LightSquared & Clean Tech
A recent Cnet article regarding the LightSquared controversy caught my eye. The article states that “The company has been battling the perception that its network could possibly cripple critical GPS devices--hurting planes, farming equipment, and consumer devices.”
For those of you not familiar with LightSquared, it hopes to build a nationwide wireless broadband and satellite network. There are significant fears on the part of GPS providers, the US military, and others that the proposed network will seriously degrade the nation’s GPS system due to potentially overlapping frequency bands and the power of LightSquared’s transmitters. Government tests concluded this fall showed that LightSquared's base station transmitters created harmful interference for 75 percent of the 92 GPS devices used within the test -- greater than 100 yards away from the base station. LightSquared received a conditional waiver from the Federal Communications Commission in January 2010 to build tens of thousands of stations nationwide. Naturally, LightSquared has strongly disagreed with the test results.
So how is this clean tech? Certainly, a nationwide wireless broadband network would play a role in supporting clean technologies though its ability to transmit large amounts of data to and from rural locations at very high transmission rates. That’s not the link that interests me here, though.
It’s the potential for degrading existing clean technology in the form of precision farming equipment.
A case in point is patent number 6,553,299, “Methods and apparatus for precision agriculture operations utilizing real time kinematic global positioning system systems.” This patent, invented by Russell J. Keller, Mark E. Nichols, Arthur F. Lange and assigned to Trimble Navigation Ltd. (Sunnyvale, CA) was granted on April 22, 2003. It is classified as 701/50. Class 701 of the US Patent Classification system covers data processing inventions for vehicles, navigation, and relative location. Subclass 50 includes construction or agricultural-type vehicles. Many GPS inventions potentially affected by interference with the GPS transmission frequencies are found in this class.
Claim 1 states:
“A method of seeding, comprising:
computing a seeding pattern for at least a portion of a plot of land from one or more data values retrieved from a computer readable storage medium, wherein said seeding pattern is updated for each of a number of planting periods according to a micro crop rotation scheme;
controlling a vehicle so as to follow said computed seeding pattern over said plot of land using positioning information provided by one or more sources of GPS information;
and planting seeds in desired locations within the plot of land by comparing a vehicle position determined using the positioning information to the seeding pattern.”
This invention (one of many in the GPS-enabled precision ag patentECO ecosystem) provides highly accurate seeding, cultivating, planting and/or harvesting operations. Cultivating operations can include precision weed removal (e.g., using a vehicle fitted with weed eradication mechanisms such as augers and/or herbicide sprayers). Crop specific fertilizer or pesticide application is also enabled through the use of centimeter-level accuracy positioning techniques.
Precision agriculture inventions that incorporate GPS technology, such as this one, are a key component of clean technology in the patentECO agriculture patent space. Potential threats to the stability and accuracy of the system should be of great concern.