Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Clean Green Chemistry

The Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) defines green chemistry (also called sustainable chemistry) as,

"the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances. Green chemistry applies across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture, and use."

Green chemistry technologies provide a number of benefits, including:
  • reduced waste, eliminating costly end-of-the-pipe treatments
  • safer products
  • reduced use of energy and resources
  • improved competitiveness of chemical manufacturers and their customers.
The USPTO’s Green Technology Pilot Program has, unsurprisingly, issued patents for green chemistry inventions. One of these was granted to George Hoag (Bloomfield, CT) and three co-inventors in April 2010. Their invention, “Green synthesis of nanometals using plant extracts and use thereof”, is assigned to VeruTEK Technologies, Inc. Patent US 8,057,682, found in Way Better Patents’ Industry Index provides, per Claim 1

A method for reducing the concentration of a contaminant in a medium, comprising:
combining a metal nanoparticle with the medium;
introducing a plant-based surfactant into the medium;
and allowing the metal nanoparticle to reduce the concentration of or stimulate biological reduction of the concentration of the contaminant.
Subsequent claims describe Hoag et al.’s method for producing the metal nanoparticles. Plant extracts are used in the process; these can include “tea extract, green tea extract, coffee extract, lemon balm extract, sorghum bran, sorghum bran extract, polyphenolic flavonoid, flavonoid, flavonol, flavone, flavanone, isoflavone, flavans, flavanol, anthocyanins, proanthocyanins, carotenoids, catechins, quercetin, rutin, and combinations” (Claim 4). They are “obtained from a waste product selected from the group consisting of fruit juice pulp, fruit juice manufacturing wastewater, fruit juice manufacturing waste, food processing waste, food processing byproduct, wine manufacturing waste, beer manufacturing waste, and forest product processing waste” (Claim 5).

The contaminants to be reduced? They include “perchlorate, nitrate, and combinations” (claim 15), or heavy metals or their compounds, including mercury, nickel, silver, cadmium, chromium, and arsenic (claim 16).

And the substances to be cleaned? They include “biologically contaminated material, soil, groundwater, water, wastewater, air, and combinations” (Claim 19).

Not limited to cleaning contaminated solutions, one of the inventors’ embodiments

provides devices comprising a metal nanoparticle prepared according to any of the methods disclosed herein. The device can be, for example, a medical diagnostic test, a medical material such as a bandage, a targeted drug delivery vehicle, a chemical synthesis system, a pollution control or monitoring device, a fuel cell, and an electronic device.
Pollution control, heavy metal removal, medical diagnostics, bandages, drug delivery, chemical synthesis, fuel cells, and electronic devices. In part from fruit juice pulp, food processing waste, wine manufacturing waste, beer manufacturing waste, or forest product processing waste.

That’s a very clean green invention.

This invention contains a ‘Government Interest’ statement indicating a research agreement between 
VeruTEK Technologies, Inc. (Bloomfield, CT), the patent's assignee and EPA. 
"This invention was made with the support of the United States Government as indicated in a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (EPA Case No. 755–09). The Government has certain rights in the invention."

VeruTEK Technologies, founded in 2006,  is one of the Young Guns featured in the Way Better Patents Discover and Analysis Report.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Some Thoughts on Inventors as Lexographers

Inventor Lexographer

On New Words

'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.

On Words and Inventions

"...a patentee or applicant is free to be his or her own lexicographer, a patentee or applicant may use terms in a manner contrary to or inconsistent with one or more of their ordinary meanings if the written description clearly redefines the terms."
USPTO Manual of Patent Examination

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Secret Language of Patents

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 words in novel and inconsistent ways.
— The Difficulty of Forming a Clear Conception: The Telegraph. Harpers Magazine 366, 1873

A Glossary of USPTO's Terms of Art

This is a glossary of the terms the USPTO has defined within the US Patent Classification System — The USPC.
USPTO's Own Patent Argot 
USPTO uses these words to define what the specific term means in the context of the classifications. There are also terms of art — a term that has a specialized meaning in a particular chemical, electrical, or mechanical scientific or engineering domain. Within the current US Patent Classification system a word can have a different meaning depending on the area of invention that it resides in. There are three different definitions for the word "Active" — one that pertains to pharmacology and biology; one that relates to plant growth; and a third that deals with an "active database." There are five definitions of "Acylic", three for "Address Data"; five for "Alkali Metals", and we aren't even out of the A's yet.
For people who aren' patent cognoscenti, finding the specific definitions for particular terms in your industry or one you want to explore can be difficult. So we assembled all of the definitions in one place. Here all of the terms are presented in alphabetical order along with the class from which we harvested the definition. The USPC Glossary enables you to browse all of the different definitions for the same term in one place and see what the specific patent class is where the definition is used.
Cooperative Patent Classification SystemUSPTO and their colleagues at the European Patent Office (EPO) are moving to a new the Cooperative Patent Classification System (CPC). Our classification experts are on the job builidng tools to help you transition from the USPC to the CPC. As the Cooperative Patent Classification system evolves, we will add any new or different definitions that arise to assist you in making the transition to the new classification system. We will also seeing if there are differences that warrant thinking about inventions in a new way in order to look for an find prior art. The change in classification philosophy from classifying based on the claim to classifying the invention in light of the claim is probably going to require a different perspective in the hunt for prior art.
We hope this is a helpful tool for exploring the patentsphere.
A | B | C-CL | CM-CZ | D-DIM | DIM-DZ | E | F | G | H | I | J-K L | M-MET | METH-MZ | N | P-PHA | PHE-PON | POR-PZ | Q | R | S-SEPA | SEPO-SMT | SN-STEMSTEP-SZ | T-TOG | TON-TZ | U | V | W | X-Z |
A Caveat
The Definitions were taken verbatim from the USPC Class Definitions. We are in the process of integrating the images that help explain the definitions. They should be available shortly, If you would like to see the rest of the information about a particular class, just use the link next to the definition an it will take you to USPTO USPC digital repository.

