Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Perception - IP Is Hot But Incorrect

Last night, following the untimely death of Willie Ray, Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson's mother on The Closer, TNT's Perception took its turn at presenting a crime drama with an intellectual property twist.

In a nutshell an evil but brilliant terrorist-killer-farmer robbed of his family farm by an evil agribusiness was killing a group of executives and their associates with saran gas sent to them in the mail. (According to the plot line, easy to do with chemicals commonly found on a farm - perhaps TNT can post the formula on line on their fan pages.)  The main character in the show, Dr. Daniel Pierce, an eccentric professor of neuroscience struggling with schizophrenia, is exchanging messages with the terrorist-killer-farmer which leads him on the trail to the killer and the truth about the patent-copyright-IP conspiracy.

The twist had to do with a university professor, a colleague of Dr. Pierce, helping the evil agribusiness create a new strain of genetically modified corn with unintended consequences.  The corn's seed flies through the air to neighboring farms and "replaces" the  corn on the unsuspecting farmer's farms growing without the farmer's knowledge.  Then the evil agribusiness sues the unsuspecting farmer for - ready for this - copyright infringement on their patents for the altered genes and using their seed. (Sound familiar?)

It was particularly poignant that this show was aired on a day of news reports on the internet and on the old school HD cable channels on the Apple/Samsung patent case with lots of newly minted IP pundits sharing their wisdom on the patent system and how this all should work.  The pundits  appeared to have as much understanding of the patent system as the sleuths on Perception.  The commentary featured the standard fare of hackneyed pontificating:  The patent system is broken.  Consumers should decide which features are important and everyone should be able to use the patents of the things consumers like.  Can't we just share?  Patents stifle innovation.  Blah, blah, blah.

On Perception Dr. Pierce rants about evil corporations and their patents (or copyrighted patents or some other nonsense.)  The bad guys talk about how the evil agribusiness knew the seeds were on the move and were waiting to swoop in an rob the unsuspecting farmers of their farms by suing them for copyrighted patent infringement. (I kid you not.)  No doubt someone on the production staff read an article about Monsanto and decided it was a good plot line for a crime procedural on genetically modified seed.  Clearly they didn't understand how inventions, patents, copyrights or trade secrets work, but who expects script writers to worry about the facts.

The content of Perception is as dubious as TNT's presentation of the impact of schizophrenia  In Dr. Pierce's world, schizophrenics have helpful live in aids to help them through the day, have high paying careers as tenured college professors, are visited by helpful hallucinations that help them solve crimes.  An idealized and oversimplified vision of mental illness and how it impacts people's lives.

The IP-copyright-patent on the farm presentation of the way intellectual property works is just as dubious and just as uninformed.  Idealized and oversimplified with "fix the patent system" as the mantra as the heros fade into the sunset.

In short - neither TNT's presentation of the issues surrounding schizophrenia nor those about patents (which quite frankly IP is not nearly as important as the compelling issues surrounding needing better treatments for mental illness) are uninformed and not helpful.  But, then, it's just a TV show.

The 2012 Business Methods Partnership Meeting

USPTO hosted the 2012 Annual Business Methods Partnership Meeting at its Alexandria, VA headquarters on July 26th. This 13th meeting in the brought together IP attorneys, financial, research, internet, and technology organizations, analysts, and patent examiners to learn about recent developments in the world of business methods intellectual property from the USPTO’s perspective. The afternoon meeting opened with remarks by Greg Vidovich, Technology Center (TC) 3600 Director and by Teresa Rea, Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO.

Mr. Vidovich followed with an update on operations within TC 3600 over the past year. Mr. Vidovich's portfolio in TC 3600 covers Transportation, Construction, Electronic Commerce, Agriculture inventions.

Filings for business methods appear to be on track to be comparable to those in 2011.

There are 315 examiners in TC3600 who handle business methods patents, not including those presently in training.

