Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Curious Green Tech Patents - SUV Tents

The curious patents issued by the USPTO’s Green Technology Pilot Program continue with US 8,230,870, issued on the last day of July, 2012. “SUV tent traveler” was invented by Robert D. Horejsh of Altoona, WI. The patent abstract provides a summary:
"An elevated floor camper tent for SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) type vehicles having electric, hybrid or other energy-saving, lower horsepower engines and top hinged rear doors. The entire tent assembly fits inside the vehicle for aerodynamic maximization and the state-of-the-art materials minimize the total weight. A set of continuous slides provides support and, with integrated footpads, facilitates setup on hard or soft surfaces. The campers sleep within the relative safety of the vehicle and utilize the main part of the tent as a living area. The standard features, under actual test conditions, suggest the design as safe, effective and user-friendly plus the stable, framed living area having built in rail-type support braces and kick panels help prevent the users from accidents."
The specification of a patent is the “written description of the invention and the manner and process of making and using the claimed invention.” Much useful information can be found there, and for clean tech inventions particularly inventors’ statements regarding why they think their innovation is clean tech.

The spec of the ‘870 patent contains several statements of Horejsh’s intent:
  • The higher-mileage, hybrid and electric vehicles could be utilized for camping thus enhancing their versatility and general usage in the camping community. Our camper-tent invention is designed from the ground up to be specifically used by the vehicles of now and in the future.
  • The “SUV Tent Traveler” (name used for identification purposes only) is a concept of a tent, tent frame, elevated camper floor contained entirely within the vehicles’ storage area and mounted on continuous slides.
  • Earth-friendly vehicles are limited for camping although we purchased a Ford Escape Hybrid knowing the towing capacity was only 1,000 lbs. (passengers and cargo included). What we didn’t know was that already optimistic rating was based on a flat surface at lower altitudes and campers under 1,000 lbs. were barely available, those being very expensive. Alternatives involved roof top units with a MPG robbing aerodynamic drag; mini trailers with the inherent problems of pulling another object; and tents, set directly on the ground with a boot to connect to a vehicle. We found the vehicle rear area too short to comfortably sleep in so, in effect, that alternative (attached ground tent) was really just camping out. Earth-friendly vehicles include hybrid, electric, enhanced, dual or multiple mode-powered vehicles, or generally any vehicle with lower rated horsepower for higher MPG, designed by the manufacture to save energy through aerodynamic design with top hinged rear doors.
  • The key to its uniqueness is a continuous flat plane slide system comprised of a plurality of sections adjacent to each other to extend the main floor panel longitudinally out from under the cargo floor panel.
How is a tent that can be stored in a vehicle considered to be clean tech?

The tent does not decrease vehicle weight (to the contrary, it increases weight).

The SUV tent does not increase vehicle fuel efficiency (it decreases it since it represents extra weight).

It does not improve vehicle aerodynamic form (it’s stored within the vehicle except when set up (during which time the vehicle is not traveling and incurring aerodynamic friction), just as your normal, everyday pup tent would be).

The invention is classified under CLASS 135, TENT, CANOPY, UMBRELLA, OR CANE.

The patent has only two claims.

The time between filing and grant was less than a year, short even by Green Tech program standards.

And what about the prior art?  A walk around Bonnaroo (or a look at the photo stream of the parking/camping area) or a visit to a college football tailgate will yield lots of prior art small SUV tent configurations.

This invention is from an independent inventor who generally have a harder time commercializing their inventions even if accelerated patenting is helpful.  We'll skip the the intent of the program to "accelerate the development and deployment of green technology, create green jobs, and promote U.S. competitiveness in this vital sector."  (See the press release announcing the program here.)

At the risk of being cynical - is this a quota making invention that gets to wear the green label?

This type of interpretation of what is within the boundaries of an accelerated examination program should provide interesting material to innovation researchers in light of upcoming changes under the America Invents Act that enable the Director of USPTO to designate "economically important" technology.

Another curious patent granted under the Green Tech Pilot Program.