Friday, October 26, 2012

On The Railroad Redux

The Inkling's October 9, 2012 post was about patent US 8,117,969, a BNSF Railway patent for “Hydrogen fuel cell hybrid locomotives,” issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office in February 2012.  Way Better Patents took a macro view of the patent and the invention, describing the major types of railroad locomotives and the petroleum and electricity used by US locomotives. 
On October 15, 2012, David Gibbs, a contributor to Eric Lane’s Green Patent Blog posted an article on the very same patent. Gibbs provides a micro treatment, emphasizing the business aspects of BNSF, describing where the new hybrid locomotive was tested and how it might be used in BNSF’s system.

The Clean Tech universe benefits when information about important innovations that have the potentially to be transformational are disseminated to as broad an audience as possible.

The Commercialization Conundrum

One of the longest segments in the innovation continuum is the commercialization phase - how you a turn an invention into a patent and a patent into a product.  Or more bluntly, how do you use a patent to exchange money for stuff - the commercialization conundrum.

Inventors, entrepreneurs, investors and technology transfer professionals all need to answer important questions about the business model to get an invention to the marketplace.  There are lots of complex models analyzing different aspects of the product cycle, venture capital funding, sales and marketing and pricing but they are often at odds with the real world thinking that needs to go into creating a successful venture.

This week's book presents a framework for thinking about the business model - all aspects of the business model - who is the customer, not just one customer but all of the possible customers?  What is the market (or markets)?  Which market is most important? What are  all the aspects of the revenue cycle - the exchanging stuff for money part - and perhaps most importantly defining the value proposition -  why is this innovation-based product/venture better than what's out there now and how will it succeed?  Defining the value proposition is often the hardest part for the inventor and technology transfer and commercialization pros who have been steeped in the science and technology and the excitement of discovery.  Commercialization is about getting someone else to see the vision and doing all the things that it takes to deliver innovation to the market place.  This book will help you think about your invention and what you should do with it.  (And it's easy to read and has lots of places for making your own innovative doodles in the margins.)

Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur — One of the chinks in the innovation continuum is the execution of good commercialization strategies that turn patents into products. Business Model Generation gives readers a way to think about what it is they are selling, who is going to buy it and what the value proposition is. Technology transfer pros and innovation entrepreneurs will find this an easy-to-use tool to refine and develop real commercialization plans.

See the Way Better Patents intellectual property and patent Reading List here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Transportation Cleantech - Ships

Ship Fore Nozzle

US ships and boats, not including military vessels, used 626,000 barrels (26.3 million gallons) of petroleum per day in 2010 according to USDOE statistics (its EERE office, referred to in previous posts in this short series). With an average container ship consuming about 3600 gallons per hour, fuel costs represent a major fraction of the operation of a cargo ship.

“Device for reducing the power demand for the propulsion of a ship”

This patent, US 8,123,578, was issued to Friedrich Mewis of Dresden, Germany, (assigned to Becker Marine Systems GmbH & Co., Germany), on February 28, 2012. The invention consists of a nozzle housing fins or hydrofoils; the assembly is mounted to the ship’s hull just forward of the propeller(s).

It is a passive device (other than being able to be tilted to provide proper alignment with respect to the prop). The nozzle/hydrofoil assembly operates by increasing the speed of water flow against the propeller in areas where the main flow stream is very high, and of decreasing the flow against the propeller in areas where the main stream is low. In addition, the nozzle itself provides some thrust. The fins or hydrofoils arranged within the fore-nozzle generate a rotational swirl, that serves to counteract the swirl (and resulting energy losses) imparted by the propeller. Both of these effects increase the overall efficiency of the propulsion system.

Claim 1:
A device for reducing a power demand for the propulsion of a single-propeller or multi-propeller ship, wherein the device is attached to a hull of the ship proximate to the propeller, the device comprising a fore-nozzle with fins or hydrofoils arranged within the fore-nozzle, wherein the fore-nozzle, at a top thereof, is tilted forwards relative to a horizontal transverse axis that extends through the center of the fore-nozzle, wherein the fore-nozzle is rotation-symmetrically arranged with an upwards-shifted axis that is situated above the propeller axis, and wherein the fins or hydrofoils have different lengths.
As part of his invention summary, Mewis states:
"With a device constructed in this manner it is possible to reduce the power demand for the propulsion of a ship. The possible gain increases as the extent of thrust loading on the propeller increases. The device is particularly suitable for slow, broad-built ships, such as tankers, bulk transports and tugs, and also for not-very-fast ships of any type. The device itself is affixed to the hull so that it is upstream of the propeller of the ship, with said device comprising the two functional elements of fore-nozzle and fins or hydrofoils."
He estimates that,
"[t]he power savings which can be achieved by the device depend substantially on the propeller load, they are from 3% for small multi-purpose ships to 9% for big tankers and bulkers. The power savings are almost independent of the draught of the ship and from the speed."
A potential 9% power saving for large tankers and cargo vessels translates to a significant fuel and cost savings.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Explosive Detecting Bees - Bees in a Box

It's late in the afternoon so at first we thought we just weren't reading things right.  But we were reading things right after all.  There is a new weapon for fighting terrorism - BEES.

