tent that can be stored in a vehicle considered to be clean tech?

The tent does not decrease vehicle weight (to the contrary, it increases weight).

The SUV tent does not increase vehicle fuel efficiency (it decreases it since it represents extra weight).

It does not improve vehicle aerodynamic form (it’s stored within the vehicle except when set up (during which time the vehicle is not traveling and incurring aerodynamic friction), just as your normal, everyday pup tent would be).

The invention is classified under CLASS 135, TENT, CANOPY, UMBRELLA, OR CANE.

The patent has only two claims.

The time between filing and grant was less than a year, short even by Green Tech program standards.

And what about the prior art?  A walk around Bonnaroo (or a look at the photo stream of the parking/camping area) or a visit to a college football tailgate will yield lots of prior art small SUV tent configurations.

This invention is from an independent inventor who generally have a harder time commercializing their inventions even if accelerated patenting is helpful.  We'll skip the the intent of the program to "accelerate the development and deployment of green technology, create green jobs, and promote U.S. competitiveness in this vital sector."  (See the press release announcing the program here.)

At the risk of being cynical - is this a quota making invention that gets to wear the green label?

This type of interpretation of what is within the boundaries of an accelerated examination program should provide interesting material to innovation researchers in light of upcoming changes under the America Invents Act that enable the Director of USPTO to designate "economically important" technology.

Another curious patent granted under the Green Tech Pilot Program.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

An Alternate Infrastructure for All Electric Taxicabs

On December 10, 2012 the Arlington County Board in Virginia turned down the very first all-electric taxicab fleet in the US due to concerns about how far the electric cabs could travel on a charge, and the time it would take to recharge them.  The Board expressed concerns about the lack of charging infrastructure.  Another concern was the potential for passengers to be stranded if the battery is depleted.

Arlington, Va., was originally part of the "10 miles square" parcel of land surveyed in 1791 to be the Nation's Capital. It is the geographically smallest self-governing county in the United States, occupying slightly less than 26 square miles.  26 square miles.

The Washington metropolitan area has a number green taxi initiatives - integrating hybrid vehicles into the fleet, having some all-electric vehicles in combination with traditional gas powered cabs while others like Enviroride buy carbon off sets points equivalent to number of cars used and miles traveled by each car every year.  EV Taxicabs, a new company,  wanted to operate electric cabs equipped with WiFi hotspots and iPads in the back for passengers in Arlington.

EV Taxicabs lost out to an infrastructure problem.  Perhaps the solution to the problem here is an alternative infrastructure.  Instead of recharging the taxicab batteries, swap them out.  The county and the taxicab companies should look at an approach to have hot swap batteries available strategically located around the county and at frequently visited spots around the area -  airports, train stations, convention venues.   It costs a lot of money and time to install all of these charging stations all over the place while the battery exchange infrastructure is more scalable, easier to implement, and more efficient to run.  A suburban metaphor might be helpful here -  it's faster to swap the propane tank for a new one at convenient locations close to where you can buy garden supplies, ice and beer than to drive to the inconveniently located propane filling station in the industrial park and stand around while your tank is refilled.  The average BBQ-er doesn't have an emotional attachment to their particular tank so swapping works fine.

Better Place GmbH was awarded three patents under the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program that cover inventions on how the batteries can be installed and removed from the vehicles; and the actual infrastructure itself. Better Place proposes a thoughtful approach from both a clean tech business model perspective and from an electrical infrastructure perspective.

The technical details on how the battery swapping infrastructure would work is described in an earlier post here.

Here is a circa 2009 Ted Talk on the Better Place view of the electric car business.  The numbers seem a bit optimistic given the current slow down in adoption of electric vehicles and the issues with US battery makes but it's an interesting talk on the emerging electric car market and an alternative business model for electric cars.  The real challenge is how to get there and to make the EV sustainable from both a technical and economic perspective.