Allowance rates for business methods inventions seem to be up slightly this fiscal year, currently at about 26 percent (26%).

The pendency data he presented (through mid–2012) showed about 39 months pendency to issue or abandonment (vs 43 months in 2011), and about 19 months for pendency to first action (vs 27 months in 2011).

Vidovich made a couple of key operational points.

Business Methods Patents Can Be Found In Many Places

First not all "business method-type" claims are classified in Class 705. This class accepts only computer-implemented processes related to e-commerce, the internet and data processing involving finance, business practices, management or cost/price determination.
A number of other classes accept subject matter that is quite similar to the “business methods” formally found in class 705.

The number of patents and other classes where Business Methods patents are featured at Way Better Patents Business Methods Patent Snapshot.

Level the Subject Matter and More Outreach

The second important operational point was that in his new role as TC Director, a role he took over from Wynn Coggins, now Director of Tech Center 2800,  is that Patent Examiners are encouraged to look for a way to level the subject matter.  Basically come to agreement about what the invention is with the applicant.  Mr. Vidovich  is pushing examiners to be proactive and early in their outreach to applicants - he is a big fan of phone interviews between examiners and applicants and believes that more outreach will lead to higher quality patents, and potentially quicker final dispositions.  USPTO is seeking more ways to use video teleconferencing to make these exchanges more productive.

Next Up

The impact of the switch to the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) for business methods patents.  Since business methods patents aren't patentable in Europe, this represents a new subject matter for USPTO's European counterparts.  It also provides a good example of how the new classification impacts classification for examiners and the patent cognoscenti.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Periodic Table View of the World

The Disappearing Spoon - the periodic table as a historical yarn.  The latest Way Better Patents Reading List selection.

Many of us live in the world of the electrical and the mechanical with our wireless devices, semiconductors, internal combustion engines and wind turbines but sometimes we need to delve into the world of the chemical which means we need to understand the Periodic Table.

The Disappearing Spoon takes a tour of the periodic table in a journalistic fashion that's readable for those who just passed high school chemistry or who are organic chem practitioners in their real life.  Maybe if the high school exploration of the periodic table included Sam Kean's, The Disappearing Spoon more people would be scientists.  When I finished reading this one, I had the "eureka moment" where I finally got it.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean — A book for those of us who just couldn't get the periodic table until now.

Please send us your favorite IP articles, blogs, books to feedback@waybetterpatents.com and we'll add them to the list.

(We added the link to buy the books at Amazon for two reasons - the pictures of the covers look good and if you buy one of the books from the link on, Amazon pays us a little change.  This helps us keep our product cost low. ) 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

New-Old Batteries

A research team headed by Hongjie Dai of Stanford University recently announced "[a]n ultrafast nickel–iron battery from strongly coupled
inorganic nanoparticle/nanocarbon hybrid materials" in the journal Nature Communications. The researchers developed inorganic nanoparticles coupled with carbon nanotubes and graphene to use as the electrodes. They claimed to increase charging and discharging rates by a factor of almost 1,000 over traditional Ni-Fe batteries. Their new battery can be charged in about two minutes and discharged in 30 seconds. They envision application of the battery in electric vehicles. Their prototype is a one-volt battery that can power a flashlight.
The announcement was picked up by Agence France-Presse, whose article pointed out that Thomas Edison and fellow inventor Waldemar Jungner originally developed this type of battery more than one hundred years ago, with the intent of powering the electric cars of that era. Losing favor in the 1920s due to the decline of electric cars in favor of more powerful and versatile gasoline engine autos, the batteries maintained a position as a power source for railroads, mines, and other industries. Today they can be found associated with solar and wind power electricity storage.
Edison's first patent for his nickel-iron battery was issued as patent number US678,722 on July 16, 1901. It is fascinating reading, giving insight to the methodical experimentation that was in large part responsible for the successes of the "Wizard of Menlo Park." As an aside, Edison was one of the most prolific US inventors of all time. He was awarded 1,093 US patents, filed an estimated 500-600 patent applications that were not granted as patents or were abandoned, and received more than 1,200 non-US patents over the course of his 1868-1931 inventive career (source: Edison's Patents, Rutgers University, http://edison.rutgers.edu/patents.htm). Edison believed his nickel iron batteries could operate for 100 years. In 2011 US researcher Peter DeMar successfully rejuvenated to a usable state 85 year-old Ni-Fe cells manufactured by Edison. The accompanying photo shows Edison holding one of his Ni-Fe batteries.
Recent patenting activity in this portion of the patentECO Energy Index includes two US patent applications (12/603,945 filed October 22, 2009; and 12/910,247, filed October 22, 2010) from inventor Kan-Sen Chou and colleagues. These applications cover a manufacturing method for battery electrodes, and a composite electrode material -- both applications pertain to Ni-Fe battery technology.
As with many inventions in the clean tech arena, these are incremental improvements to old technologies to increase efficiencies, yields, streamline manufacturing methods, or reduce pollution and/or use of hazardous materials.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Way Better Patents Reading List - Start With Tabasco