This week's Government Interest Patent Applications  contain the pre-grant publication of patent application 13/439825:


What actually caught our eye was the application's abstract which says,
"A specialized conditioning protocol for honeybees that is designed for use within a complex agricultural ecosystem. This method ensures that the conditioned bees will be less likely to exhibit a conditioned response to uninfected plants, a false positive response that would render such a biological sensor unreliable for agricultural decision support. Also described is a superboosting training regime that allows training without the aid of expensive equipment and protocols for training in out in the field. Also described is a memory enhancing cocktail that aids in long term memory retention of a vapor signature. This allows the bees to be used in the field for longer durations and with fewer bees trained overall."
Ok.  An agricultural use for bees.  But then the Assignees include the University of California (a place with lots of agriculture) and Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), - a company formed by the University of California, Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services and URS Energy and Construction - a place known for its national security work.    The Los Alamos mission is to,
 "develop and apply science and technology to ensure safety, security and reliability of the US nucler deterrent; reduce global threats, and solve emerging national security and energy challenges."

At first we thought Killer Bees (we did watch SNL this weekend after all) but with a little internet digging around we learned that the Stealthy Insect Sensor Project at the Lab is using Pavlovian techniques (yes, the same as the rewards for the dog) to teach honeybees to signal the presence of certain explosives or chemicals by sticking out their tongues.  (No kidding.) The Bee in a Box (BiB) technology is tailored for detection of agricultural pathogens - volatile organic compounds - explosives, drugs - using special cassettes designed for use at security checkpoints to discreetly check for explosives.

And consider this - honeybees can be trained to respond to a particular scent within hours (dogs take a lot longer), and are inexpensive to reproduce and maintain.  This technology (a better word is needed here - apparatus, method, insect) may help replace or supplement the current bomb-sniffing dogs and frankly no one will shed a tear at the bee's untimely passing, plus there is no need to create Drug Bee trading cards.

In addition to explosives, the technology offers options for drug detection, identification of the presence of crop disease in a variety of agricultural settings - preventing significant loss of high value crops through early detection - and hopefully saving those chardonnay grapes from any evil invasion of crop disease.

Claim 1 is provides the basics on the invention:

1. A method for detecting agricultural volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, the method comprising: (a) training bees to exhibit a proboscis extension response when exposed to a selected volatile or semi-volatile organic compound (VOC/SVOC), the training comprising: exposing a bee to background air; exposing the bee to the selected (VOC/SVOC); and exposing the bee to said selected (VOC/SVOC) while stimulating an antennae of the bee with a sugar solution to produce a trained bee; (b) exposing the trained bee to a sample; and (c) observing a response of the trained bee to the exposure of the sample; (d) wherein the presence of the selected (VOC/SVOC) from the sample will cause the trained bee to exhibit a proboscis extension response. 
See for yourself:

Self reproducing technology.

A good find for a Monday.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Innovation – Greater Than The Sum Of Parts

A photo that could accompany the definition of “synergy”.

This Friday we bring you a post on another view on innovation, invention, and creativity.  The book list will be back next Friday.
Synergy, noun,
the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc.
“Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”
—Ray French, Charlotte Rayner, Gary Rees, Sally Rumbles, et al., Organizational Behaviour (2008)
The definition serves as a useful way to frame and ponder inventions that are awarded patents. In the current US patent system, according to the US Patent Office,
A patent is a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.
The USPTO further defines what can and cannot be patented:
What can be patented – utility patents are provided for a new, nonobvious and useful:
  • Process
  • Machine
  • Article of manufacture
  • Composition of matter
  • Improvement of any of the above
  • Note: In addition to utility patents, encompassing one of the categories above, patent protection is available for (1) ornamental design of an article of manufacture or (2) asexually reproduced plant varieties by design and plant patents.
What cannot be patented:
  • Laws of nature
  • Physical phenomena
  • Abstract ideas
  • Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works (these can be Copyright protected)
  • Inventions which are:
    • Not useful (such as perpetual motion machines); or
    • Offensive to public morality
And finally, inventions must also be:
  • Novel
  • Nonobvious
  • 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.
What are some of the characteristics of successful innovators? Inventor’s Digest lists 10 qualities identified by Lodestar:
  1. Persistence
  2. Passion and intellectual curiosity
  3. Independent minded, willingness to go against the grain
  4. Ability to recognize and combine patterns into new ideas
  5. Intuitive yet analytical with an ability to understand and interpret business data
  6. Ability to “sell” ideas and concepts
  7. Focused on the future
  8. Ability to draw on wide networks for perspective, advice and accomplishing tasks
  9. Tolerance for risk and ambiguity
  10. Willingness to fail and learn from failure
Artists, writers, and musicians share these traits. An excellent visual example of synergy, and the results of innovative qualities in a person is found in a video describing the re-creation of the poster that inspired John Lennon to write “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” from The Beatles Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album released in 1967. This is a fascinating look at the intellectual curiosity, persistence, passion, and interpretive abilities common among innovators.
Enjoy the video, at Lennon’s Poster | Cool Material or Gizmodo.
Another tune from Sergeant Pepper was featured in a previous Inkling post.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Not A Good Day for Clean Tech

