Friday, June 29, 2012

Emerging Patent Business Models

There is an increasing move to isolate patents and the licensing activities associated with them into separate businesses to protect those assets and remove them from risk in the event of litigation against the firm's core businesses.  This is particularly important for firms that own "essential patents" - patents that are the standards on which new technologies and industries are built.  In Qualcomm's case, its CDMA patents.

The latest move by Qualcomm to create a dedicated business unit to hold its patents sheds light on why firms chose this path.

Here's the latest courtesy of PC World and the Wall Street Journal if you have access to their paid content on the CIO Journal.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Uranium: Energy Source, Technology Target

Uranium: Energy Source, Technology Target

What do you picture when you think about uranium mining? Virginia Uranium, Inc. pictures extraction activities in southside Virginia’s central Pittsylvania County, almost centrally located east-to-west along the Commonwealth’s border with North Carolina. According to the company, the Coles Hill ore deposit, covering 200 acres and up to 1500 feet deep, is the largest undeveloped uranium deposit in the United States and the seventh largest in the world. Containing approximately 119 million pounds of uranium oxide, the deposit is estimated to be worth more than $7 billion.
Naturally, there have been numerous studies, and the environmental activist community has opposed development of these resources. A state ban on uranium mining was enacted in 1982 and remains in place. The Southern Environmental Law Center, one of the leading opposition groups, states that “There is no precedent for large-scale uranium mining in the East, where the population density and a wet climate increase the chance of radiation contaminating streams and groundwater and exposure to humans.”
As with other actual and perceived environmental problems, clean technology can be brought to the U-mining table.
Leland A. Huffman and Lawrence J. Reimann, both of Glenrock, WY, did this with their November 13, 2007 patent (7,294,271) for a “Process for restoration of ground water used in in-situ uranium mining.” Assigned to Power Resources, Inc. (Lakewood, CO), the invention is classified by the US Patent & Trademark Office as 210/610, making it in their consideration a liquid purification or separation technology using treatment by living organisms which includes adding ancillary growth medium for the  microorganisms.
Their Claim 1:
1. A process for restoration of ground water in a subsurface mineralized sandstone formation using a nutrient source, the process is used in conjunction with in-situ uranium mining, the process comprising:
pumping contaminated ground water from the mineralized sandstone formation using a production well to a ground surface;
introducing a nutrient source into the ground water for stimulating the indigenous bacteria in the mineralized sandstone formation;
pumping the ground water with nutrient source back into the ground using an injection well where the ground water is reintroduced into the sandstone formation;
and precipitating less soluble metal complexes from the ground water to the sandstone formation thereby reducing an overall metal content in the ground water.”
Objects of the Huffman and Reimann invention include:
  • providing biological restoration of ground water in a sandstone formation using a nutrient source. The process is used in conjunction with mining uranium using in-situ pump and treat technology. The restoration of the ground water is designed to meet federal and state regulations. 
  • re-circulating ground water underground through a mined-out mineralized sandstone formation for greater contact in the geological formation. This feature helps ensures a more complete clean up of the ground water left in the sandstone formation. 
  • using indigenous bacteria as a more efficient and less costly bioreactor rather than cultivating foreign bacteria. Therefore, there is no reliance on the addition of extra chemicals to the ground water, since the metals react directly with the indigenous bacteria as electron acceptors. 
  • a biological ground water restoration process that not only precipitates out uranium but other metal oxides, metal sulfides and other minerals in the sandstone formation.
The original classification places this invention in the patentECO Water Index, but its primary use in uranium mining crosses over to the Extraction & Harvesting Index. Yet another example of free market innovation that can prevent, reduce, or remediate environmental impacts from resource extraction.

Update August 29th, 2012:

Here, courtesy of WTOP.COM and the Associated Press, is an update on the status of activities related to Virginia Uranium, Inc. and efforts to life the ban on uranium mining in Virginia

Virginia's Uranium Working Group

News from a group favoring keeping the ban --

The Virginia Beach Mining Impact Study

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Environment, Music, Water, and Corporate Marketing

Clean technology has become an important element in integrated marketing strategies.  Note how long into the video it took before the video sponsored by Brita says, "stop buying bottled water..."  Here's the Brita documentary, "Music Sustains."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Two Claims, Four Indexes