Notable quote:  On hybrids.  A hybrid is like a mermaid.  When you need a fish you get a woman.  When you want a woman you get a fish.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Curious Case of Green Tech Bolts

A recent post covered General Electric receiving a patent from the US Patent Office’s Green Technology Pilot Program for a wind turbine doorway. When I initially ran across the patent, I halfway jokingly told a colleague “Makes me wonder whether the bolts that are used to hold the door to the door frame are also considered green tech.” Little did I know at the time …

Exactly three weeks later, USPTO granted GE and inventor Denis Heide (Munster, Germany) US 8,186,923, “Connecting arrangement and method of fastening a bolt.”
The abstract provides a summary:
A connecting arrangement is provided. The connecting arrangement includes a bolt with a fastening portion at one end thereof, which has one or more grooves; a cotter having a conical shape and one or more convex cuts on the inner side of the cotter adapted for fitting with the one or more grooves of the fastening portion of the bolt; two support blocks, each having a thread on the outer side, wherein at least one of them is on the inner side adapted for fitting to the conical shape of the cotter; and a fastener having a thread on the inner side, wherein the fastener is adapted for being screwed on the support blocks.
Claim 1 provides some excellent patent-speak:
A connecting arrangement, comprising:
a bolt including a fastening portion including one or more grooves, whose circumference is differentiable between at least two portions;
a cotter including at least two parts and including an essentially conical shape on the outer side and a axial bore when the at least two parts are put together, wherein the axial bore provides one or more convex cuts on the inner side of the bore, wherein the convex cuts are adapted for fitting with the one or more grooves of the fastening portion of the bolt;
at least one first support block including a thread on the outer side;
at least one second support block including a thread on the outer side, wherein the at least one second support block is on the inner side adapted for fitting to the conical shape of the cotter;
and a fastener including a thread on the inner side, wherein the fastener is adapted for being screwed on the support blocks.
What does this have to do with clean tech? According to the Background of the Invention, “Especially in very large applications, such as wind energy systems, the screw connection has to meet high security demands. The flange connections of wind energy systems are also screwed and the required strength is achieved by using large screws.”

Curiously, the same sequence of events occurred for this ‘923 patent as for the ‘674 patent - the filing of the Petition to Make Special, some volleying back and forth with the examiner and then, USPTO miraculously, accepting the petition. In this case, GE submitted the petition to USPTO on July 12, 2011. The same Tech Center 3600 QA Specialist dismissed the petition on July 22, 2011. Once again, item 4 requirements were the basis of the Tech Center dismissal. The detail continues a theme we saw in the ‘674 doorway patent:
In regard to item 4, the claimed bolt-nut/connecting system for being used in a wind energy system would not materially contribute to the development of renewable energy resources or energy conservation since the bolt-nut/connecting system cannot generate energy or convert the mechanical energy into electrical energy. It is unclear which part of the bolt/connecting system conserves energy. A bolt-nut/connecting system plays no role in the operation of the wind energy system. In addition, as the claimed bolt-nut/connecting system and the resulting support structure may not necessarily be used in a wind energy system, petitioner’s assertion of the bolt-nut/connecting system’s contribution to the development of renewable energy resources or energy conservation is entirely speculative. As stated in the notice, the materiality standard does not permit an applicant to speculate as to how a hypothetical end-user might specially apply the invention in a manner than [sic] could materially contribute to category (A) or (B). Also see MPEP §708.02 (VI). Accordingly, it is not agree that the application on its face meets that materiality standard.
(emphasis added)

GE filed a Request for Reconsideration on August 24, 2011 which contained some artful linguistic gymnastics on why a bolt is critical to green energy.  This time they,
"respectfully submit[ted] that the Federal Registry does not require that an invention generate energy or convert mechanical energy into electrical energy in order to materially contribute to the development of renewable energy resources or energy conservation. … Embodiments of the present invention materially contribute to the development of renewable energy by providing an arrangement and methods of fastening a bolt that increases the fatigue resistance of a connection in wind energy systems. These measures increase the availability of wind energy as a viable power generating option by reducing maintenance and decreasing costs, and also by reducing wind turbine down time. As a result, embodiments of the present invention promote increased energy production, and thus materially contribute to the development of renewable energy resources or energy conservation.
However, here is text from Federal Register 74FR64666 (found in section III of the Notice) which seems to undercut GE’s argument:
Patent applications are also eligible for the Green Technology Pilot Program if the applications are for inventions that materially contribute to: (1) The discovery or development of renewable energy resources; (2) the more efficient utilization and conservation of energy resources; or (3) the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The term “renewable energy resources” for purposes of the procedure specified in this notice includes hydroelectric, solar, wind, renewable biomass, landfill gas, ocean (including tidal, wave, current, and thermal), geothermal, and municipal solid waste, as well as the transmission, distribution, or other services directly used in providing electrical energy from these sources. [emphasis added]
Admittedly, this wording is somewhat open-ended, but “development of renewable energy resources”, and the last emphasized clause, strongly suggest that USPTO did not intend the connection and fastening of bolts to be considered eligible under the program. This is supported by the wording of their petition dismissal.