October 16, 2012 Was Not A Good Day For Clean Energy Companies
The announcement by Sunpower Corporation on October 16, 2012 that it would reorganize its Philippines manufacturing operations and reduce its workforce was overshadowed by the bankruptcy announcement of A123 Systems.
Sunpower stated, in part, that
As part of this initiative, the company will temporarily idle six of the 12 lines in its Fab 2 cell manufacturing plant and 20 percent of panel manufacturing in the Philippines to significantly reduce inventory, lower operational costs and improve efficiency. As a result, the overall blended utilization for the fourth quarter will be approximately 60 percent. Additionally, the company will reduce its workforce by approximately 900 employees with the reductions occurring primarily in the Philippines.
Sunpower received five (5) solar-related patents under the US Patent Office’s (USPTO) Green Technology Pilot Program prior to its closing in early 2012. Details of these inventions may be found in Way Better Patents’ USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program Discovery and Analysis Report.
Difficult market conditions continue to plague the solar industry.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Clean Tech ICE


A significant number of transportation inventions were approved by USPTO’s Green Technology Pilot Program – many of these are for internal combustion engine (ICE) technology.

An important concern to many in these days of close to $4 per gallon (or more) gasoline is fuel economy. Inventors are rising to the challenge, as evidenced by the work of Jeffrey Yu (Honolulu, HI) and James Hill (Mission Viejo, CA). The Yu and Hill patent, US 7,983,830, is assigned to Fuel Saving Technologies, LLC.

Their invention, titled “Fuel conservation systems and methods,” provides according to claim 1:
A method, of conserving fuel used by a combustion engine powering a vehicle, comprising:
receiving as an input to an engine power module a first function comprising a user-specified power output of a combustion engine over a time duration; 
processing the first function into a second function comprising a directive power output of the engine over the time duration;  
wherein the second function has at least one region of equal or increased engine power output relative to the user-specified engine power output; 
wherein the second function has at least one region of decreased engine power output relative to the user-specified engine power output; 
wherein, when the engine outputs power equal to the directive power output of the engine over the time duration, the engine consumes less fuel than the engine would have consumed if the engine outputted power equal to the user-specified power output of the engine over the time duration; 
wherein the engine performs substantially the same amount of work under the directive power output over the time duration as the engine would perform under the user-specified power output over the time duration;  
and outputting, to an engine control module, the second function, such that the engine outputs power according to the directive power output of the engine over the time duration;  
wherein the vehicle travels continuously at substantially the same speed under the directive power output as it would under the user-specified power output.
Another add-on to your future vehicle’s computer control system. Vehicle mechanics will be converging with systems engineers as the technology that runs our vehicles converges as well.

Learn more about recent clean tech inventions in Way Better Patents’ USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program Discovery and Analysis Report.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

2012 Transportation Cleantech - Airplanes

Illustration of drag reducing aircraft fuselage

The USDOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) estimates that US aircraft consumed 1,040 thousand barrels (43.7 million gallons) of petroleum per day in 2010. This represents slightly less than eight (8) percent of the daily total transportation petroleum consumption in the country that year, and is slightly less than 25% of the daily car usage of petroleum. Still, 44 million gallons is a considerable volume, and steps to improve the fuel economy of aircraft can play a part in allowing us to more efficiently use our fossil fuel resources.

There are multiple ways of improving aircraft fuel efficiency, ranging from engine design, to flight profiles and routing (along with changes in air traffic control), to reducing the drag of the aircraft.

“System and method for drag reduction”

David T. Birkenstock of Herndon, VA was awarded patent US 8,113,466 of this title on February 14, 2012. Interestingly, this was the last day patents issued from the US Patent and Trademark Office prior to its closing the Green Technology Pilot Program two days later. Birkenstock did not take advantage of that program, which might be unfortunate, as it probably would have reduced the time from his initial filing to patent issuance by a considerable length of time.

The patent provides a fuselage design that reduces drag and allows thrust output, fuel efficiency or both to be maximized.  The rear portion of a body or motor vehicle may be modified to increase thrust output, fuel efficiency or both by creating a stagnation area, a suction inlet and a convex cusp area formed on the rear portion of the motor vehicle. Increasing the concavity or camber or sharpness of the radius of the stagnation area results in a greater local pressure coefficient, yielding greater thrust output. The size and shape of the suction inlet and the convex cusp area will also have an effect on thrust output and fuel efficiency.
Claim 1 states:
A method for increasing efficiency of an object moving through a fluid, comprising the steps of:

  • forming a convex cusp area at substantially a rear of the object;
  • extending one of a suction inlet and a blowing outlet with a convex transition portion on an end of said convex cusp area;
  • extending a stagnation area from an end of said blowing outlet, said stagnation area having a concave shape;
  • and varying a pressure thrust on said object by varying a sharpness of the convex cusp area.
Although the USPTO considers this to be an aircraft invention, Birkenstock’s claim wording, and the patent specification and drawings, show that some embodiments can include road vehicle design.  The USPTO examiners did not consider the auto sedan design aspects worthy of inclusion as cross-reference classifications, nor did they include any land vehicle classifications in their prior art searches. We include two drawings from the patent, one for an aircraft, and one for an auto sedan, showing Birkenstock’s drag reducing design concept.

Illustration of drag reducing auto sedan

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Government Interest Statements - October 11, 2012

Each week Way Better Patents publishes a list of the latest patents and patent applications that contain Government Interest Statements or include a Joint Research Agreement (JRA) statement.  The list includes the patent information, the assignees, the funding agency, and the actual statement which usually includes the contract numbers for federally funded research efforts.  The JRA statement usually identifies the parties working together on the intellectual property.

