Thursday, November 29, 2012

Electric Motors, New & Old


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Another Solar Bankruptcy


Another Solar Bankruptcy.


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

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


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Patent Alphabet Soup - FTC, DOJ, PAE, NPE

DOJ and FTC to discuss PAEs aka NPEs.

The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice will host a one-day event on Monday, December 10, 2012 in the FTC Conference Center to explore the impact of patent assertion entity (PAE) activities on innovation and competition and the implications for antitrust enforcement and policy. FTC differentiates between PAEs and non-practicing entities NPEs such as universities, hospitals, and post-doctoral research organizations.  Panelists for the workshop will include academics, economists, industry representatives, and private attorneys.   The agenda can be viewed here.

According to the Wall Street Journal, DOJ and FTC is looking at, specialized patent-holding companies as part of a broad review of how holders of patents use them as strategic weapons against competitors. In particular, the agencies have expressed concern about companies that make aggressive legal claims based on patents that are part of industry technology standards. Antitrust enforcers also are interested in mergers or acquisitions that result in large transfers of patents.  Federal regulators are grappling with the changing face of the patent business. Nowadays the specialized patent company that tries to wrest royalties from a big technology company might not be an independent enterprise. Rather, it might be the creation of other big companies.

The workshop will provide interesting insight into the current mindset within the anti-trust and consumer protection communities on the issues surrounding the business practices and economic impact of patent assertion entities (non-practicing entities like universities are apparently off the hook here.)

Indicia of Extortion — filing nearly identical patent infringement complaints against a plethora of diverse defendants where the plaintiff follows each filing with a demand for a quick settlement at a price far lower than the cost to defend the litigation. The term was used by Judge Lourie in the CAFC decision in Eon-Net LP v. Flagstar Bancorp.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Clean Tech and the Science of Life



Significant aspects of clean tech are directly related to the life sciences. For example, many of the patentECO Industry Index patents issued by the USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program related to bioengineering and incorporated technologies such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), fermentation (the use of yeast to convert sugars to alcohol), or non-GMO organisms. Although most of the citations in these patents are relatively recent, it is interesting to consider a life sciences repository that covers life sciences discoveries over thousands of years – the Science of Life – and how this body of information relates to clean tech innovations now being patented. This repository is the Indian art and science of Ayurveda. Ayur and Veda literally mean Science of Life.
The Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR)’s Department of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy, part of the Indian Government, is compiling a massive database of of traditional medicines and ancient remedies that it wants to protect from being patented in other countries. The goal is to protect the collective traditional knowledge of India by making it available to patent examiners around the world in a way that is accessible and usable.
The Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) contains information on Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, and Yoga. It contains over 1200 formulations including 500 representative Ayurveda formulations, 500 Unani formulations and 200 Siddha formulations, all linked to the International Patent Classification system (IPC). It includes easy to understand information on how the compounds are formulated, what the treatment is useful for and the dosage information. It also contains a list of prior art documents and publication dates.
Information in the TKDL has been successfully used as prior art to force the withdrawal of patent applications using traditional formulations. The formulations sections contain the Title of the Traditional Knowledge Resource and “Knowledge Since” information which has entries with listings citing 1000 years. Now that’s some prior art.  (Here is a list of some of the patent applications challenged using the information in the TKDL.)
For those of you who are classification junkies the TKDL has identified approximately 200 subgroups on medicinal plants where they recommend the TKDL be linked to aid patent examiners in looking for prior art that relates to India’s traditional knowledge. The list is available here.
Among their more recent achievements is documenting over 900 yoga poses to block entrepreneurs from obtaining yoga-related patents. Yoga has been around for over 6,000 years embodying both a physical and spiritual practice. Yoga has grown into a $250 billion industry internationally.
This is an awesome resource for researchers, representing the intersection of digital life sciences and the digital science of life. Have any of our readers used this resource in the development of their inventions?


Friday, November 16, 2012

Going on a Troll Hunt - The Study

First, unlike many of the "patent system is broken" prognosticators who foresee the death of innovation due to perceived innovation stifling and other nefarious activities of patent trolls, the pejorative term for non-practicing entities, Way Better Patents doesn't see impending invention doom.  What we see is a significant case of the economic impacts of asymmetric information.  Some organizations, practicing and non-practicing, benefit from having an asymmetric information advantage.  They know their way around the patent system.  They tend to sit on the "we're holding all the cards side" of the patent licensing negotiation and IP strategy negotiation while the rest of us don't have their patent picking or enforcement prowess.  This is not a crime but an operational reality in the patentsphere.  Or put another way, trolls are patent smart.

The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) (P.L. 112-29) mandated the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study on the consequences of patent litigation by non-practicing entities (NPEs) or patent assertion entities.

GAO issued a a Request for Quote for that study back in July 2012.  This looks like part of a larger 20 year study defined in the law.

The definition in play for the study says, "while the term NPE is not defined in the law, it generally refers to a wide spectrum of entities that own and assert patents but do not practice or produce (i.e. design, manufacture or distribute) products using the patented technologies."  In lots of industries these definitions are blurred by many complex business models and structures where practice and produce have many definitions.  Some of the largest NPEs are US and post-doctorate research organizations - they invent and patent but they rarely product the inventions they create.   They don't seem very trollish but we digress.

According to the RFQ GAO is going to buy three specific things:

One — A Patent Litigation Database
Access to a complete database of all patent infringement law suits. GAO wants to collect data on the volume of recent patent infringement litigation in the all 94 federal district courts from 2001 through 2011 (even though there are places in their RFQ that say "and the present" which implies 2012 cases as well. GAO wants access to all of the patent infringement cases filed in the International Trade Commission going back to 2001 as well. The database must ensure that all court filings and documents associated with a particular case are linked to that case and are not counted as separate events (i.e. procedural events, transfers of venue, etc.).