No matter, however, as the USPTO accepted GE’s arguments and granted their petition on September 29, 2011. This decision was also signed by the same Tech Center 1700 QA Specialist as the corresponding one for the ‘674 patent.

Did we mention that as of May 29, 2012, the date of the ‘923 bolt patent, the USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program had granted 213 GE patents, out of a total of 1126 issued, or 18.9%? GE’s next closest competitor in terms of total program patent grants through May 29 was Ford Motor Company, and its subsidiary Ford Global Technologies, LLC, with 108 patents (9.6%). Certainly, GE has very successfully used the Green Tech Pilot Program to reduce the pendency of its clean tech inventions over the past few years. Given GE’s vast patent portfolio (more than 37,000 as of November 6, 2012), IP prosecution experience, and very large IP staff, these results are not surprising.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Green Tech Intellectual Property Conundrum

Last Friday, November 30th, the Department of Energy (DOE) made another announcement on taxpayer funding of development of advanced batteries for the electric vehicle market.  According to the announcement, 

 "...a multi-partner team led by Argonne National Laboratory has been selected for an award of up to $120 million over five years to establish a new Batteries and Energy Storage Hub. The Hub, to be known as the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), will combine the R&D firepower of five DOE national laboratories, five universities, and four private firms in an effort aimed at achieving revolutionary advances in battery performance."

In addition to the $120M that the Feds are throwing in, the State of Illinois is  adding $5 million through his Illinois Jobs Now! capital construction plan to help build the state-of-the-art JCESR facility, which will be located on the Argonne National Laboratory campus in suburban Chicago.  Another $30M is being sought for construction from the Illinois legislature (which means they don't have it yet.)  A nice little start-up fund.

The announcement has a bit of  wheel reinvention feel to it given some of the considerable work being done by other university and corporate battery research programs.  Recent technical setbacks in the manufacturing and implementation methods might be a good place to look for new inventions.

The players in this endeavor include:

National Labs
University partners include: 
  • Northwestern University 
  • University of Chicago 
  • University of Illinois-Chicago
  • University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign 
  • University of Michigan 
Four industrial partners: 
  • Dow Chemical Company
  • Applied Materials, Inc.
  • Johnson Controls, Inc. (Looking at the A123 assets)
  • Clean Energy Trust (a technology transfer organization that seeks to commercialize "green tech" developed in the Midwest.)
The program announced that is has "affiliates" including GM which given the amount of federal funding going to GM's electric vehicle efforts for the Volt and the issues of cost and performance on the Volt battery, a GM affiliation isn't surprising.  There is probably a bigger Volt agenda here but we'll have to wait and see.

Let's skip the "picking winners and losers" rhetoric or discussions on why there is government lab participation versus funding commercial entities already in the space and raise a more IP centric issue.  

Who will own the intellectual property generated as a result of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) endeavor? 

All of the entities involved in this endeavor produce new science, or at least we hope they do given the amount of money being thrown around.  How will the IP be shared, licensed, rolled out, commercialized? 

How will the considerable IP owned by the various battery companies that have filed for bankruptcy but who were the beneficiaries of considerable taxpayer research funding be leveraged to accelerate the advanced battery development goals of the new Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR)?  Will JCESR be granted licenses to this technology? Even if some of the firms who received the funding are sold to companies owned by US or foreign entities?

Will the government exercise its march in rights to insure that taxpayers benefit from their previous investments in research and development and facilities and building labs by insuring that JCESR has the right to use the technologies already patented and where there is a government interest but the companies have filed for bankruptcy and won't be able to repay the considerable public investment in their advanced storage adventures?  (Probably not.)

Will all of their research be published in open journals so that the taxpayer (and other researchers who are also taxpayers) have access to the results of this research rather than having it show up in expensive commercial peer-reviewed journals?

Why We Ask

When Way Better Patents undertook the work of analyzing the Green Technology Pilot Program one of the first things we noticed is that the large number of federal grants focused on Green Technology and other advanced science grant programs were largely absent from the patents granted under the program.  We noticed this trend among green technology/clean technology patents in our patentECO Index in general.  Lots of grants and federal funding not a lot of government interest statements and no security interest liens on the patents and patent applications when the government made loans or loan guarantees to green tech companies.