Here is a summary of published patent applications that contain a government interest statement or a joint research agreement statements for October 11, 2012.  (10/11/12)

Weekly Summary — Federal Entity

44  Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
34  Department of Defense (DOD)
24  Department of Energy (DOE)
9  National Science Foundation (NSF)
6  Small Business Administration (SBA)
3  National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
3  National Security Agency (NSA)
3  Department of Agriculture (USDA)
2  Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
1  Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
1  Department of Commerce (DOC)
1  National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA)
Subject Matter of Government Interest Patents

17  (424)  Drug, bio-affecting and body treating compositions
9  (435)  Chemistry: molecular biology and microbiology
8  (514)  Drug, bio-affecting and body treating compositions
6  (506)  Combinatorial chemistry technology: method, library, apparatus
4  (252)  Compositions
4  (600)  Surgery
3  (257)  Active solid-state devices
3  (264)  Plastic and nonmetallic article shaping or treating: processes
3  (382)  Image analysis
3  (422)  Chemical apparatus and process disinfecting, deodorizing, preserving, or sterilizing
2  (136)  Batteries: thermoelectric and photoelectric
2  (250)  Radiant energy
2  (324)  Electricity: measuring and testing
2  (356)  Optics: measuring and testing
2  (361)  Electricity: electrical systems and devices
2  (370)  Multiplex communications
2  (428)  Stock material or miscellaneous articles
2  (455)  Telecommunications
2  (700)  Data processing: generic control systems or specific applications
2  (703)  Data processing: structural design, modeling, simulation, and emulation
2  (706)  Data processing: artificial intelligence
2  (800)  Multicellular living organisms and unmodified parts thereof and related processes
This Week's Patent By Location

This week Government Interest patent grants were granted to 119 US inventors, and one (1) each from South Korea. Inventors are identified based on the residence identify of the first named inventor. The breakdown of the States of residence of the US Inventors is:

29  California
13  Massachusetts
8  Michigan
7  New York
6  Texas
5  Colorado
5  Illinois
4  Georgia
4  Maryland
4  Tennessee
3  Arizona
3  Connecticut
3  Minnesota
3  New Jersey
3  Ohio
3  Washington
3  Wisconsin
2  Oregon

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Book Store

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan is a magical novel about the quest to find things out and the nature of friendship in the new millennium.   Its interesting cast of characters joins in the search for answers to century old mysteries and more modern questions like hard cover book or ebook in the age of the Kindle, the Nook, and the iPad all the nature while seeking to solve the mystery of what is really going on in Penumbra's Bookstore in Great Recession, entrepreneurial San Francisco.

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Book Store is a good read for web designers, book lovers, seekers of traditional knowledge, the A2K crowd, typologists, book scanning enthusiast, gamers, Ruby programmers, data visualizers, googlers, virtual reality wizards, wizards, warlords, and rogues.  There is even a thread of invention and innovation woven through the tale.

And, it has a glow in the dark cover if you buy the hard copy.  (You can check it out here.)

You can see the rest of the  Way Better Patents Reading List here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Power From Travel

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both …
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
From The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost
In terms of renewable energy, the choice of the road you take could make all the difference.

Jack Shihzong Jang of Delaware, OH was granted, on April 24, 2012, patent US 8,164,204.

His invention? “Electrical generator apparatus, particularly for use on a vehicle roadway.” The invention provides
[a]n electrical generator apparatus, which is configured to convert an external actuation force applied by a vehicle traveling on a roadway into electrical energy, [and] includes
a rotatable top portion adapted to receive the external actuation force applied by the vehicle traveling on the roadway;
a plurality of linkage members operatively connected to one another in succession, the rotatable top portion being operatively coupled to a first one of the plurality of linkage members operatively connected to one another in succession;
a first wheel operatively coupled to a last one of the plurality of linkage members operatively connected to one another in succession;
a second wheel operatively coupled to the first wheel via a tangential coupling element;
a rotatable shaft operatively coupled to the second wheel;
at least one flywheel operatively coupled to the rotatable shaft;
and at least one electrical generator operatively coupled to the rotatable shaft, the electrical generator adapted to convert a rotational movement of the rotatable shaft into electrical energy. The second wheel of the electrical generator apparatus is configured to rotate at a higher angular velocity than the first wheel.
Jang desires to provide “an electrical generator apparatus … designed to capture the otherwise wasted kinetic energy of moving vehicles travelling on a roadway [providing] more efficient use of energy resources. The present invention materially contributes to the efficient utilization and conservation of petroleum-based energy resources by making better use of the energy consumed by vehicles.”

Foot powered grinding wheel
One of the patent drawings illustrates the invention. The invention is basically an in-road pedal connected to a flywheel (114 in the drawing), connected to a generator. Not much different in concept from a foot-powered grinding wheel (I remember my Granddad using one) connected to a generator. In clean tech, there really is not much new under the sun. No word on how the device will withstand being waterlogged from rain, clogged with road grit and debris, frozen with snow or ice, or scraped by the blades of snow plows. Also, no clear indication of how much electricity (e.g., current in amps, or power in watts) the device will produce, although the patent’s specification does state (drawing references removed for clarity) that
a plurality of generators wired in parallel is electrically connected to an electrical storage device. The plurality of generators produce direct current (DC) power. In a preferred embodiment, the electrical storage device comprises one or more batteries for storing the electrical energy generated by one or more electrical generator apparatuses. However, in other embodiments of the invention, a different type of electrical storage device could be employed, such as capacitors or ultracapacitors. A voltage regulator for automatically maintaining a constant voltage level is electrically connected to the electrical storage device. On its output side, the voltage regulator is electrically connected to an inverter that converts the incoming direct current (DC) from the voltage regulator into alternating current (AC) for power use. After passing through both the voltage regulator and the inverter, the output power from the electrical generator apparatuses has the same voltage and frequency as the local power grid.
Lest you think the idea for generating electrical power from the action of vehicles moving over a roadway is new, check out patents US 3,859,589 (1975), US 3892136 (1975), US 3,944,855 (1976), and US 4,004,422 (1977), all cited by the ’204 patent.