GAO want all suits including patent marking cases, trademark and declaratory judgement cases (cases of non-infringement, invalidity, or unenforceability) as part of the patent litigation cases.  (The presence of trademark cases seems a little odd here but we wanted to make sure that it was clear we didn't make this up.)  GAO wants the capability to slice and dice the cases by federal district, judge, case outcome and patent class. A surprising addition - actually trying to figure out what the technology in the case involves. It will be interesting to see how they define the different areas of the technology. Since many non-practicing entities use the US classification to determine the tranche (domain) for licensing fee calculation.

Oh, and the contractor is supposed to demonstrate to GAO that it has methods for ensuring that data are complete and free from errors. (Good luck with that free of errors one.)

Two — A Random Sample
Then the contractor is supposed to generate random sample of 100 patent infringement cases per year from the database for cases filed each year from 2007-2011. It looks like the vendor needs to extract that set and deliver the sample to GAO who will retain ownership of the sample. Depending on membership in the random sample will directly impact the outcome of the study.

Three — An Analysis
Then comes the analysis. The contractor will then identify the key characteristics of the litigants.  GAO expects, "For the sample of 100 cases per year, contractor shall provide an objective and auditable framework for characterizing the extent to which infringement claimants (patent owners) practice, or make products related to, the patents they are asserting." (Practice what? Plenty of firms that own patents practice licensing too.) It looks like GAO is going to have to have a framework of some kind to deal with the continuum of "practice" because just like Intellectual Ventures and GE sometimes a firm is an inventor and sometimes it's  licensee and at other times it is a NPE.

GAO will approve the framework methodology before making the contract award. (Another sign that GAO knows who will be doing the work since most government contractors won't bid on something unless the scope of work is defined.)

"Contractor shall employ legal analysts to identify key infringement claimant (patent owner) characteristics. Contractor shall analyze court documents, Securities and Exchange Commission filings, corporate websites, and other sources of data as necessary. Contractor must employ expertise in patent infringement litigation to identify evidence that is relevant to objectively characterizing litigants involved in each case. Contractor shall record these characteristics for each case in a Microsoft Excel file. GAO needs to be able to trace all characteristics back to supporting documents.

"Contractor's legal analysts shall compile the characteristics into a Microsoft Excel file and then have at least one other analyst confirm each characterization according to the objective framework." Lots of billable hours on this task.
For each suit in the sample, the contractor shall also report:
  • Patent and Trademark Office patent classifications and patent numbers (Which ones - the USPC origin and cross references, the IPC? or the new Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) symbols
  • Number of Defendants per case
  • Venue (which federal district court the suit was ultimately heard in)
  • Characteristics of the alleged infringer (defendant) as per the above auditable and objective framework
  • Outcome – Categories to be reported (with quotes from court records):
    • i. whether the case settled and how long it took to settle (e.g. X months after litigation filed)
    • ii. whether attorney fees or costs were awarded to one side;
    • iii. case outcomes
    • iv. whether there were Rule 11 (civil procedure) sanctions
    • v. whether an injunction was granted
    • vi. whether damages were awarded and how much

There are some other interesting gems in the RFQ:

The contractor has to have this work done by December 31, 2012. The expected award date is September 3 according to FedBiz Ops.

GAO wants the access to the data within two weeks of contract award. There were only two questions posed by potential contractors - not a sign that GAO is likely to get a broad range of responses from interested firms. (Either the fix is in or the data is coming from one of your favorite litigation reporting systems.  The RFQ and the very short response time implies that they know who they want to do the study.)

What is also interesting here is what is missing from the mix.

Patent litigation is generally a tool. File the law suit when the potential infringer doesn't want to talk then negotiate and settle when the specter of a multi-million dollar lawsuit looms. How will this be accounted for? How will the outcomes be described when most are covered by Non-Disclosure Agreements?

There doesn't seem to be any attempt to determine how the NPE acquired the patent. Was the patent acquired from a practicing entity who is working with the NPE on monetizing their intellectual property assets. (See the discussion on 'practice' above.) Firms like Acacia Research have a wide range of agreements with practicing entities to maximize the value of the practicing entities intellectual property. These relationships are important in understanding the true nature of the litigation and who the real players are. Just because you don't manufacture stuff doesn't mean you don't work for someone who does. Counting these as solely evil troll litigation seems to be a misrepresentation of the nature of the action and the business models.

How will the contractor determine the "real parties in interest"?

How will GAO determine the universe of NPEs and patent assertion entities? Many firms engaged in this work establish separate entities for each transaction not unlike real estate developers who want all their projects in separate business entities. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for these types of entities — and plenty that are solely for the purpose of obfuscating ownership.

How will GAO evaluate the age of the patents being enforced? The Boston University study on NPEs which has gained urban legend status in the patensphere  cited shows the average age of a patent in NPE litigation is over eight years old.

What about considering how many of these cases required Special Masters of some kind because of the complexity of the underlying inventions and science that form the foundation of the case?

What about licensing pools, such as the MPEG Licensing Authority that enforced the intellectual property rights of its members? It is clearly a non-practicing entity but it represents a very large universe of practicing entities.

How will publicly traded patent aggregators like RPX and firms like Acacia Research be evaluated. Both have different models for creating shareholder value (assuming that creation of shareholder value is still a good thing.)

What about taking into consideration the difference between highly structured industries like pharma and biomedical inventions (the chemical domain) versus the world of software, business methods and all things related to electrical and communication patents?

And finally, how will GAO combat patent urban legend like — Intellectual Ventures (IV) owns 40,000 patents — (at the time of this writing, there is a crowdsourced request for money out there looking to raise $80,000 to develop a comprehensive view of the IV patents; there are over 250,000 patents covering smartphones (Google's general counsel seemed to be counting all the claims in all the patents to come up with the total; that there have been more than 40,000 in troll related litigation; NPEs cost firms billions of dollars each year (see the Boston University analysis on that one) and finally, trolls hinder innovation.

