Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Doorway To Green Technology - Green Tech Doorway

A clean tech door: the doorway 102,
a doorway frame 106,
a doorway opening 122, and
an outer face 134.

Curious Green Tech Program Patents - #1

While reviewing patents issued under the USPTO’s Green Technology Pilot Program], I was struck by the title of US 8,171,674 – “Doorway for a wind turbine tower.”

doorway receives a green tech/clean tech  patent from the US Patent Office?

First, details on the ‘674 patent, issued in early May 2012. The inventors – Bharat Bagepalli of Niskayuna, NY and Russell Earle Walthers, from Saratoga, CA. The assignee – General Electric Company. The technology, according to USPTO,  static structures including a component designed to receive a disparate article having disparate article mounted thereto on shaft or tower. Isn’t government-speak great?

In other words, an object (in this case, a doorway) mounted on a tower. The abstract:
A doorway for a tower of a wind turbine is disclosed. The doorway may generally comprise a doorway frame having a substantially rectangular shape and including an inner face and an outer face. An opening may be defined between the inner and outer faces and may be configured to provide access to an interior of the tower. Additionally, at least one of the inner face and the outer face may define a substantially planar surface along at least a portion of its width.
The patent contains 13 claims, of which claim 1 is representative:
A tower for a wind turbine, the tower comprising:
a tower segment having a first end and a second end, the tower segment defining a curved shape between said first and second ends; and
a doorway disposed between said first and second ends, said doorway comprising:
a doorway frame having a substantially rectangular shape and including an inner face and an outer face and,
an opening defined through said inner and outer faces, said opening configured to provide access to an interior of the tower,
wherein at least one of said inner face and said outer face defines a substantially planar surface along a substantial portion of its width.
Wondering how a patent for a doorway was issued as a green tech/clean tech, a review of the various documents supporting the patent ensued.

Applicants wishing to have their inventions considered under the US Patent Office’s Green Tech Pilot Program were required to complete a form (it’s government, after all) to specifically request accelerated examination under the program. The inventor duly filed the form (received at USPTO 5/24/11); here is an excerpt:
Applicant respectfully submits that Special Status is sought on the basis that the present invention materially contributes to the development of renewable energy resource or energy conservation.  
Materially?  Do real inventors say materially or is this a lawyer term?  In this case it's a USPTO term.

The petition to make special was routed to Art Unit 3633 for a decision. On June 7, 2011, USPTO (a Tech Center 3600 Quality Assurance Specialist, specifically) replied:
The petition is DISMISSED.
The Patent Office’s reasoning was that “[t]he petition lacks item 4”. Item 4 in the requirements for achieving Green Tech accelerated exam status was:
If the disclosure is not clear on its face that the claimed invention materially contributes under category (A) or (B) [A) materially enhances the quality of the environment or B) materially contributes to: i) the discovery or development of renewable energy resources, ii) the more efficient utilization and conservation of energy resources, or iii) greenhouse gas emission reduction.] [^1], the petition must be accompanied by a statement by the applicant, assignee, or an attorney/agent registered to practice before the Office explaining how the materiality is met.
Additional justification for dismissal was provided by USPTO:
In regard to item 4, the claims are directed to a doorway used in a tower which can be used to support a wind turbine. Since the wind turbine is not claimed, the claimed doorway or tower in and by itself would not ordinarily contribute to the development of renewable energy resources - a doorway or a tower cannot generate energy or convert the mechanical energy into electrical energy. There is no evidence in the present application that the claimed doorway or tower materially contributes to the development of renewable energy resources. In addition, as the claimed doorway or tower would not necessarily result in a tower used to support a wind turbine, petitioner’s assertion of the claimed method’s contribution to the development of renewable energy resources or energy conservation is entirely speculative. As stated in the notice, the materiality standard does not permit an applicant to speculate as to how a hypothetical end-user might specially apply the invention in a manner than [sic] could materially contribute to category 9A) or (B). Also see MPEP §708.02 (VI). Accordingly, it is not agreed that the application on its face meets that materiality standard.
This seems to be a very reasoned and well-supported dismissal.

GE disagreed and filed a Request for Reconsideration of the Patent Office’s denial of the request for accelerated examination under the Green Tech Program; this was received by USPTO on June 30, 2011. The heart of GE’s request to reconsider is contained in the penultimate paragraph of their Request:
Embodiments of the present invention materially contribute to the development of renewable energy by reducing the thickness of tower segments required for wind turbines and reducing the time and expense necessary to form the tower doorway. As such, these measures promote investment in wind turbine technology by making it a more cost-effective alternative to other non-renewable energy technologies, which in turn promotes increased energy production.
GE is arguing that reducing the thickness of tower segments, and reducing time and expense (to them, the manufacturer) to form a wind tower doorway constitute sufficient reasons for the application to be accepted for accelerated examination under the program. They are arguing here that thinner wind turbine tower segments, and reduced manufacturing time and expense for GE do materially contribute to the development of renewable energy resources or energy conservation. But none of those aspects address either the requirements of Item 4, provided above, under which the accelerated exam request was dismissed, orthe USPTO’s specific, detailed reasoning supporting that dismissal.

On August 4, 2011, USPTO agreed with GE’s request (what a surprise); this time, however, the reply came from a QA Specialist in Tech Center 1700:
The petition is GRANTED.
USPTO did not provide any reasoning for supporting their grant of the petition to make special, nor any reasoning to explain why they now viewed GE’s wind turbine doorway as meeting program requirements, when just a few weeks previously they had given a well-written, logical set of reasons for rejecting the application for acclerated examination under the program.

Thus, the bottom line in GE’s and USPTO’s thinking is that a wind tower door is clean tech.
Did we mention that GE has received the largest number of patents of any assignee under the USPTO Green Tech Program? Or that GE was definitively involved in the program prior to its announcement on December 7, 2009? See the USPTO press release announcing the program on that date with a quote from Carl Horton, Chief Intellectual Property Counsel of General Electric, who “hailed the new initiative” (I’m sure he did, considering how well GE subsequently did under the program)  ”We hail this initiative as an excellent incentive to fuel further innovation of clean technology and a terrific mechanism to speed the dissemination of these patented technologies throughout the world,” Horton said. ’) Or that Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman of the Board and CEO of GE, is head of the Obama Administration’s Jobs Council (nothing more need be said here?)  Representatives from GE introduced their colleague who wrote many of the patent applications and crafted the green tech justifications at the USPTO Green Technology Partnership meeting too.

Inventors, remember, precedent has been established. A doorway is clean tech, if you tie it to a wind turbine.  (Improving a the driving experience of an electric vehicle also qualified.)

Amazing. One might think the Office was under some pressure to produce clean tech/clean energy patents from this program. Naahh, that couldn’t be, could it?

[^1] Pretty limited criteria for energy-related clean tech inventions, wouldn’t you agree?