Granted under USPTO’s Green Technology Pilot Program, Jang’s patent represents an invention considered by the Office to be clean tech. Read about the Patent Office program in Way Better Patents USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program Discovery and Analysis Report.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

2012 Transportation Cleantech - Locomotives

2012 Transportation Cleantech – Part 2, Locomotives

Railroads are one of the most efficient means for transporting freight and passengers over relatively long distances. In the US, two major forms of railroad locomotive are currently in use, as pointed out by the inventors of our next patent:
Diesel-electric locomotives employ a diesel engine to drive an electric power generator, which in turn drives a set of traction motors that rotate the locomotive wheels. Diesel-electric locomotives have the advantage of requiring a minimal amount of support infrastructure and thus are particularly suited for providing transport across remote geographical regions. On the other hand, because diesel-electric locomotives consume diesel, they contribute to urban air pollution and are subject to operating costs tied directly to the cost of oil.
Catenary-electric locomotives run directly from an electricity source, typically electric lines running above the railroad tracks. Catenary-electric locomotives are cleaner-operating on a locomotive-by-locomotive basis than diesel-electric locomotives; however, catenary-electric locomotives must be viewed as small parts of a much larger distributed power system, which includes an electricity generation plant, transformers, and a system of transmission lines required to bring electricity to the locomotives as they run down the tracks. This large distributed power system is typically unsuitable for remove geographic regions and overall is less efficient than a system utilizing diesel locomotives.
Back to the 2010 USDOE EERE statistics. Railroad locomotives consumed a daily average of 240,000 barrels of petroleum (10.1 million gallons). Electric locomotives (whether the catenary type, or the electrified third-rail type – think Washington DC’s Metro subway system) used about 20,870 million kW-hrs of electricity in 2010, roughly the equivalent used by 1.82 million average US homes.

It’s An Engine, Or a Mobile Electricity Source

Arnold R. Miller of Lakewood, CO and three co-inventors were granted patent 8,117,969 in February, 2012 for “Hydrogen fuel cell hybrid locomotives,” their patent is assigned to the BNSF Railway Company. The invention provides a set of batteries for driving multiple electric traction motors (as are currently used in diesel-electric locomotives) for moving the locomotive “and a fuel cell power plant for charging the set of batteries and driving the electric traction motors. The fuel cell power plant includes at least one fuel cell power module for generating electrical current by reacting hydrogen fuel and oxygen from intake air, the amount of electrical current being proportional to an air mass flow of the intake air. An air system selectively provides an air mass flow to the fuel cell module to generate an amount of electrical current required for corresponding operating conditions of the locomotive. A cooling system cools the at least one fuel cell power module in response to the amount of current being generated.”

Advantages of a hydrogen fuel cell locomotive include
[a]mong other things, such hydrogen hybrid fuel cell locomotives help reduce particulate air pollution in urban rail yards, as well as reduce the amount of greenhouse gases expelled into the atmosphere. Furthermore, the use of hydrogen as a fuel reduces the dependency of the railroads on imported oil and decouples locomotive operating costs from the volatile fossil fuel markets. Moreover, hydrogen hybrid fuel cell locomotives can act as mobile electricity sources, for example in disaster recovery scenarios.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Steve Jobs - American Inventor

Today is the first anniversary of Steve Job's death.  I'm writing this on my MacBook Air with my giant Cinema Display while listening to a course on economics being streamed via iTunes.  I'm sure there will be many remembrances today but I thought a more personal one might be in order.

Thank you Steve Jobs for making the whole thing possible.  For making music accessible and interesting again, for making me not want to smash my cellphone to bits when I want to send a text message, thanks for making information expressive and accessible, and well, beautiful to look at.  Thanks for the MacBook Air that saved my shoulder and my back and that looks really cool when slipped into my padfolio when I go into a meeting.  Thanks for making the iPad so that my 82 year old Mother-In-Law can play Words with Friends with her 23 year old grandson and routinely kick his butt.  Thanks for Facetime so I can talk to my kids without it costing a fortune.  Thanks for making things the platforms that make apps like Pinterest and Zite a reality so I can customize my experience beyond picking a font.  Thanks for making a platform where you can explore things in a visual way.  Thanks for all the attention to detail that you and your team put into your products.

And for the three people left in the world who haven't read the book and who would like insight into what Steve Jobs was really all about, complete with Bill Gates dropping in his Silicon Valley home through the back door, here is a link to Walter Isaacson's biography.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson — Inventor, genius, agent of change.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Extra Energy for Wind Turbines

A large proportion of the inventions approved by USPTO’s Green Technology Pilot Program are directed toward wind turbines. All aspects of wind energy have been patented under the program – towers, turbines, nacelles, blades, generators, control systems, even construction techniques. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy of wind to rotational motion of the blades (or rotor), thence to electrical energy via the coupling of the rotor to a generator housed in the turbine nacelle.  In operating wind turbines for generating electricity it is sometimes necessary to reduce the power output of the turbines in a wind farm.  Conditions requiring reduced turbine power output might include maintenance periods, low or high wind conditions outside the operating envelope of the turbine, or periods when electricity generated by the wind turbine is not needed. Reduced wind turbine output (or “wind turbine curtailment” in the technical parlance) means that the aerodynamic energy present in wind is not captured, and from a clean tech standpoint, is wasted.