This is clearly a difficult and challenging task. Hopefully the research and analysis will be equally compelling.  According to the RFQ the task is to be complete by December 31, 2012.  GAO will need to create and publish it's report after that.

Let the troll hunt begin.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Water Treatment for Fracing and Other Sources

Debate over the the geotechnical technique known as hydraulic fracturing (aka, “fracing” or “fracking”) continues. Much of the expressed concern focuses on perceived potential for groundwater contamination. Some of this ignores the fact that the fracing fluid is injected multiple thousands of feet below groundwater aquifers and that the potential for contamination may be related to improper or faulty well linings. Other concerns are directed toward the nature of chemicals used in the fracing fluid.


Jerome Angelilli (Irving, TX) and four co-inventors were awarded patent US 8,211,296 on July 3, 2012 for their “Portable water treatment system and apparatus”. The patent, assigned to NCH Ecoservices, LLC (Irving, TX), was issued under the USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program, analyzed in Way Better Patents’ USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program Discovery and Analysis Report. Their invention is found in Way Better Patents Water Index.

The abstract provides a succinct summary of Angelilli et al.’s invention:

"A portable water treatment system and apparatus is disclosed that can effectively and efficiently treat aqueous fluids by quickly and reliably adjusting and controlling the free residual level of disinfectants, contaminants or additives through the addition of one or more treating agents such as oxidizing chemicals and/or other special-purpose additives, and that can continuously store, log, retrieve and report the related fluid composition data and other operating parameters on a real-time basis at either the use site or a remote location. A preferred use for the subject system and apparatus is managing the chemistry of disinfectant, contaminant and/or additive levels in aqueous fluids used in hydraulic fracturing operations, and controlling the free residual levels of the disinfectant or contaminants within the fluids, including fluids maintained in frac tanks during temporary cessation of a hydraulic fracturing operation."
The inventors envision other uses for the portable water treatment system, including industrial cooling water, HVAC cooling water, fruit and vegetable wash water, or poultry wash water, primary and secondary disinfecting of potable water, and treatment of aqueous fluids for subsurface applications such as disinfection, drilling, fracturing, well stimulation, sour well conversion, and well cleanout. Their oxidizer of choice is chlorine dioxide; this compound is also used for bleaching wood pulp, bleaching flour, and municipal water disinfection.

A multiple-use portable water treatment system that can help improve the quality of flowback from fracing operations. This is a good example of clean tech.

Post Note:  NCH Ecoservices was awarded a related patent using the same technology - 8226832

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Agriculture in the Green Tech Pilot Program



Agriculture inventions under the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program?

There was almost next-to-none.

Patents continue to issue from the now-closed USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program – 1500-plus thus far. Very few patentECO Agriculture Index patents have issued from the program. The USPTO initially allowed “Environmentally Friendly Farming” applications related to

Alternative irrigation technique
Animal waste disposal or recycling
Fertilizer alternative
Pollution abatement, soil conservation
Water conservation
Yield enhancement.

The requirement that applications fall within selected US classifications was quickly dropped replaced by a requirement that the inventor explain the green technology/environmental benefits of the invention.  (We believe the inventors can demonstrate the environmentally friendly aspects of their invention better than a classification system can.)

Let’s take a look at some inventions in the agriculture domains that USPTO hoped to issue; we’ll include examples that were filed with the patent office after the December 2009 start of the program. These could conceivably have filed a petition for accelerated examination under the program, but did not.

Alternative Irrigation

US 8,192,109, “Subsurface irrigation system,” was granted to Abdulreidha Abdulrasoul AlSaffar (Mubarak Alkabeer, Kuwait) in June 2012. The invention provides:

A subsurface irrigation system includ[ing] an athletic field … or covering an entire agricultural field and with an excavation depth of about 25 to 50 centimeters. The system also includes a generally impervious plastic sheet or the like that covers the excavation and extends upwardly above the sides thereof. A source of water is disposed outside of the field and a plurality of distribution pipes and water distributors are disposed in the excavated area and extend substantially over the length and width of the excavation. In addition, a main channel connects the distribution pipe to the source of water and a plurality of water distributors are operatively connected to the distribution pipes for receiving water therefrom. Each of the water distributors includes an upwardly extending short pipe having a plurality of small holes around its periphery and a plurality of generally hemispherical covers that extend downwardly in the form of a right circular cylinder over the openings to protect the small holes from being clogged by a mass of soil added to the excavation to cover the subsurface irrigation system and support the growth of ground cover thereon.

Essentially, this invention is the equivalent of pumping water into a drain tile system underlying an agricultural field. Makes sense given the dry nature of Kuwait. See also a previous Inkling post regarding US 8,087,201 “Method for irrigating and fertilizing rice.”

Animal Waste Disposal or Recycling

No patents meeting our time criteria were issued in the classifications originally deemed by USPTO to cover animal waste disposal or recycling. We offer a substitute that falls within this subject category.

US 7,992,344, “Artificial soil and method for growing vegetation on sloped surface using the same,” was issued to Young-Koo Kim (Seoul, South Korea) in August 2011. (There is a certificate of correction associated with this patent) It is assigned to Transcorea Development Co. Ltd. (Seoul, South Korea). Kim’s invention provides:

An artificial soil and a method for growing vegetation on a sloped surface … The artificial soil is produced by mixing peat or grass peat, paper chip or pulp chip, saw dust or bark, fermented animal waste or dried animal waste, and a microbe activator, frisol; and by adding clay or Silt(SILT) or granular to the mixture. The method comprises forming a vegetation base layer by applying the artificial soil to a sloped surface; waiting until the vegetation base layer has a crack by a shrinkage; and applying a seed mixture of artificial soil over the vegetation base layer, the seed mixture of artificial soil obtained by adding a myocardium catalyst, a microbe activator, a material binder, an evaporation prevention material, and grass seeds, weed seeds, and tree seeds to the artificial soil with water.