Take A123 Systems.  With the exception of patents that had assignee data indicating joint ownership by A123 Systems and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), most of their patents didn't contain government interest statements in the patent section itself.  A deeper dive into the data showed that DOE and the US Air Force have made notification of their licenses in the USPTO Assignee Database for some of the patents even when their interest doesn't appear in the body of the patent.  Last week the Department of Justice went to bankruptcy court to assert its interest in the A123 intellectual property.  This seems to be largely the result of the potential sale of the firm to Wanxiang.

In one A123 Systems case, US Patent 8,236,441 - "Battery cell design and methods of its construction" , the application as filed in July of 2008 based on a provisional filed in 2007 and granted on August 7, 2012 - five years later with no government interest statements in any of the documents.  On August 16, 2012, Wanxiang America Corporation's  Security Assignment lien appeared in the USPTO Assignee Database.  The Department of Energy's notice of License Conveyance was executed on August 17, 2012.

By the way, the Department of Energy's intellectual property people are located at next to the Argonne National Lab so getting information on what patents the government has an interest in should be a short walk away. 

There is a similar pattern when you review the patents held by firms in solar and wind that have had financial problems or are in bankruptcy.  Enthusiastic announcements of government interest and public-private partnerships when the funds were being awarded.  No notice of taxpayer funding via government interest statements, or license conveyance on the patents and even less when the bankruptcy takes place (or if it's taking place it is like much of the activity in the patentsphere, it's taking place outside of the view of the public.)

As the government continues to fund these projects, it's time for a new more aggressive and focused approach on identifying, managing and protecting taxpayer funded IP development in this the knowledge economy.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Bechtel Patent Based on Coal

This is a short story of a recent clean tech invention that may be caught between the grindstones of evolved market forces and prices, and looming regulations.


Bechtel Power Corporation, headquartered in Frederick, MD, is a subsidiary of Bechtel Corporation, a world-wide engineering, construction, and project management company with corporate offices in San Francisco and 53,000 employees. From a description of the company’s history on its home page:
One of the oldest and largest family-led corporations in the United States, Bechtel has been in the forefront of engineering and construction for more than 110 years. What began as a railroad-grading operation in the Oklahoma Territory has grown into a multinational company with hundreds of projects around the world. 
Since its founding in 1898, four generations of Bechtels have steered the company through 23,000 projects in 140 nations and seven continents. Along the way, we established a reputation for undertaking “megaprojects”– projects too big, complex, or remote for others. Many of them have become our signature projects, including Hoover Dam, the Channel Tunnel, and the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system.
Bechtel’s expertise includes
  • Roads and rail systems
  • Airports and seaports
  • Fossil and nuclear power plants
  • Refineries and petrochemical facilities
  • Mines and smelters
  • Renewable energy
  • Defense and aerospace facilities
  • Environmental cleanup projects
  • Communications networks
  • Pipelines
  • Oil and gas field development
A search of US patents shows Bechtel as the assignee on 285 – the most recent is the subject of this post, the earliest was issued in 1971.

Changed Energy Supplies & Prices

The US Energy Information Administration provides a chart showing US natural gas production from 1990 through 2035 projections. From 2000–2005 shale gas played a very minor role in the overall mix of US natural gas production and sources. After 2005, through the present, shale gas has played a linearly increasing role, and from 2012 forward, all increases in domestic natural gas production are projected to be due solely to increased shale gas. In 2012 shale gas provides 32% of US natural gas production, up from 4% in 2005. A factor of 8 increase in seven years – due to the application of hydraulic fracturing (fracing) techniques. EIA data on natural gas prices paid by utilities for electricity generation show a price of $8.47 per thousand cubic feet in 2005 declining to $4.89 per tcf in 2011 (with a peak of $9.26 per tcf in 2008). Thus, supply has significantly increased and prices paid by electric utilities have declined by 42% over the seven-year period.

An Invention Too Late?

These dramatic changes may have caught Bechtel Power Corporation inventors Harvey Wen and Rattan K. Tawney, both of Boyds, MD, by surprise. They were issued US 8,118,895, “Method and apparatus for refueling existing natural gas combined cycle plant as a non-integrated gasification combined cycle plant,” on February 21, 2012. The application was filed four years previously, in March 2008. For the sake of argument, let’s estimate that the invention was in development within Bechtel and the application being prepared by their inventors and their IP law firm for three years prior to filing. That included drafting and filing a provisional patent application  60/920,999 filed March 30, 2007, and writing the non-provisional application that was filed March 29, 2008 (one day before the provisional was going to expire.)  That takes the invention back to around 2005 (and it’s quite possible that it was earlier). This would place the development period around the time of high natural gas prices, and low production from shale gas documented by EIA. Let’s take a look at why this matters.