The New

Figure from US 7,750,490
Method and system for extracting inertial energy from a wind turbine”, US 7,750,490, was issued to Hartmut Scholte-Wassink (Lage, Germany) on July 6, 2010. The patent was assigned to the General Electric Company. GE has been a very significant participant in the Green Tech Program receiving more patents than any other assignee. The patent provides two sets of claims: claims 1–8 are systems claims, and claims 9–15 are methods claims. Claim 9, the independent method claim states:
"A method for operating a wind turbine during curtailment of the wind turbine, the wind turbine comprising a generator and a rotor having at least one rotor blade, the wind turbine also comprising a drive train that includes at least one shaft coupled to the rotor and configured to drive the generator, said method comprising:
operatively coupling a control system to the wind turbine, the control system configured to adjust wind turbine operation to facilitate increasing a speed of rotation of the rotor during curtailment of the wind turbine;
and, operatively coupling an extraction device to the generator, the extraction device configured to extract inertial energy stored in the drive train upon release of the curtailment."
The extraction device in this invention constitutes a frequency converter (shown as 44 in the patent’s Figure 2) that is used to extract the potential energy stored in the increased shaft rotation speed described in claim 9 and other claims.

The Old

Figure from US 452,546 - May 1891

The earliest wind turbine patent related to the ‘490 patent, via the same original classification, was not issued by the Green Tech Pilot Program. It preceded the start of the Program by more than 118 years. J.M. Mitchell of Lawrenceville, GA was awarded patent US 452,546 in May 1891 for a “Wind apparatus for generating electricity and charging secondary batteries.” Mitchell explains:
"My invention relates to that class or type of mechanism whereby the natural powers or forces are sought to be utilized for the generation of one or more electric currents, the object being to supply electric currents having suitable energy for the operation of electric-arc lamps or other devices, or, on the other hand, for incandescent lamps, or doing other work, such as operating motors, and for other purposes. 
"It is the purpose of my invention to provide a simple and efficient apparatus in which the motive power is the wind, and to so construct the parts and organize the same that the wind-wheel shall be at all times presented to the direct action of the air-currents without breaking the electrical connections between the poles of the dynamo turning with said wheel."
Mitchell’s patent describes in detail all aspects of the turbine nacelle, transmission, generator, and includes battery storage (38 in his figure). A clean tech man ahead of his time.

Patents issued in the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program, many of which are based on technology well over a century old, are described in Way Better Patents Discovery and Analysis Report.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Better Place - Green Tech Young Gun & Innovator

Better Place Battery Exchange Infrastructure
Today's New York Times reported that Shai Agassi was stepping down as CEO of Better Place, GmbH.  Better Place is an electric vehicle infrastructure company.  There approach is a fairly straightforward one, instead of long  recharging times either at home or in parking lots in shopping centers or at work, create a network of battery swapping stations and treat the batteries as part of the electric infrastructure rather than as part of the vehicle.  In the world of clean tech they offer a different approach to the electric vehicle support conundrum.

Better Place GmbH, founded in 2007, is one of the Young Guns firms that received patents under the USPTO Green Tech program.  Young Guns are new and emerging entrepreneurial firms that bring new business models, new products, and new ideas to market. On the innovation, invention, and intellectual property front, Young Guns are the firms to watch because these are likely to be the engines of new economic growth and new markets.

Better Place GmbH was awarded three patents under the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program.  The patents provide insight into how this battery swapping infrastructure would work and the benefits of such an approach.

To be successful you need density in both the number of electric vehicles (or partially electric vehicles) and you need a network of battery swapping locations to facilitate travelers being able to get where they want to go.  In the NY Times article, John Gartner of Pike Research noted that, "battery swapping is applicable in certain markets where you have higher fuel costs and smaller geographic profiles."  Higher fuel costs are a factor only if it drives consumers to switch from traditional gas and diesel vehicles to hybrid and electrical vehicles.   

Better Place's patents address the problem of how do you make this work on a large scale.  You need a way to get the battery in and out of the vehicle faster and the vehicles need the infrastructure to support quick swaps so that it's easier to swap batteries than to plug the car (in one of those status symbol spots in the front) and stroll around Nordstrom for a couple of hours. Better Place takes a more pragmatic approach.  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.  (They haven't address status parking in their inventions but we digress.)

Better Place proposes a model for electric vehicles of all types not just cars. While the commentary on the evolution of Better Place's business model address the consumer car market most often, fleet management organizations with multiple locations might find it an interesting approach to keeping their vehicles rolling.  

Green Place received three patents under the Green Tech Pilot Program — 7993155, 8006793, and 8035341. (These three were granted through February 2012 - the original period of our analysis of the program.) The three patents provide insight into Better Place's innovations and how the proposed infrastructure might work.  The patents 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 patents are worth a read. 

Here are some of the highlights of Better Place's approach from the three patents with our commentary. Claim 1 of each is also presented to give you a feel for their inventions.

The Highlights
Battery exchange stations are deployed to provide the EV (electric vehicle) user with the ability to keep his or her vehicle charged and available for use at all times by providing a system and method to quickly exchange, a spent depleted (or substantially discharged) battery pack for a fully charged (or substantially fully charged) battery pack at a battery exchange station. The quick exchange is performed in a period of time significantly less than that required to recharge a battery. they might require re-charging in a parking garage of a store or office building. Therefore, many charge stations may be required. To work, Better Place needs to offer a solution that is faster than the Nordstrom stroll or recharge in the car overnight in the garage model.