Fermented or dried animal waste to artificial soil – that counts for both disposal and recycling. See also a previous Inkling post on US 7,563,302 “Apparatus and method for manure reclamation.”

Fertilizer Alternative

US 8,221,516, “Potassium polyphosphite composition for agricultural use and associated methods,” was granted to Carl Fabry (Zellwood, FL) in July 2012. Fabry’s innovation is

A bactericidal and fungicidal composition having fertilizer properties, the composition containing a percentage of potassium polyp[h]osphite is disclosed. The composition is useful as a fungicide, bactericide, and as a fertilizer for application to plants and, particularly, commercial crops. A method of making the polyp[h]osphite composition is described, as well as methods of using same.

The innovation here? It’s the incorporation of the phosphite ion (PO3–3), which according to the inventor “has never played an important role in the commercial fertilizer industry.” The advantages of incoporating phosphite in an agricultural formulation are described in the patent

Inorganic phosphite compositions such as potassium phosphite are known to be useful as fungicides. … [P]otassium phosphite would be particularly useful because it would provide the second important nutrient of the three critical plant nutrients, potassium. Moreover, a polyphosphite can be expected to provide the sequestration and slow release advantages known with polyphosphate, although phosphites are more active fungicides.

A slow-release ag fertilizer with fungicide and bactericide – an example of innovations to be found in Way Better Patents  Agriculture Index. See also a previous Inkling post on US 8,066,793Bio-processed mineral fertilisers including micro-elements.” For high-precision application of fertilizer and other agricultural amendments and practices, consider US 6,553,299 “Methods and apparatus for precision agriculture.”

Pollution Abatement, Soil Conservation

US 8,113,295, “Conservation tillage implement, system and method,” was granted on February 14, 2012, the last day of patent grants prior to the closing of the USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program. As with the other patents discussed in this post, it was not issued from the program. Granted to Jacobus A. Rozendaal (Salford, Ontario, Canada) and four co-inventors, the patent is assigned to Salford Farm Machinery Ltd. (also in Salford). A sibling patent was granted to the same team of inventors in June 2012 (US 8,196,672, same title). The invention is

A conservation tillage implement having three or more rows of individual coulter wheel assemblies laterally spaced apart and removably mounted on a cultivator frame, a coulter wheel assembly in a given row being staggered with respect to the coulter wheel assemblies in a longitudinally adjacent row. The coulter wheel assemblies may be laterally adjustable and may be mounted to the cultivator frame using a mounting means that permits rotation about a vertical axis. The coulter wheel assemblies may comprise a coil spring having a horizontal spring axis to permit upward deflection in response to impact with an obstacle. Leveling attachments may optionally be mounted to the cultivator frame, along with additional field working tools. The implement is used in the management of crop residue as part of a minimum tillage strategy. The implement is particularly resistant to plugging and can be operated at high speeds without undue damage upon impact with obstacles. Advantageously, the implement can be operated in standing water, as found in the growing of rice.

Conservation tillage is a very important agricultural technique for reducting soil erosion, abating nonpoint source pollution, and conserving soil water. This invention, once on the market, will provide another tool for the world’s first conservationists – farmers. See also a previous Inkling post on US 7,814,848 “System for distributing poultry litter below the soil surface.” We’ve also looked at rice irrigation and fertilization – perhaps these new patents from Canada will work together with the US 8,087,201 rice patent as part of an integrated system.

Water Conservation

US 7,937,187, “Computer controlled fertigation system and method,” was granted in May 2011 to Craig Kaprielian (Reedley, CA) and assigned to FW Enviro, LLC (also in Reedley). The invention is for

A system and a method of computer controlled irrigation and fertigation composed of one or more sensors positioned in order to quantify the amount of water and/or nutrients that a plant is consuming. By controlling the fertigation, the plant or a part thereof, has improved yield and quality.

This one crosses several of USPTO’s original agriculture topic areas – water conservation, alternative irrigation, and yield improvement. It is also interesting from the standpoint of the prior art that it cites. The earliest patent this one refers to was issued in 1896 (US 560,966, “Orange-Tree Jacket”). For those of you who are familiar with riparian buffer planting and reforestation methods, check out the drawing in this old patent. It puts tree tubes in a different perspective (they aren’t new). See also a previous Inkling post on US 5,868,087Agricultural water retention and flow enhancement mixture.”

Yield Enhancement

US 8,188,005, “Liquid composition for promoting plant growth containing titanium dioxide nanoparticles,” issued in May 2012 to Kwang-Soo Choi (Wansan-Gu, South Korea), and assigned to the inventor, is truly high-tech through its incorporation of nanotechnology into agricultural yield enhancement products.

Disclosed herein is a liquid composition for promoting plant growth containing titanium dioxide nanoparticles. The liquid composition contains, as an active ingredient, an aqueous solution prepared by adjusting the pH of colloidal titanium dioxide, a plant growth promoting component, to 0.4–0.6, in order to prevent rapid precipitation of the colloidal titanium dioxide, and then diluting the colloidal titanium dioxide with water to a predetermined concentration. The colloidal titanium dioxide, an environmentally friendly substance harmless to plants and the human body, which is contained in the plant growth promoting composition, is prevented from rapidly precipitating when it is diluted for application to plants. The plant growth promoting composition is harmless to organisms, reduces environmental contamination caused by over-application of biochemical fertilizers and is inexpensive, leading to an increase in farmer’s income.

Titanium dioxide is a common pigment called titanium white, pigment white 6, or CI 77891. It is used in a wide range of products including paint, sunscreen, and food coloring. It is also added to paints, cements, windows, tiles, or other products for its sterilizing, deodorizing and anti-fouling properties. According to this patent, it also promotes plant growth. See also a previous Inkling post on US 8,198,215Methods for protecting seeds.”