Two Claims, Four Indexes: Coal Mine Methane and Emission Credits

Coal mine methane, coal bed methane, coal seam methane, coalbed natural gas: all terms for the same thing — it is the natural gas found in coal deposits. In the US it accounts for about 8 percent of natural gas production, according to the US Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. Per NETL, “a cubic foot of coal can contain six or seven times the volume of natural gas that exists in a cubic foot of a conventional sandstone reservoir.” This gas represents a potential energy source, and a significant safety concern for underground coal mines.
Inventors Kuninori Ito and Michio Abe, both of Yokohama, Japan, have developed technology to use the energy contained in coal mine methane and obtain greenhouse gas reduction credits.
Their invention is documented in US Patent Number 7,587,999, “Gas engine electric power generating system effectively utilizing greenhouse gas emission credit,” and is assigned to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. of Tokyo, Japan. The patent date is September 15, 2009.
The patent has two claims; the first being rather long, I won’t repeat it here. We’ll let their patent abstract tell the story:
“A gas engine electric power generating system in which an electric power generating apparatus including an electric power generator connected with a gas engine of a pilot fuel oil ignition type is installed near a coal mine. Recovered methane gas and ventilated methane gas from the mine are introduced into a cylinder of the gas engine while being adjusted to be introduced as a lean methane/air mixture to operate the engine to produce electric power. A carbon dioxide emission credit reflecting the difference in greenhouse effect index between releasing coal mine methane gas to the atmosphere and releasing the methane gas to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, is registered on an emission credit market. Also included are the affiliated systems of mutual patronage relation constituted by one or a plurality of the systems and nearby power generating system or systems using coal bed methane or pre-mining gas as fuel.”
A unique aspect of this patent is its crossing into four patentECO Indexes. Its original classification of 123/3 (Internal Combustion Engines | Combined Devices | Generating plants) places the invention in the patentECO Energy Index. The carbon emission reduction aspect (capture of methane) is related to inventions in the Air Index. The emission credit feature is a business method (705/37, one of the cross reference classifications) found in the Industry Index. Application of Ito and Abe’s invention to the coal mining industry overlaps with the patentECO Resource Extraction & Harvesting Index.
4/7 = 57% of the patentECO Indexes covered by one, two-claim patent. Not bad; we doff our chapeaux!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Importance of Early Publication in Wind

The economics of the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program  More notes from the USPTO Clean Technology Partnership Meeting.

One of the major players in the Green Technology space, General Electric Company, offered an interesting perspective on why accelerated examination in the Clean Technology is a key strategic benefit for US companies - it results in early publication of important patent applications.

Consider the Windustry.  The Wind Industry market dynamics are in a new nascent phase.  Wind produces 11 percent of the total renewable energy consumed in the US in 2010, the last date comprehensive information is available.  The goal now is to see how much further the industry can grow.  These market dynamics shape the importance of intellectual property and how important patents are as a strategic asset.

Wind is a big industry dominated by a few big players.  With the exception of new technology in low speed urban wind technology from companies like V Squared Wind, Inc. and Windation Energy Systems, Inc., there are a few major players in the Windustry:  GE Wind Energy, Vestas, and Mitsubishi Heavy Equipment among them.  As anyone who watches the Weather Channel's Turbine Cowboys knows, building wind turbines takes a lot of talent, a lot of money, and a lot of technology.  How wind innovations fit into the bigger picture and the ability to drive adoption of wind as a more mainstream energy source is key to making the industry both profitable and sustainable.  (Hopefully without federal funding some day.)

Electricity and power is a standards driven marketplace.  The grid and the supporting infrastructure all needs to - well - work together.  That means standards.

The standards in the electricity business are Grid Codes. A grid code is  basically the technical standards for how wind infrastructure integrates with the rest of the public electric network and vice versa.  It's all about how all the new pieces and parts play together.   And, there is lots of standards building going on at the moment, the Smart Grid project in the US among them.  If you want to drive the market, you want to drive the standards.  If you have patented technology that becomes an essential piece of the new and emerging standards, you are entitled to a royalty from all of the other companies who come to play.  And standards have a habit of putting the background noise to rest so that the companies can get back to the business of competing in the marketplace and stop going to standards body meetings in exotic places.

So why is accelerated examination and early publication important?

Because if you are the innovator who figures out how to solve complex interconnection challenges and you have patent protected inventions in the form of published patent applications and those patent applications are published early then you drive the standard.  If you drive the standard, you drive the market.  If your patent applications move to the front of the pile and your application gets published early (publication is is a global event) then your stuff gets considered by the standards setting organizations because they have access to it to evaluate.  Then bingo...your patented invention is part of the standard.  You drive the standard, you drive the market.  If you drive the market, you make lots of money.  And in theory, that is good for the US economy.

From an economics point of view, a major benefit of the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program was getting  applications published early as well as getting it examined early. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Economist Speaks - Clean Tech @ USPTO

Way Better Patents Clean Tech
On Tuesday our crack team of analysts attended the USPTO Clean Tech Partnership meeting. It proved to be an interesting gathering of the usual suspects - patent attorneys, agents, and companies interested in the Clean Technology domain. The meeting was also attended by patent examiners.  This is an important development for USPTO and the Green Tech Cognoscente.  Having a meeting to discuss the Clean Tech patentsphere that doesn't include the key luminaries who make it happen - the examiners who award the patents wouldn't be the corporate equivalent of an R&D meeting without any scientists.