The invention, summarized in the patent abstract, provides:
"[a] process of generating power utilizing a low level heat from a raw syngas produced in a quench gasifier … The process includes a first stage that includes: producing raw syngas at the quench gasifier, making 150 psi saturated steam from the produced raw syngas, superheating the saturated steam, and using the superheated saturated steam in a low pressure steam turbine to generate power. The process includes a second stage that includes: providing the raw syngas and a process condensate stream to a thermal fluid vaporizer to vaporize an organic thermal fluid, and using the vaporized organic thermal fluid in an expander turbine to generate power via an organic Rankine cycle."
From the Field of Invention, we learn (patents teach their art) that “This invention related to converting existing natural gas fired combined cycle power plants with coal-derived synthesis gas (syngas). This conversion would allow the relatively expensive natural gas fired power plants to burn relatively low cost coal fuel.”

The Background of the Invention states that “Power plants built during the past decade in the US were mostly natural-gas-fired gas turbine combined cycle (GTCC) plants.

Unfortunately, the operating capacity factor of these units is less than 25 percent due to the persistent high cost of natural gas. It is unlikely that the price of natural gas will return to the $3-$4 per million Btu level that served as the basis for the economics of these plants.”

The patent drawing provides a process flow diagram. Raw syngas produced from an oxygen-blown quench type gasifier 1 is comprised of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, water vapor and a multitude of impurities including sulfur compounds and nitrogen compounds. Stream A represents the raw syngas flow path. After it is quenched in a water pool to 455 °F at about 865 psia, it is cooled in a reboiler 2 to produce a saturated steam at 150 psia. Stream B represents the steam/water condensate flow path. In addition to provide superheating, the HRSG 7 also generates additional steam required to meet auxiliary power requirement of coal gasification plant operation and for startup. The superheated steam from HRSG 7 is used to drive a steam turbine 8 for power generation. The steam turbine exhaust is condensed in a water-cooled condenser 9 and water condensate is returned by pump 10 to the reboiler via condensate preheaters 6 and 4.
Returning to USEIA data, we find that the average spot price of natural gas was $3.73 per million Btu on October 31, 2012.

In addition to changed market conditions for natural gas supplies, there are significant indications that the USEPA is planning to release a myriad of regulations that have been postponed thus far by the Obama Administration. Now that the President has been re-elected, and Democrat control of the US Senate retained, it is quite likely that these regulations will come to fruition. Their net effect will impose greater than $500 billion per year in additional fees, penalties, and compliance costs on the US energy sector. The coal industry will continue to be especially hard-hit. It is quite possible that there will not be any syngas production from coal, knocking the bottom out of the ’895 patent.

A Lesson

Bechtel could have requested accelerated examination under USPTO’s Green Tech Pilot Program for this invention – they did not. Ultimately, had they been granted the patent more quickly (it took 4 years; the Green Tech Program cut pendency by about half for those patents that were successfully prosecuted under the program), they could have brought it to market that much sooner.

Timing matters, but intervening market and regulatory conditions might matter more.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Doorway To Green Technology - Green Tech Doorway

A clean tech door: the doorway 102,
a doorway frame 106,
a doorway opening 122, and
an outer face 134.

Curious Green Tech Program Patents - #1

While reviewing patents issued under the USPTO’s Green Technology Pilot Program], I was struck by the title of US 8,171,674 – “Doorway for a wind turbine tower.”

doorway receives a green tech/clean tech  patent from the US Patent Office?

First, details on the ‘674 patent, issued in early May 2012. The inventors – Bharat Bagepalli of Niskayuna, NY and Russell Earle Walthers, from Saratoga, CA. The assignee – General Electric Company. The technology, according to USPTO,  static structures including a component designed to receive a disparate article having disparate article mounted thereto on shaft or tower. Isn’t government-speak great?