The End of the Tour

The patents listed here were not issued from the USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program, and based on the search criteria we used, did not need its accelerated examination to achieve pendency rates equivalent to patents that did issue under the program. There are a number of reasons why inventors and their attorneys or agents might not have taken advantage of the program. You can learn about them, and patents that the USPTO program did issue, in Way Better Patents' USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program Discovery and Analysis Report.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Jetson’s Predecessor, Circa 2012





Roy Amara was a researcher, scientist and past president of the Institute for the Future. Born in Boston 1925, he has also worked at Stanford Research Institute. He held a BS in Management, an MS in the Arts and Sciences, and a Ph.D. in Systems Engineering. He died in 2007. He is possibly best known for the quotation ”We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”, which was paraphrased by Robert X. Cringely, and is sometimes known as Amara’s Law.
Wikipedia, emphasis added
So, if we underestimate future technology (extrapolating from today’s inventions) based on Amara’s Law (Amara’s Hope?), might we expect to proceed from patent US 8,232,699 to the Jetson-mobile by 2062?
The Jetson’s, again according to Wikipedia, originally aired on the ABC television network from September 1962 to March 1963; it described the foibles of the Jetson family residing in Orbit City in 2062. A major milestone, “[a]t the time of its debut, it was the first program ever to be broadcast in color on ABC-TV.” Don’t be embarrassed to admit (nod if you’d like) that you watched the program. After all, the early 1960s were a time of great optimism about the future, and the role that technology would play in our society. Much different times than today. I miss them. But I digress.
The Patent
US Patent 8,232,699 was issued to Kyli Irene Letang (Las Vegas, NV) on the last day of July, 2012. She retained assignee rights. Her invention, “Magnetically levitating vehicle,” reaches back to July 1966 insofar as the cited patents go. Her earliest patent citation is to US 3,260,475, “Space Vehicle Directing Apparatus,” – perhaps the Jetsons reference isn’t so far fetched after all [1] … The earliest US patent granted for magnetic levitation transportation is US 782,312, “Electric Traction Apparatus,” issued to German inventor Alfred Zehden in 1905. Another early invention was memorialized in US 859,018, “Transportation System,” issued to Franklin S. Smith of Philadelphia, PA in 1907.
The ‘699 patent was issued under the USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program. Letang seeks a vehicle that hovers “above its tires with the use of magnetic levitation.” 
“[T]he present invention brings a new aspect to magnetic levitation and propulsion by not requiring its own track, as is the case with maglev trains. Thus, it can directly be incorporated into the existing transportation infrastructure. … The present invention addresses concerns regarding energy and fossil fuel consumption in the transportation industry. Also, the present invention does not use or contain a combustion engine and is powered solely through electricity. This reduces the impact the present invention has on the environment and is concurrent with the needs of the future.”
OK, so her goal is to convert an area source of air pollution (an internal combustion engine in a vehicle) to a point source (a coal or natural gas power plant). Also, the inventor knows the needs of the future.
The patent’s claim 1 states:
A magnetically levitating vehicle comprises, a frame;
a control device;
a plurality of tire chambers;
a plurality of tires;
the frame comprises of a magnetic shield, a cabin, and a under carriage guard;
the magnetic shield being positioned inside of the frame and surrounding the plurality of tire chambers;
and the undercarriage guard being positioned underneath the frame.
The Novelty
The inventor’s detailed description of the invention provides insight into the perceived novelty of the invention:
  • These components include a levitation system, a control system, a propulsion system, a tire safety system, and an electromagnetic shielding system. The present invention uses magnetic properties to perform its purpose. Thus, the present invention requires no fuel to run and operate. The present invention operates with the use of a magnetic sensing system that is powered with rechargeable batteries. To hover above its own tires, the present invention contains a levitation system that is maintained through interactions between the car and the tire. To turn, the present invention uses its propulsion system to carry out inputs from the control system. Also, it implements a tire safety system to ensure that the tires remain in proper position while driving. Another safety precaution taken is a shielding system that helps to ensure the many magnetic fields involved in moving and guiding the present invention does not become unmanageable or interfere with other magnetic devices in the car (i.e. cell phones). 
  • [A] major difference in the design is seen in its unique plurality of tire chambers. Traditionally, cars have exposed wheel wells on both the left and right sides, which mark the position of each of the four tires. The plurality of tire chambers are similar in shape to hemispheres, which protrudes past the surface of the present invention’s body to protect the plurality of tires. 
  • Instead of using a conventional tire design, the present invention has a plurality of tires that are shaped as spheres. The tires are able to rotate in a 360° motion which allows for easier turning and steering. The lack of restriction on the rotation of the tires also means the present invention can travel in any direction. 
  • [A]nother unique aspect to the tires’ design is that they contain two layers: an inner shell and outer shell. The inner shell is located inside the outer shell; in between the surfaces of the two shells is air. Inside the inner shell is an orientation device, in the present design, a gyroscope is used to maintain the proper orientation and positioning of the inner shell, while allowing the outer shell to fully rotate. 
  • [A] major benefit of the Magno car is the ability to operate the car with only one hand. The present invention is controlled by a single control device, which comprises of a control stick, an accelerator button, a brake button, a levitation button, and a mounting device. 
My favorite novelty aspect of this invention (setting aside levitation above the tires, spherical tires, shielding system (Kirk: “Scotty, bring up the shields.” Scott: “Aye, shields are up, Captain.”), 360° tire turning (on ice & snow? – no thanks. Maybe there’s an after-market heat-ray gun for that.), gyroscopes encased in the tires, one-hand vehicle operation using what seems to be a fighter-jet hand controller complete with multiple “pickles”, and especially discounting the purchase, maintenance, and repair costs for this bad boy) – my favorite aspect is that “the present invention requires no fuel to run and operate.” Cool.
A Green Tech Patent – Really?
And to think, the USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program actually issued a patent for this. I guess because it’s the ultimate fuel-saving vehicle.
The mind … she boggles.