We are compiling our notes and will be posting more in the coming days.  But one of the more important developments at USPTO is the arrival of the economists.  Finally.  Cue the applause.  Hopefully the arrival of the economists will help make patent data more easily obtained and more easily analyzed but I digress.

Way Better Patents will be releasing its Discovery and Analysis Report on the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program later this month so we went to see what new information we could learn about the program.  (If you'd like us to let you know when the report is available, please send us an email at and let us know.) In the interest of full disclosure, Way Better Patents is a firm made up of patent data gurus, enthusiasts, and mechanics.  We look at patent data the way that Wall Street analytics firms look at market data.

Alan Marco, Deputy Chief Economist at USPTO, Demographic Information, stood in for his boss Stuart Graham.  He walked through some interesting statistics about green tech entrepreneurs.  We're waiting on copies of the slides but here are a few statistics worthy of being written down with a couple of asterisks and explanation points.

Green Tech entrepreneurs when asked, how important is each of the following to capture competitive advantage for your company's innovation answered the following:

The most important was first mover advantage with 77% ranking first mover advantage as the most important feature in achieving competitive advantage for their innovations.  (A shout out to Michael Porter at Harvard and his theories on Competitive Advantage.  Note to self, add Michael Porter's books on competitive advantage to the Way Better Patents IP Reading List.)

The second was patents very important with about 50% ranking it number two.

When asked why these firms pursue patents, the overwhelming answer was to prevent copying. 90+%  (While I hate the phrase and all it's adolescent connotations - DUH!!)

Patents also played an important role in funding negotiations.  What was surprising here is the roll they played in friends and family funding.  It struck me as higher than expected.

We'll be posting more commentary on the meeting in the next day or so, so please stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sunflower Season Will Soon Be Upon Us

Sunflower Season Will Soon Be Upon Us

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are a beautiful and fascinating plant. A sunflower is actually a flower head composed of 1000-2000 individual florets which mature into seeds. The beauty of the sunflower is directly tied to its geometric regularity and the opposing spirals of florets and seeds. Each floret is oriented 137.5 degrees to its adjacent floret; this pattern is based on a mathematical series known as Fibonacci numbers, and on the Golden Mean. Do some reading on these terms — their history and uses are fascinating. The pattern observed on sunflowers is the most efficient for packing seeds in a flower head.
Sunflower seeds are edible by humans, birds, livestock, and provide oil; the fiber in the plant stalks can be used in papermaking. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that in 2011, 1.5 million acres of sunflowers were harvested nationally (this area is 16% larger than the state of Delaware and twice the size of Rhode Island), yielding 2.04 billion pounds valued at $603.6 million.
The strength of sunflower production in the US may be due in part to Patent Number 4,254,580, issued on March 10, 1981. David B. Ferguson of Fresno, CA developed an invention for “Production of sunflower seeds in increased yields,” which was assigned to David & Sons, Inc., also of Fresno. The USPTO considers the invention to be one of multicellular living organisms and unmodified parts thereof and related processes, and more specifically, a method of using a plant or plant part in a breeding process which includes a step of sexual hybridization, and most specifically, a method of breeding involving a genotypic or phenotypic marker. You will find these inventions in classification 800/266.
Ferguson’s Claim 1 says:
“1. A process for the production of sunflower seeds in increased yields comprising: 
(a) planting in a growing area a plurality of seeds capable of forming Helianthus annuus sunflower plants which are physiologically self-compatible and possess homozygous f genes, said planting being carried out in the substantial absence of seeds capable of forming Helianthus annuus sunflower plants which are physiologically self-incompatible and/or lack homozygous f genes, whereby said seeds germinate to form sunflower plants, and seeds are formed on said sunflower plants as a result of self-pollination, said f genes having the ability to facilitate the formation of parenchyma cells between floret anthers which allow the anthers to become substantially non-fused following pollen dehiscence thereby making possible a greater degree of self-pollination with concomitant increased seed formation, and 
(b) harvesting said resulting seeds formed on said sunflower plants.”
Translating, the invention provides a novel and highly effective technique for enhancing the production of sunflower seeds via an agricultural process wherein a greater proportion of the florets which make up the sunflower are effectively pollinated.
Found in the patentECO Agriculture Index, along with other yield enhancement innovations, you can remember Ferguson’s contribution to you snack of sunflower seeds.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Prior Art from the Silver Screen