Inventions, Inventors, Innovation, and Intellectual Property.  There are lots of good reads that focus on inventions and the patentsphere.  Some are technical, some add to the discourse on what's wrong in the patentsphere, some are children's books which cut to the chase on how inventions work and what's cool about inventors, and then there are novels that have a patent or invention theme.   We have a list of our favorites at Way Better Patents.  We've read them all.  So here a few posts on some of our favorites.  Check out the rest of the list.  There's also a link on the page so you can send us your good IP reads or email us at feedback@waybetterpatents.com.

McIlhenny's Gold: How a Louisiana Family Built the Tabasco Empire by Jeffrey Rothfeder — The tale of Tabasco sauce, one of the great inventions of all time.  It's a fascinating and heavily researched historical view of how Tabasco Sauce came to be and the tale of it's patent, and the way a product went from a local specialty to global hot sauce dominance.  Make sure to read the part about the secret ingredient in the US Patent 107,701 “Improvement on Pepper-Sauce” granted on September 27, 1870.

For you cooking junkies, you might just be able to make the famous sauce yourself but not without reading Mr. Rothfeder's book.

(We added the link to buy the books at Amazon for two reasons - the pictures of the covers look good and if you buy one of the books from the link on, Amazon pays us a little change.  This helps us keep our product cost low. ) 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Riding With Cleantech Business Methods

I recently received an offer notice for “one-way car service to either Dulles International or Reagan National airport by Enviroride, a leader in green limousine and sedan services.” They promise that riders will have “[l]ower stress and stay stylish … [w]ith the assistance of a professional driver … your travel-day anxiety (and your carbon footprint), will decrease substantially.” The notice didn’t indicate any means by which this service will decrease one’s “carbon footprint” — after all, you are still using a carbon-based fuel vehicle in a point-to-point mode from your departure location to the airport, or vice versa. The company’s web page, however, states that EnviroRide “is an environmentally responsible personal transportation company in [the] Baltimore and Washington DC Metropolitan Area. With time, the entire EnviroRide vehicle fleet will be fueled by alternative fuel with the first cars using emission reducing and electric hybrid technology.”

OK, fair enough. I’m curious about the business aspects of the service, and how they relate to clean tech.

The company’s web site accepts online reservations, which are found in Way Better Patents Exchanging Money for Stuff business methods group, with overlap into Minding the Store (which includes scheduling your ride).

Suppose you and several colleagues use the service to pick you up from the office to head out on a cross-country business trip. If you coordinated the schedule of your project team with your company’s internal calendar-based scheduling software, you entered the realm of the Planning an Innovation group of business methods patents. Because you are coordinating multiple people for your trip to comply with your company’s policies to reduce individual travel as a means of meeting its Clean Tech Vision 2020 goals and policies, you’ve automatically used patentECO innovations.