In other words, an object (in this case, a doorway) mounted on a tower. The abstract:
A doorway for a tower of a wind turbine is disclosed. The doorway may generally comprise a doorway frame having a substantially rectangular shape and including an inner face and an outer face. An opening may be defined between the inner and outer faces and may be configured to provide access to an interior of the tower. Additionally, at least one of the inner face and the outer face may define a substantially planar surface along at least a portion of its width.
The patent contains 13 claims, of which claim 1 is representative:
A tower for a wind turbine, the tower comprising:
a tower segment having a first end and a second end, the tower segment defining a curved shape between said first and second ends; and
a doorway disposed between said first and second ends, said doorway comprising:
a doorway frame having a substantially rectangular shape and including an inner face and an outer face and,
an opening defined through said inner and outer faces, said opening configured to provide access to an interior of the tower,
wherein at least one of said inner face and said outer face defines a substantially planar surface along a substantial portion of its width.
Wondering how a patent for a doorway was issued as a green tech/clean tech, a review of the various documents supporting the patent ensued.

Applicants wishing to have their inventions considered under the US Patent Office’s Green Tech Pilot Program were required to complete a form (it’s government, after all) to specifically request accelerated examination under the program. The inventor duly filed the form (received at USPTO 5/24/11); here is an excerpt:
Applicant respectfully submits that Special Status is sought on the basis that the present invention materially contributes to the development of renewable energy resource or energy conservation.  
Materially?  Do real inventors say materially or is this a lawyer term?  In this case it's a USPTO term.

The petition to make special was routed to Art Unit 3633 for a decision. On June 7, 2011, USPTO (a Tech Center 3600 Quality Assurance Specialist, specifically) replied:
The petition is DISMISSED.
The Patent Office’s reasoning was that “[t]he petition lacks item 4”. Item 4 in the requirements for achieving Green Tech accelerated exam status was:
If the disclosure is not clear on its face that the claimed invention materially contributes under category (A) or (B) [A) materially enhances the quality of the environment or B) materially contributes to: i) the discovery or development of renewable energy resources, ii) the more efficient utilization and conservation of energy resources, or iii) greenhouse gas emission reduction.] [^1], the petition must be accompanied by a statement by the applicant, assignee, or an attorney/agent registered to practice before the Office explaining how the materiality is met.
Additional justification for dismissal was provided by USPTO:
In regard to item 4, the claims are directed to a doorway used in a tower which can be used to support a wind turbine. Since the wind turbine is not claimed, the claimed doorway or tower in and by itself would not ordinarily contribute to the development of renewable energy resources - a doorway or a tower cannot generate energy or convert the mechanical energy into electrical energy. There is no evidence in the present application that the claimed doorway or tower materially contributes to the development of renewable energy resources. In addition, as the claimed doorway or tower would not necessarily result in a tower used to support a wind turbine, petitioner’s assertion of the claimed method’s contribution to the development of renewable energy resources or energy conservation is entirely speculative. As stated in the notice, the materiality standard does not permit an applicant to speculate as to how a hypothetical end-user might specially apply the invention in a manner than [sic] could materially contribute to category 9A) or (B). Also see MPEP §708.02 (VI). Accordingly, it is not agreed that the application on its face meets that materiality standard.
This seems to be a very reasoned and well-supported dismissal.

GE disagreed and filed a Request for Reconsideration of the Patent Office’s denial of the request for accelerated examination under the Green Tech Program; this was received by USPTO on June 30, 2011. The heart of GE’s request to reconsider is contained in the penultimate paragraph of their Request:
Embodiments of the present invention materially contribute to the development of renewable energy by reducing the thickness of tower segments required for wind turbines and reducing the time and expense necessary to form the tower doorway. As such, these measures promote investment in wind turbine technology by making it a more cost-effective alternative to other non-renewable energy technologies, which in turn promotes increased energy production.
GE is arguing that reducing the thickness of tower segments, and reducing time and expense (to them, the manufacturer) to form a wind tower doorway constitute sufficient reasons for the application to be accepted for accelerated examination under the program. They are arguing here that thinner wind turbine tower segments, and reduced manufacturing time and expense for GE do materially contribute to the development of renewable energy resources or energy conservation. But none of those aspects address either the requirements of Item 4, provided above, under which the accelerated exam request was dismissed, orthe USPTO’s specific, detailed reasoning supporting that dismissal.

On August 4, 2011, USPTO agreed with GE’s request (what a surprise); this time, however, the reply came from a QA Specialist in Tech Center 1700:
The petition is GRANTED.
USPTO did not provide any reasoning for supporting their grant of the petition to make special, nor any reasoning to explain why they now viewed GE’s wind turbine doorway as meeting program requirements, when just a few weeks previously they had given a well-written, logical set of reasons for rejecting the application for acclerated examination under the program.