video


Watch the video for a view of the future of this invention
  1. For all you space junkies, or those that would like a taste of nostalgia, please read the articles on NASA’s Mission Control recently published by Ars Technica here  and here. Also, a detailed review of the engineering behind bringing Apollo 13 home by ieee spectrum. Do any of our readers remember Shorty Powers, the voice of Mercury Control? Did you, like me, count down with him – “5–4–3–2–1–0! We have lift-off! And the clock is running!” How sad that the United States of America, the country that put men on the moon (RIP Neil Armstrong, and other passed lunar astronauts), can’t launch a single person to even sub-orbit, in late 2012, and the nation’s imagination is captured for a day by an Austrian adventurer who ascends to 25 miles in a high-tech balloon and parachutes to earth, 65 years to the day that Chuck Yeager exceeded the speed of sound in the Bell X–1 (read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff). So much for national vision, determination, and will. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Level The Playing Field - Archipelago Edition

Welcome to Patent Data  Archipelago Edition  

A Patent Data Adventure


There are many interesting "features" about the data on US patents.   Begin with patent being the basic container used to define the parts of the entire spectrum of the scientific and technical innovation universe.  (The US patent database is one of the world's largest and most comprehensive catalogs of technical and scientific information.)  Then add inventors who make up their own words to explain new things we've never seen before which are hard to understand in the context of current knowledge. (Inventors are allowed to be their on lexicographers making up the words needed to describe their inventions.) Then add a writing style, the patent argot, which is designed to be broad enough to cover products even further into the future while at the same time teaching us about a new invention the inventor seeks to protect now.  The patent is a complex animal.  

In the bigger scheme of patent things you would think getting the location for an inventor, which appears on the face of the patent, would be easy.  Take the inventor city and state, and country from the patent and put it on a map so you can see where the inventions are coming from.  How hard can that be?

Each week about 5,000 are patents granted (and the number is rising) and the number of published patents is going up exponentially too.  So this means each week over 10,000+ new inventions enter the patent domain.  Each has the address data for all of the inventors and the address data of the Assignee if there is one (new patent obfuscation strategy is to not put an assignee on the patent until after it's published to that it doesn't show up for on the most commonly searched patent repositories.)

Each week there are addresses that have problems.  Misspelled names (how many ways can you spell Baltimore hon?); location names that aren't real postal addresses but swank gated community names (hey, North Bethesda is still Rockville people) and mismatched pairs of cities and states (Myrtle Beach, North Carolina (it's in South Carolina), and abbreviations (SF, CA; PHX, AZ - it's supposed to have a geographic location not be a proxy for a luggage tag.)  Now comes the inventor from Spieden Island, Washington.

Spieden Island is part of the San Juan Islands archipelago.  It's a sylvan place described as, ...three miles long and a half mile wide,  a mysterious, wildlife sanctuary. Shrouded in strange and exotic tales of non-native wild animals and unconfirmed sightings of Sasquatch. Uninhabited, with around 550 acres, it is now home to Corsican big horn sheep and Fallow deer from Asia amongst others...there can be few experiences more amazing than sharing Spieden’s coastal waters with the region’s largest inhabitants: Orcas. Breaching, playfully, sociably and gracefully introducing their young to the aquatic lifestyle. In Haro Straight alone, there are at least 92 of these resident giants" according to a June 2012 article posted by Snowshoe Magazine.  It looks like a spectacular place of amazing beauty but, no one lives there.  According to the Census Bureau, "Spieden Island is a privately owned island in the San Juan Archipelago in the U.S. state of Washington. It has a land area of 516.4 acres and no permanent resident population."  Spieden Island is ... UNINHABITED.

US Patent D456441 (or at least 50 others) granted to inventor James H. Jannard the mad scientist, his term not ours, at Oakley and now at Red.com Inc.  These inventions  show Mr. Jannard as an inventor (usually the first named inventor) with Spieden Island, WA as his geographic information.  Oakley is headquartered in Orange County, CA (not exactly a precise address) and Red.com is located in Irvine, CA.

Oakley's website highlights the importance of innovation and invention.  The site notes that, "decades of Oakley innovation have been awarded more than 600 patents that elevate physics to the level of art...It’s in our DNA to identify problems, create inventions and wrap those inventions in art. Some call it a relentless drive to make things better. "  (Or maybe it's 575 patents as another page on the site notes.)  Oakley's iconic sunglasses changed the way athletes protected their eyes and their vision from sunlight, sweat, and a host of projectiles. Red.com looks like it's making similar disruptive changes to the camera business.  We love our Oakleys.

Mad Scientist (and very prolific inventor) Jannard owns Spieden Island.

So whether for vanity purposes or to obfuscate his real address to protect his privacy or to advertise that he is environmentally aware and is using his money in an environmentally friendly way, Mr. Jannard's patents are tied to an island without any permanent residents which doesn't have a zip code of its own and where, unless we missed it, has no mailing address or post office.  According to a quick look at the Manual of Patent Examination Procedures (MPEP), "Applicant’s mailing address means that address at which he or she customarily receives his or her mail. Either applicant’s home or business address is acceptable as the mailing address. The mailing address should include the ZIP Code designation.  The use of a vanity city and state can't be found in the MPEP.

It's commendable that Mr. Jannard owns such a spectacular place and from the limited information available on the internet allows marine biologists and other nature lovers to explore this remote outpost and enjoy its beauty but is this location that should be used on a patent?