Oh, one last aspect. The email offer notice with a reduced price coupon I received? Also a business method (and it’s cleantech for having been sent via email rather than surface snail mail delivered by carbon-spewing vehicles) found in the Way Better Patents Marketing, Selling, Evangelizing business methods group.

Business methods patents, although frequently maligned (“software shouldn’t be patented, it should be free”), help to encourage innovation, and protect important intellectual property components of our market-based economy, and they directly support clean tech.

Image source: LimousinesWorld.com

Monday, July 16, 2012

Here's a Scary One - RIM to Mformation -$8 a Device

According to the latest on Research in Motion's latest patent crisis, the firm owes Mformation, a manufacture of technology to manage devices remotely, $8.00 for each of the 18.4 million units that the jury decided infringed Mformation's patent.  The patent has the same feel as the Amazon One Click patent that was dislodged by the on-demand remote control.  It looks really novel when you read the patent but it has this vibe that says, I've seen this before.  But the jury has spoken.

We are generally not fans of patent  infringement decisions on the value an infringed patent's worth.  One of the great patent litigators of all time once told me while we were getting ready to go to trial,  " just remember, these patent cases are being decided by the Bingo Ladies because they are the only ones who can take the time off to sit in a court room  for days and listen to this stuff."  Here is an example of the jury deciding and the rest of us shaking our heads.

FOSS Patents has a nice discussion of the issues.

Lightning as an Energy Source?

A recent article at RealClearScience.com entitled “Could We Harness Lightning as an Energy Source?” provided estimates of the energy contained in lightning (An average bolt of lightning, striking from cloud to ground, contains roughly one billion (1,000,000,000) joules of energy), energy usage in US households, the annual number of lightning strikes in the US, and concluded that only about 0.6% of US households could be fully powered by lightning in the country. The author summarized engineering limitations of converting lightning to useful electricity, and concluded, “Sadly, it is completely, utterly unfeasible to use lightning for electricity.”
One of the fundamental bases for patentable inventions in the US is defined in Chapter 35 Section 101 of the US Code.
“Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.”
Inventions meet the “useful” criterion if they provide an identifiable benefit and are capable of use. An invention must work in order to receive a patent.
US Patent 8,045,314 
The blog article conclusion quoted above is incorrect in light of US Patent 8,045,314 issued on October 25, 2011. For the patent to have been issued, the examiner must have made a determination that it meets the requirements of 35 USC 101, including that the invention will work (i.e, it is not “completely, utterly unfeasible”).
The patent provides a “Method of atmospheric discharge energy conversion, storage and distribution”, was awarded to Effiong Etukudo Ibok of Sunnyvale, CA and assigned to The Travis Business Business Group, Inc. The USPTO considers the invention to be an electrical system or device that uses charge generating or conducting to modify an environmental electric charge. We place this patent in the patentECO Energy Index.
The patent’s first claim states:
“A method of converting an atmospheric electrical discharge into a useable form of electrical energy comprising deflecting the discharge to an air terminal via one or more separate air terminals of a polarity, the air terminal having an opposite polarity to the polarity of the separate air terminals;
arresting the discharge via the air terminal to a power mitigating (step down) unit via a conducting unit connected to the air terminal;
wherein said power mitigating unit is not a transformer, reducing voltage of the discharge via the power mitigating unit modulated according to a capacity of the power mitigating unit, wherein the discharge is grounded if in excess of the capacity, and wherein the power mitigating unit reduces the voltage of the discharge from approximately higher than 100 MV (mega volt) and 100 kA (kilo amperes) to below 20 kV (kilo volt), 10 kA;
and storing the discharge with the reduced voltage in an energy storage unit connected to the power mitigating unit, the storage unit comprising modules of high energy density capacitors and the storage unit discharging the electrical energy into a power grid or to an appliance.”
The background of the invention provides this nugget:
“Lightning strikes every part of the globe but not uniformly. The regions with the highest historical concentration of lightning strikes . . . include Florida and the Gulf Coast in the Americas, the Equatorial Highlands of DRC, Rwanda and Burundi in Central Africa and the Monsoon Belt in Asia. 
Except for the Americas, typically, these regions have very little electricity infrastructure. With the capability disclosed here, substantial reserves of electricity can be generated, stored and possibly traded.”
Thus, the inventor’s purpose is to provide a renewable energy source to developing nations that lack the electrical infrastructure and reserves of the US (and whose households would use a small fraction of the electricity consumption of US households).

