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.