Thus, the bottom line in GE’s and USPTO’s thinking is that a wind tower door is clean tech.
Did we mention that GE has received the largest number of patents of any assignee under the USPTO Green Tech Program? Or that GE was definitively involved in the program prior to its announcement on December 7, 2009? See the USPTO press release announcing the program on that date with a quote from Carl Horton, Chief Intellectual Property Counsel of General Electric, who “hailed the new initiative” (I’m sure he did, considering how well GE subsequently did under the program)  ”We hail this initiative as an excellent incentive to fuel further innovation of clean technology and a terrific mechanism to speed the dissemination of these patented technologies throughout the world,” Horton said. ’) Or that Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman of the Board and CEO of GE, is head of the Obama Administration’s Jobs Council (nothing more need be said here?)  Representatives from GE introduced their colleague who wrote many of the patent applications and crafted the green tech justifications at the USPTO Green Technology Partnership meeting too.

Inventors, remember, precedent has been established. A doorway is clean tech, if you tie it to a wind turbine.  (Improving a the driving experience of an electric vehicle also qualified.)

Amazing. One might think the Office was under some pressure to produce clean tech/clean energy patents from this program. Naahh, that couldn’t be, could it?

[^1] Pretty limited criteria for energy-related clean tech inventions, wouldn’t you agree?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Electric Motors, New & Old

Several high school students zip by my house in the mornings and afternoons on bicycles with tiny 2-stroke gas engines. I perceive them from a long distance, hear the Doppler effect as they approach and recede, and cringe as they pass the house – the motors may be small, but they are SHOCKINGLY LOUD AND PENETRATING.

Surely there might be a less noisy solution to their desire not to have to pedal? One might ask why bother to ride a bike, but I won’t.

E-bikes (electric bikes) would solve my local students’ need for locomotion, and my, and my neighbors’, need to retain our hearing.

Enter the US Patent Office’s Green Tech Pilot Program, and patent US 8,222,786, issued in July 2012 to David G. Calley and co-inventors, all in Flagstaff, AZ; their patent is assigned to Motor Excellence, LLC.

Their invention is entitled “Transverse and/or commutated flux systems having phase offset”, and is described in the abstract:
"Electrical machines, for example transverse flux machines and/or commutated flux machines, may be configured to achieve reduced overall cogging torque via implementation of a sixth-phase offset. Individual cogging torque waveforms in the electrical machine may be evenly distributed across one-sixth of a voltage phase or other suitable spacing, resulting in a reduced magnitude and/or increased sinusoidality of the overall cogging torque waveform for the electrical machine."
In claim 10 one learns that “The stator of claim 2, wherein the stator is coupled to a wheel of an electric bicycle.”

Inventor Calley has 14 patents assigned to Motor Excellence for which he is the first-named inventor; five of these issued from the Green Tech Pilot Program. Four of the Green Tech patents are found in the patentECO Energy | Energy efficiency | Motors & alternators | Design hierarchy (Index | Category | Technology | Feature), and the fifth is categorized as Transportation | Electric vehicle | Motor | Stator.  A fascinating aspect of all of Calley’s Motor Excellence (ME) patents is that they cite US 1,361,136 as the earliest citation. In other words, ME’s key technology derives from a patent issued in 1920. The ‘136 patent, “Dynamo-Electric Machine,” “relates to an improved method and form of construction of dynamo electric machines which is especially applicable to comparatively small sizes of motors, generators and the like. The main objects are to simplify the method of construction and reduce the amount of labor necessary and also reduce the cost of material while producing a strong and durable construction with reduction of size and weight of the machine.”

The Motor Excellence web page states:
"Motor Excellence (Me) is an innovative clean technology company that has designed a new class of high-efficiency electric motors for use in a vast range of applications. Unique in their design, Me boldly offers a 21st century answer to a world tied to inefficient, wasteful and polluting 19th century motor technologies. Me motors enable highly efficient, more cost effective and less resource-intensive electric-powered machines, which will ultimately reduce the world’s reliance on unsustainable energy sources."
No word on 20th century tech.

The company owns a subsidiary, Me eBike LLC, that “provides motors with unprecedented range, acceleration and hill climbing ability to the global electric bicycle industry. Electric bikes (e-bikes) are two or three wheel pedal-driven bicycles with an electric hub motor that provides propulsion assistance to a rider.”