This invention, issued by the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program, is not the first of its kind. It cites 10 other patents as prior art, the first of which (US Patent 911,260) was issued to Walter Pinnock of Philadelphia in 1909 (157 years after Ben Franklin’s famous kite experiment in the same city). Pinnock, like recent inventor Ibok, provided a lightning collection mechanism and a storage unit (a battery in his case, ultracapacitors in Ibok’s). Both inventors sought to harness a renewable energy source. The illustrations are from Ibok’s and Pinnock’s patents.
The ability to successfully commercialize a patent is a far different venture than inventing a process or mechanism that is useful — that works.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Multitudinous Hybrid Vehicle

A Multitudinous Hybrid Vehicle

A recent search turned up 2,137 US patents with the words “hybrid vehicle” in the title or abstract; these span the years from 1971-2012. At least one of these inventions is a multi-mode, multi-power source vehicle.
Patent Number 7,398,841, “Vehicle power assist by brake, shock, solar, and wind energy recovery,” was issued to Jay Stephen Kaufman of Kingston, NH on July 15, 2008. The patent is classified as 180/2.2, placing it in a class for motor vehicles, and with inventions whose motor is supplied with power from an external source, with that source comprising or including energy derived from a force of nature (e.g., sun, wind). 143 other inventions share this classification; the earliest (209,862) was issued in November 1878 to John Cook (Kirkwood, IL) for “Improvement in Wind-Engines”, his invention consisting of “construction and arrangement of a wind-power for stationary or moving machinery or other purposes . . .” This was basically a windmill on a moving vehicle.

Returning to the ‘841 patent, claim 1 states:
“A method for recovering, storing and transferring energy dissipated by a vehicle, comprising the steps of:
driving a wind energy recovery means by differential pressure between air impacting said vehicle and air in selected wake regions of said vehicle, and by air flow through said recovery means due to said differential pressure, transferring liquefied air from a source external to said vehicle to a liquefied air storage means connected to said vehicle, producing additional liquefied air by a liquefier means driven by said wind energy recovery means, cooling atmospheric air drawn from around said vehicle with said liquefied air and said additional liquefied air in a heat exchange means connected to said vehicle, while producing vaporized liquefied air and cooled atmospheric air, pressurizing said cooled atmospheric air by a cryogenic compression means driven by said wind energy recovery means to produce compressed atmospheric air, and transferring any excess liquefied air from said vehicle.”
Inventor Kaufman wants to provide:
  • Systems for recovering energy dissipated by a motor vehicle, as well as solar radiation.
  • Systems for storage, transfer, and efficient consumption of recovered energy.
  • A prime mover capable of burning renewable fuel with improved emissions.
The features that provide these systems include:
  • An energy recovery transmission for recovery of vehicle deceleration energy by compression of atmospheric air.
  • Energy recovery shock absorbers with cryogenic cooling for efficient compression of atmospheric air.
  • An energy recovery turbine to drive an atmospheric air compressor.
  • An energy recovery solar-electric panel to drive an atmospheric air compressor. Energy is recovered during parking, stopping and driving of a vehicle.
  • Providing air compression and liquefied air storage of recovered energy, plus capability to transfer liquefied air between vehicles or between vehicles and stationary sites. In addition, air compression provides vehicle braking assist.
  • On-board vehicle air liquefier to liquefy suitably pure atmospheric air.
  • A compact and efficient gas turbine prime mover.
  • A quasi-isothermal liquefied air expander for urban driving.
  • Providing a gas turbine/air expander with virtual compression to power a hybrid vehicle.
This means we have a compressed air energy storage, regenerative braking and transmission deceleration and shock absorbing, solar-electric, gas turbine, methanol fueled hybrid vehicle.
I shudder to think about the repair bills.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Eco-Friendly Car Service