Prior Art From the Movies

In 1977, George Lucas released Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, forever changing the special effects industry and the public’s expectations of SFX in movies.
Episode IV was set on the fictional desert planet of Tatooine. These deserts contained scattered agricultural outposts. Wikipedia describes them thus:
Moisture farms are small agricultural settlements found in the deserts of Tatooine that utilize a large amount of moisture collecting devices spread over a wide area to harvest water from the relatively dry air of the planet. Luke Skywalker spent his early years living with his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru on a moisture farm. Moisture farmers harvest water vapour from the atmosphere, and use it to grow crops in underground hydroponic labs.”
Here is a movie still showing Luke and a moisture vaporator:
Fast forward 34 years. On January 11, 2011 Jan Vetrovec and Katerina Vetrovec of Larkspur, CO were issued Patent Number 7,866,176 for an “Autonomous water source.” Assigned to Aqwest LLC, also of Larkspur, the patent is classified as 62/235.1, which places it with other refrigeration inventions that subject a material to the sun’s heat energy. This invention is found within the patentECO Water Index.
Claim 1 states:
“An autonomous water source apparatus for extracting water vapor from atmospheric air to produce liquid water comprising;
a housing;
a closure to selectively open said housing to communicate with outside atmosphere or restrict said housing from outside atmosphere;
a sorption medium inside said housing;
a condenser forming a wall of said housing, said condenser adapted for rejecting heat in real-time to environment outside said housing;
a heat transfer element for heating said sorption medium;
a passageway for delivering condensed liquid water to the exterior of said housing;
said sorption medium and said condenser each being constructed and arranged for communication therebetween by a closed natural convection loop of air flow inside said housing;
said natural convection loop being operated by addition of heat from said sorption medium and removal of heat by said condenser.”
The Vetrovecs’ invention extracts atmospheric water through an adsorption-desorption-condensation cycle using a sorbent material to extract moisture from ambient air and condensing the water vapor driven off from that material by subsequent heating, followed by condensation. The condensed is collected and delivered by gravity to a plant to reduce thermal stress and to support growth. The invention is envisioned to provide, according to the abstract, “a sustainable source of irrigation water for agriculture and forestry, including areas where no water resources exist or are not economically viable. It can be tailored in size, and therefore, output capacity, reflecting the desired water requirements of a particular application, and can be used to replace most agricultural situations now reliant on surface water drip feed systems. The device is simple, rugged, invulnerable to rain, snow, and freezing conditions, and can be designed to last for many years without service as there are few moving parts and power required for operation is provided by sunlight.”
Here is a representative figure from the patent:
This is certainly not the first invention foreshadowed by movie fiction. eReaders, tablet computers, and iPads were also described in an even earlier science fiction classic — “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

Our New Favorite Video - Corning's Willow Glass

Corning unveiled the new Willow Glass Mon., June 4; Dipak Chowdhury, head of Corning’s ultra-flexible thin-glass project Willow will deliver a presentation on the technology at the Society for Information Display’s Display Week 2012 conference in Boston.

Flexible Glass!!  Aside from making thinner displays for our growing portfolio of electronic gadgets, flexible glass can be used for a range of photovoltaic uses - solar panels, OLED lighting, and more.

And, it's cheaper to make than traditional LCD technology so it will help reduce the costs of smartphones and our gizmos.

This is Clean Technology.

Enjoy the video.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Magical Adventure in London

Researchers at the Science Museum in London are embarking on a magical journey to try to build Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine, the computational machine he invented in 1831.  The Analytical Engine is a mechanical device designed to handle mathematical computation.

The researchers are planning a 10 year, multi-million dollar (pounds really) adventure to take the blueprints of the various iterations of Mr. Babbage's invention and try to figure out how to actually build it.  The effort will include some crowd-sourced review of scanned copies of his drawings to seek suggestions from the public on the effort.

What is exciting about a project like this is the ability to see how the inventor's thinking about his invention evolved.  I have always been fascinated about the deep thinking of inventors and the convergence of how inventors invent and serendipitous discovery, serendipitous discovery being the ah ha moment or the discovery of something you didn't know you were looking for in the first place.  How did his ideas evolve, how did he change the way he described them - to himself.  How did Mr. Babbage translate his thinking onto paper?  Did his notes provide a road map to his discovery?  In today's digital age with a tendency to just keep modifying the same digital artifacts, do we lose that path to envision another's thought process?

One of the best narratives on Charles Babbage and his analytical inventions and his collaboration with Augusta Ada Kind, Countess of Lovelace can be found in James Gleick's, "The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood." 

For the patent cognoscenti out there, it's interesting to consider how this clearly physical mechanical device, designed to handle algorithmic math complete with its physical input media, might be considered in light of business methods patents, patentability of algorithms, and the "it's not patentable if you can do it with a piece of paper and a pencil" argument in today's electrical computational discipline arena.