Yes, we know that he probably uses patent attorneys to handle these important matters and probably has plenty of smart IP cognoscente (Mr. Jannard included) at the corporate offices of his former and current firm.  But the patent application (and the patent it creates) is supposed to have an address.  And the most common repository where people look at patents (as opposed to the deep dive documents contained in the patent file wrappers and other USPTO databases) show Spieden Island.

In the scheme of the patentsphere this is a small problem and nice piece of patent trivia but it's the kind of thing that give the folks screaming that the patent system is broken credibility and frankly, it makes the USPTO look bad.  Solving this problem can be handled in a simple automated way and it will improve the quality of the patent data and the Office's credibility.  (If you can't get the address right, how can we believe the rest of the information?)  And it shouldn't be the Examiner's job or anyone else's for that matter - it's a job for a computer.

The US Patent and Trademark Office is part of the Department of Commerce.  The US Census Bureau, perhaps the most data obsessed collection of math/stats and data quality experts on the planet earth, is also part of the Department of Commerce. 


The Census Bureau is the data obsessed wing of the government.  The Census Bureau with the help of the US Postal Service (an a few external data services) has the most comprehensive list of addresses in the US.  (The Bureau also supports a range of international efforts to help others fix their address files around the world. )  How hard would it be to use the address file from Census to compare the address data on the USPTO patent applications and patents (and anything else with an address.)  If that doesn't work for whatever governmental issue, perhaps USPTO can chat up UPS or FedEx.  It worked on making the bulk patent downloads available via Google.

It's not that Mr. Jannard is doing anything wrong here, it's that the USPTO data systems let this kind of stuff get through.  Bad geo-location and address data  just adds to the cacophony complaints that the system is broken and perpetuates the rampant level of asymmetric information in the patentsphere.  It's time to work on leveling the playing field.

Let us know what you think - feedback@waybetterpatents.com

We've been publishing our reading list entries on Friday.  More from the Way Better Patents Reading List Next Week.  You can see the complete Reading List here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Water Treatment From Fracing and Other Sources


Debate over the the geotechnical technique known as hydraulic fracturing (aka, “fracing” or “fracking”) continues. Much of the expressed concern focuses on perceived potential for groundwater contamination. Some of this ignores the fact that the fracing fluid is injected multiple thousands of feet below groundwater aquifers and that the potential for contamination may be related to improper or faulty well linings. Other concerns are directed toward the nature of chemicals used in the fracing fluid. See our earlier Inkling posts herehere, and here.

Jerome Angelilli (Irving, TX) and four co-inventors were awarded patent US 8,211,296 on July 3, 2012 for their “Portable water treatment system and apparatus”. The patent, assigned to NCH Ecoservices, LLC (Irving, TX), was issued under the USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program, analyzed in Way Better Patents' USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program Discovery and Analysis Report. Their invention is found in the Way Better Patents  Water Index.

The abstract provides a succinct summary of Angelilli et al.’s invention:
"A portable water treatment system and apparatus is disclosed that can effectively and efficiently treat aqueous fluids by quickly and reliably adjusting and controlling the free residual level of disinfectants, contaminants or additives through the addition of one or more treating agents such as oxidizing chemicals and/or other special-purpose additives, and that can continuously store, log, retrieve and report the related fluid composition data and other operating parameters on a real-time basis at either the use site or a remote location. A preferred use for the subject system and apparatus is managing the chemistry of disinfectant, contaminant and/or additive levels in aqueous fluids used in hydraulic fracturing operations, and controlling the free residual levels of the disinfectant or contaminants within the fluids, including fluids maintained in frac tanks during temporary cessation of a hydraulic fracturing operation."
They envision other uses for the portable water treatment system, including industrial cooling water, HVAC cooling water, fruit and vegetable wash water, or poultry wash water, primary and secondary disinfecting of potable water, and treatment of aqueous fluids for subsurface applications such as disinfection, drilling, fracturing, well stimulation, sour well conversion, and well cleanout. Their oxidizer of choice is chlorine dioxide; this compound is also used for bleaching wood pulp, bleaching flour, and municipal water disinfection.
A multiple-use portable water treatment system that can help improve the quality of flowback from fracing operations. This is a good example of clean tech.

The inventors received a new patent on the same technology - 8,226,832

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Piece of the Clean Domestic Energy Puzzle



Way Better Patents patentECO clean tech ecosystem focuses on inventors, innovations, invention, and patents in clean technology. Major inventive domains consist of seven patentECO Indexes:

Agriculture
Air
Energy
Extraction & Harvesting
Industry
Transportation
Water

Curiously, the USPTO’s Green Tech Pilot Program has issued very few patents in the Extraction and Harvesting Index. One of these is US 8,162,049 issued in April 2012 to Peter E. Rose (Salt Lake City, UT) and assigned to the University of Utah Research Foundation. Mr. Rose’s invention, “Injection-backflow technique for measuring fracture surface area adjacent to a wellbore,” provides techniques for using tracer materials as a measurement tool to provide data for an underground reservoir fluid flow model. The model calculates fracture surface area resulting from hydraulic fracturing and geothermal formation stimulation. Increased surface area of fractures correlates with increased energy extraction rates.

The invention is summarized in Claim 1:

A method, comprising:
measuring an initial temperature profile along the length of a wellbore;
  
injecting a tracer composition into the wellbore at an initial concentration, wherein the tracer composition includes a first thermally reactive tracer and a second thermally reactive tracer, wherein the second thermally reactive tracer is less thermally reactive than the first thermally reactive tracer;
 
allowing the tracer composition to diffuse within a subterranean reservoir for a time;
measuring a second tracer concentration of the second thermally reactive tracer and a first tracer concentration of the first thermally reactive tracer as a function of time; 
and

calculating a reservoir fracture surface area using the second tracer concentration and the first tracer concentration and thermal decay information of the first thermally reactive tracer and the second thermally reactive tracer.