Today Google Offers sent an offer for an environmentally friendly car service.  Which immediately raised questions about whether this was a clean technology innovation or simply a marketing program to draw in environmentally conscious travelers who don't like public transportation but want to be "green."

Enviroride's social responsibility page notes, that, "EnviroRide works with carbon neutral companies which fight against global warming and help reduce or offset their climate impact and hasten the transition to a clean energy future. EnviroRide buys carbon off sets points equivalent to number of cars used and miles traveled by each car every year from these companies, which in turn invest in following green projects."

Among their goals is to, "encourage and help local transportation operators to use Eco-friendly cars with the help of Marriott International and create more green jobs."  It's not clear if this is creating green jobs but this is an interesting business model supported by a major global organization that has a pretty robust green agenda.

Marriott International (NYSE:MAR) has been on the Newsweek list of top Green companies since 2009.  The firm aggressively looks for ways to "green" its $10B+ supply chain, it's program have reduced fuel and water consumption by 25 percent per available room; creating green construction standards for hotel developers to achieve LEED® certification from the U.S. Marriott International continues to develop eco-friendly operations around the globe.  Its most recent announcement highlights its environmentally friendly endeavors that both improve sustainability while improving financial performance.

The Enviroride experience extends the green experience from the airport to the hotel and around town.  This is a clean and sustainable business model.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

WIPO Is Busy Helping Iran and North Korea

For a while there have been rumblings about computers being sent from WIPO to Iran and North Korea with assistance from the UN.  Today the documents that confirm the portfolio of equipment sent to Iran were released showing that not only did they get lots of high powered equipment but that WIPO was concerned about cyber security so they added 20 copies of Norton Internet Security Software to the mix.  After all, intellectual property issues in Iran and North Korea are a very pressing concern and you don't want all those confidential inventions to be stolen via the internet.  

There are a couple of basic questions that beg to be answered.  First, the documents show that the transactions have been percolating since 2009 - three years.  What took so long?  Didn't HP notice that their equipment was being sent to Iran and North Korea?  When the equipment was installed, with its fine internet security, didn't anyone notice what network the servers were coming from?

WIPO has a lot of explaining to do.  The documents make for some interesting reading.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Ray-Gun for Crop Pests

A Ray-Gun for Crop Pests

This is a serious invention, but I can’t get a vision of “The Far Side” out of my mind.
“Microwave system and method for controlling the sterilization and infestation of crop soils” was patented by William T. Joines of Durham, NC on October 13, 2009. Given Patent Number 7,601,936 by the USPTO, it is classified as 219/695 for electric heating using microwave heating with a waveguide applicator and an input power port arrangement.
Given the rather longish first claim, we’ll get the gist of this invention from its abstract:
“The method and the system are applicable in farming activities, pest control, industry, agriculture, forestry, etc. for controlling insects and other plant pests from crops. The system performing the method comprises a source of lethal impact which is a microwave generator with a microwave guiding element directed so as to infested soil. The microwave energy is transferred from a microwave generator into the pests located in the desired soil location, killing the plant insects and pests.”
A member of the patentECO Agriculture Index family of patents, this innovative use of microwave technology may help to improve crop yields by reducing (permanently) soil infestations of insects, grubs, and other pests.
For an approach to furry underground pests, check out the Rodenator web site and videos. I’ve spoken with someone who has observed one of those bad boys up close and personal, and he said it’s really something. The groundhogs were less of a problem after that.
Gary Larsen, you retired much too soon.