Motor Excellence, founded in 2007, is one of the Young Gun companies in Way Better Patents’ Discovery and Analysis report on USPTO’s Green Tech Program. They completed a move to new Flagstaff headquarters in 2009, and expanded into additional manufacturing space in 2011. This expansion was funded in part by “a $962,000 grant from the 21st Century Grant Program coordinated by the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) in 2009, it hired five new workers the next day. The grant program is designed to utilize federal stimulus funds to invest in and promote energy efficient and renewable energy products manufactured in Arizona,” according to a company press release. The Arizona Daily Sun reported in late December 2011 that Motor Excellence had laid off 24 workers and eliminated one management position in November/December 2011. A cached version of inventor David Calley’s Linkedin profile states that he continued with Motor Excellence to July 2012, when “Motor Excellence’s assets were purchased and the new company is called Electric Torque Machines.” A subsequent patent awarded to Calley and assigned to ETM also reaches back to the 1920 ‘136 patent.

According to Pike Research, the electric bicycle market in the US is expected to triple by 2018 with global sales exceeding 47 million vehicles generating nearly $12 million in revenue.  China dominates the global market for e-bikes sales accounting for 92% of the total sales.  The US market accounts for only about 89,000 e-bikes this year.  (The e-bikes are a popular favorite for food delivery people in big cities.)  Sales of e-bikes in the US are expected to reach 265,000 by 2018.

Of course, the ME and ETM patents for electric bike motors refer to many other intervening patents and technologies, as you will see if you review some of them. However, Calley and his co-inventors determined how to improve on an old design in a way that meets USPTO criteria for
  • what can be patented (process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter, improvement of any of the above)
  • novelty
  • nonobviousness
  • adequately described or enabled (for one of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention)
  • claimed by the inventor in clear and definite terms.
Another thing that reduces the noise from 2-stroke bike motors is cool weather – the high school boys apparently aren’t members of the Polar Bear Club. Or the gasoline has gelled. Either way, wunderbar, as they say in Deutschland.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Another Solar Bankruptcy

Another Solar Bankruptcy.

On November 14, 2012, GT Advanced Technologies Inc. (NASDAQ: GTAT), with headquarters in Nashua, NH,
"announced it has acquired certain capital assets and intellectual property of Twin Creeks Technologies, Inc., a privately owned company that has developed an ion implanter technology that enables the production of lower cost thin substrates with minimal material (kerf) loss. The assets were purchased from Twin Creeks’ lenders in a private sale for approximately $10 million and royalties that will be based on future sales. 
"GT expects that Twin Creeks’ unique Hyperion™ ion implanter technology will have broad application in the production of engineered substrates for power semiconductors and thin wafers for solar applications. In addition, GT expects to pursue the development of thin sapphire laminates for use in applications such as cover and touch screen devices. The Hyperion ion implanter has the potential to minimize, or in some cases eliminate, the need for wafering saws, which would significantly lower the cost of production. 
"The assets acquired by GT relate primarily to the Hyperion ion implanter as well as Twin Creeks’ portfolio of approximately 30 granted US patents and over 70 pending US and international patent applications."
GT Advanced Technologies is a leading global provider of polysilicon production technology, and sapphire and silicon crystalline growth systems and materials for the solar, LED and other industrial markets. Its manufacturing equipment and services support the growth of the Solar and LED industries and accelerate the adoption of renewable energy.

We reported in Way Better Patents’ USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program Discovery and Analysis Report that Twin Creeks had not received any patents from the program. This was correct for the time period covered by Way Better Patents’ report – patents granted through the close of the US Patent Office program on February 16, 2012. Three weeks later, on March 6, Twin Creeks was issued its first (and thus far, only) Green Tech Program patent. US 8,129,613, “Photovoltaic cell comprising a thin lamina having low base resistivity and method of making,” was granted to Mohamed M. Hilali (Sunnyvale, CA) and Christopher J. Petti (Mountain View, CA), and provides for,
"Fabrication of a photovoltaic cell comprising a thin semiconductor lamina may require additional processing after the semiconductor lamina is bonded to a receiver. To minimize high-temperature steps after bonding, the p-n junction is formed at the back of the cell, at the bonded surface. In some embodiments, the front surface of the semiconductor lamina is not doped or is locally doped using low-temperature methods. The base resistivity of the photovoltaic cell may be reduced, allowing a front surface field to be reduced or omitted."
As with other now-bankrupt cleantech companies, Twin Creeks received substantial loan assistance, in this case $50 million from the State of Mississippi, plus $4 million in manufacturing site infrastructure improvements from the state and city of Senatobia, MS.