Claims 4 through 6 provide the types of tracers to be used; these include:


  • deuterated water, alkali metals, alkaline-earth metals, halides, and combinations thereof
  • 2,6-naphthalene disulfonate
  • esters, amines, aryl halides, rhodamine WT, eosin Y, dyes, halogenated fluoresceins, and combinations thereof.


Finally, the subterranean reservoir to which this measurement technique may be applied includes a geothermal reservoir, gas reservoir, oil reservoir, or combination thereof. In other words, the method can be applied to the hydraulic fracturing (aka fracing or fracking) method used in shale gas fields such as the Marcellus and Utica shales.

Mr. Rose’s Figure 1 shows a general engineered geothermal system (EGS 100) including a single injection well 110 and two production wells 120A and 120B. A fluid can be injected into the injection well where the fluid travels through fractures 130 in the adjacent formations outward towards the production wells. In the case of heat recovery, the fluid is heated via natural underground thermal sources 140. The production wells are located such that the heated fluid can be recovered and directed to a suitable heat transfer mechanism for producing power or the like, e.g. steam turbines 150. As the inventor points out, the same hydraulic stimulation method can increase production of any well-based production of energy and/or materials (e.g. natural gas, oil, and the like).

Inventor Rose is one of the innovators whom we can thank for helping to unlock US underground energy sources, provide more efficient means for extracting those resources, and reducing the price of energy for all of us.

A footnote: claim 15 states that “the reservoir fluid flow model is run in a numerical simulation program.” Although the USPTO did not provide a software-related cross reference classification for this claim it refers specifically to software. There has been a steady drumbeat by many bloggers and commentators that software should not be patented. Software, however, is intellectual property, and deserves protection via patents, as do the myriad of other types of inventions found in the patentsphere.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Answers to Some Basic Questions


A reader posed some basic questions in response to our "Commercialization Conundrum" post. The questions and our replies follow.
What is a US Patent?
A patent is a property right that grants an inventor exclusive rights to use/sell/manufacture their invention for a specified period of time in exchange for “teaching” others about his invention and how it works.
A patent is obtained by filing a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office which outlines the specific guidelines determining what is patentable in the US.  (See Way Better Patents' Glossary for more info.)
A patent obtained in another country?
A patent obtained in a foreign country protects the inventor’s intellectual property (the invention) in that country).  It protects against an American inventor importing products that infringe the patent into that country.
But, there's more...
A US patent prevents a foreign manufacturer from importing products into the US that infringe a US patent.  But, the inventor/patent holder needs to enforce the patent without the help of the USPTO.  The USPTO gives you the patent, you have to enforce it yourself (or with the support of top notch IP attorneys.)
What rights do patents provide for the patent holder?
The patent holder is entitled to exclusive use of their invention.  The right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute (patent laws - this is what it means when patent lawyers say stuff like, "It's statutory.") and the language of the patent itself, "the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling" the invention in the United States or "importing" the invention into the United States.
What does a patent applicant give up to obtains these rights?
A patent holder gives up the rights to keep details of the invention secret.  The inventor receives a patent in exchange for disclosing how the invention works or what it does. Basically the inventor publicly discloses how an invention works (aka - teaches) and gets exclusive rights to use/sell/manufacture your invention for 20 years after the filing date of your patent application (the current term).
Is it really worth getting and defending a patent? Coca Cola, arguably one of the most successful businesses in the world, appears to value trade secrets more that certain patents. But they also vigorously protect their trademark.
Patents and trademarks - the intellectual property equivalent of apples and oranges - event though Apple has lots of both, but we digress.
Patents are good for some things, trade secrets are good for others, trademarks are totally different but are intellectual property too.
  • See the work of Thomas Edison, original patent troll, and Nikola Tesla inventor of Alternating Current.  Both guys had patents but had different strategies.
  • Ask Mr. Bezos how much money Amazon is making from Barnes and Noble and others for licensing fees related to the single action ordering system patent US Patent 5,960,411  (We'll discuss the reexamination where on-demand purchases using your cable TV remote control resulted in big changes to the claims in one-click land.)
  • And for Elias Howe the sewing machine business was pretty good.  It took a five year patent battle but eventually his invention was declared "basic"  (essential or seminal in today's patent lingo) and Mr. Howe was awarded a royalty for every machine that infringed his patent. Patent wars are not new they are just more public thanks to the internet.  The sewing machine war is pretty interesting though.
  • The late An Wang sold his patent for core memory to IBM to raise money forhis firm and then WANG Laboratories changed the way we create documents and worked in an office forever.  WANG Laboratories invented the technology for Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) which it sold to Microsoft in exchange for a $90M investment.  All this internet stuff with pictures with links is OLE on steroids.
  • If Coca-Cola had a patent strategy instead of a trade secret strategy the company wouldn’t have its $167 billion market capitalization and we’d all be drinking “coke” with labels that say Walmart, Stop & Shop, or Mom's Kitchen. Much of Coke's value is in it's branding which protects with its trademarks.  By the way, one part of the formula is out there.  Since high fructose corn syrup, one of the ingredients in Coke, is a grain product by Kosher standards, regular Coke isn't kosher for Passover.  But, Coke replaces the high fructose corn syrup with cane sugar during Passover.  Lots of folks buy Coke by the case at that time of year because a lot of health nuts (in addition to Passover celebrants) prefer cane sugar in their soda.
  • It’s just like the recipe for Oreos. Nabisco, a division of Kraft Food is celebrating the 100th anniversary of their product this year. If they had patented the recipe rather than keeping it as a trade secret, they wouldn’t be making billions selling them since every Tom, Dick and Harry could copy the recipe.  
But just because it's in the patent doesn't mean it works.  Negative know-how (trade secrets that define what doesn’t work) also enters ino this equation. See our earlier post on Tabasco and the Extra Ingredient. Sometimes the patent isn’t always a complete view of the invention, but we may not know it at the time.
Keep the questions coming.