Batteries need to be recharged relatively often. For example As more and more vehicles use rechargeable fuel cells or batteries, more and more charge spots will be necessary. Connecting each charge spot to an electric power grid can be costly and time consuming. Furthermore, the deployment often requires an operator with specialized skills. Similarly, if the charge spot malfunctions or is vandalized, replacement of the charge spot is also costly, time consuming, and requires specialized operator skill.

The batteries may be treated as components of the electric recharge grid (ERG) infrastructure to be monetized over a long period of time, and not a part of the vehicle purchased by the consumer.  You own the car but not the battery.  Not unlike you own the car and buy the gas when you need it.  The New York Times article notes that the current fee to Better Place battery swapping consumers is $350.00/month.  This probably seems high here in the US where gas is around $4.15/gallon.  In Israel, where gas is over $9.00/gallon it represents a better value proposition.  The fixed, known vehicle operating cost of is an interesting business model.

It would be beneficial if there were a system that could quickly deploy more charge spots as demand grows. It would also be beneficial if the deployment did not require an operator with specialized skills. Furthermore, it would be beneficial if charge spots could be quickly and easily replaced when necessary. If you can swap out your bbq grill's propane tank while picking up beer and ice at the 7 Eleven, why can't you swap out your EV battery at the same time. 

Some of the Technical Features on How the Swap Works

"Each infrastructure adapter comprises a power supply electrical interface and an adapter quick connect interface. The power supply electrical interface of the infrastructure adapter is coupled to a power supply. During a second stage one or more external units is installed. Each external unit comprises a car electrical connector, configured to temporarily electrically connect to and charge an at least partially electric vehicle. Each external unit also comprises an external unit quick connect interface, configured to removably mate to the adapter quick connect interface. An external unit quick connect interface of a respective external unit of the one or more external units is mated to an adapter quick connect interface of a respective infrastructure adapter of the one or more infrastructure adapters. In some embodiments, the mating forming a high voltage electrical connection between the external unit quick connect interface and the adapter quick connect interface. In some embodiments, the mating occurs in under 5 minutes. In some embodiments the mating occurs with no additional wiring required."

The advantages of the Better Place approach are significant. Because the infrastructure of deployment can vary drastically from region to region (e.g. there are different deployment practices and local regulations in different countries), deploying charge spots as entire units would require developing units specific to the infrastructure in which they are deployed. However, according to the Better Place inventions, only the relatively simple infrastructure adapter needs to be specially designed to comport with the infrastructure.(Only the connector needs to change in lay person speak.) Then the more complicated external device can be a standard component that will easily mate with any infrastructure adapter. 

The external units can be mass produced to cut down on manufacturing costs. The interfaces between the infrastructure adapter and the external unit are easy to plug into mate together interfaces. They do not require wiring to connect to each other. "A relatively un-skilled operator can deploy the external units, and need not use any particular tools save for a simple screwdriver to install an external unit onto an infrastructure adapter."  Simplicity.

The Claims

7993155 Claim 1:

1. An electrical connection system for a battery of an at least partially electric vehicle, the electrical connection system comprising:
a first electrical connector configured to permanently attach to an underside of an at least partially electric vehicle;

a second electrical connector configured to permanently attach to a battery, wherein the first and second electrical connectors are configured to be removably coupled to each other, along an axis substantially perpendicular to the underside of the at least partially electric vehicle;
wherein each of the first and second electrical connectors further comprise:
a high voltage interface for transmitting high voltage electricity between the first and second electrical connectors;
a low voltage data interface for transmitting data carried on an electrical signal between the first and second electrical connectors; and
a shielding mechanism to counteract electromagnetic effects caused by the one or more high voltage connection elements.

8006793 Claim 1:

1. A battery bay configured to be disposed at an underside of an at least partially electric vehicle, the battery bay comprising:
a frame defining a cavity configured to at least partially receive a battery pack therein;
a latch comprising a hook configured to engage a striker coupled with the battery pack, the latch rotatably pivoted about an axis substantially parallel with a plane formed by the underside of the vehicle, the latch configured to retain the battery pack at least partially within the cavity;
a latch housing;
an input link including a first pivot point and a second pivot point, wherein the first pivot point is permanently attached to a torque bar which rotates with respect to a first portion of the latch housing;
a coupler link rod including a first rod end and a second rod end, wherein the first rod end is pivotably coupled to the second pivot point of the input link; and
the latch including a third pivot point and a fourth pivot point, wherein the third pivot point is pivotably coupled to the second rod end of the coupler link rod and the fourth pivot point is pivotably coupled to a second portion of the latch housing.

8035341 Claim 1:

1. A method of staged deployment of an electrical charge spot system for charging at least partially electric vehicles, comprising:
during a first stage:
installing one or more infrastructure adapters, each infrastructure adapter comprising a power supply electrical interface and an adapter quick connect interface;
coupling the power supply electrical interface of the infrastructure adapter to a power supply;
during a second stage:
installing one or more external units, each external unit comprising a car electrical connector, configured to temporarily electrically connect to and charge an at least partially electric vehicle, and an external unit quick connect interface, configured to removably mate to the adapter quick connect interface; and
mating an external unit quick connect interface of a respective external unit of the one or more external units to an adapter quick connect interface of a respective infrastructure adapter of the one or more infrastructure adapters.

You can learn more about the Young Guns who received patents under the USPTO Green Tech Program in Way Better Patents USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program Discovery and Analysis Report.