Monday, March 18, 2013

Business Methods Mash Up

Today we bring you the Business Methods Clean Tech Community Mashup.

A “System and method for building a green community” was patented in mid-January 2013. The business method invention was granted to Nancy Lynne Welsh (Raleigh, NC). Welsh’s invention, protected by US 8,355,995, is for
“a system and method for building a green community construction. The system and method may comprise preparing a site for green community construction, acquiring housing for the site, wherein the housing is acquired below assessed value, moving the housing to the site, and remodeling the housing at the site to form the green community.”
The key features in the patent’s claims are listed below.
  1. A computer-implemented method for managing green housing community construction, wherein the method is executed by at least one programmed computer processor which communicates with at least one client via a network, the method comprising:
    • coordinating preparation of a site for green housing community construction
    • processing acquisition of existing housing for the site, wherein the existing housing is acquired below assessed value, and the existing housing is slated for demolition
    • scheduling transfer of the existing housing to the site
    • managing remodeling of the existing housing at the site to form the green housing community
  2. receiving one or more permits for site construction
  3. receiving funding for site construction
  4. performing foundational work for the site
  5. searching for housing based on at least one of location, value, type, size, and provider
  6. performing at least one of assessments and inspections on the housing
  7. determination of acceptable housing for the site
  8. determining one or more move routes for transporting the housing from an original site to the site for green housing community construction [Editor’s note: how disruptive will moving enough houses from dispersed locations to create the ‘green community’ be?]
  9. acquiring unwanted materials from the original site for reuse, wherein the unwanted materials comprise at least one of brick, asphalt, wood, shrubbery, and recyclable materials
  10. remodeling is achieved in at least one of the following: foundational remodeling, exterior remodeling, interior remodeling, and community remodeling
  11. using at least one of recyclable materials, energy-efficient materials, and green-building approved materials
  12. A computer readable medium encoded with computer executable instructions to perform the acts of the method of claim 1. [Editor’s note: this claim and its phrasing help the inventor meet machine-or-transformation tests necessary for business methods patenting. This is software and the hard-drive it runs on.]
  13. A computer-implemented system for green housing community construction … [Editor’s note: similar to claim 1 contents, but this covers the software, server, and client system; again, needed to qualify for business methods status.]
  14. A method for transforming a plurality of houses initially situated in different locations and slated for demolition into a green housing development solely formed from the plurality of houses …
    • preparing a development site
    • defining a plurality of criteria for the houses, including the distance and route from a present location of the house to the development site, the maximum width and height of the house, and the cost of the house
    • searching for and identifying existing houses that are slated for demolition and that meet the plurality of criteria
    • effecting the transfer of ownership of the houses
    • transporting each of the houses from its present location to the development site
    • installing each of the houses on a foundation
    • remodeling using green construction methods
  15. The method of claim 14, further comprising: hiring at least one disadvantaged person to perform the remodeling, wherein the disadvantaged person is a homeless person, an at risk youth, or a person with a criminal record; training the disadvantaged person to perform the remodeling; and providing a ongoing, customized work mentor program for the disadvantaged person.
  16. criterion for cost is that the house is donated [refers to cost in claim 14]
  17. installing computers and wireless access in the houses at the development site
The problem Welsh is trying to solve is discussed in the patent’s specification:
"Buildings have a profound effect on the environment. … Although green building in residential sectors is receiving increased attention due to environmental issues such as global warming, rising energy prices, and indoor air quality issues, there continues to be high number of residential tear-downs in or near larger cities across the United States with no environmentally viable replacement strategies currently available. In addition, costs associated with green building are often significantly higher than conventional construction. For example, green construction may be 5% to 20% more expensive than conventional construction. Furthermore, designs and plans for green construction do not typically include a comprehensive and integrated approach for using recycled housing, guidelines for using such materials, and strategies for continued neighborhood development. 

As a result, there are significant problems and shortcomings associated with current building techniques. Therefore, a system and method for constructing a green community using recycled housing, implementing custom guidelines for using such materials, and/or continuing neighborhood development would be highly desirable."
We’ve written about business methods, software patents, and clean tech applied to building construction and housing in past posts. Additional information on business methods patents may be found here.

Time will tell whether or not this approach to community construction has any commercial viability. Perhaps it is a modern-day version of the numerous utopian communities that were attempted in the 1800s?

But another question given how residential real estate works is whether this is novel and whether this is patentable.  We'll see.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Patent Resources -- The List of IP Acronyms

Acronyms -- The alphabet soup of intellectual property — acronyms, abbreviations, and more. Words formed from the initial letters of other words — like FRAND - Fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory - how royalties are determined for standard essential patents.

Way Better Patents maintains a list of the meanings of the acronyms as they relate to intellectual property.  Here PCT means Patent Cooperation Treaty, not to be confused with percentage; Primary Care Trust (the UK National Health Service) or porphyria cutanea tarda, a form of photosensitive skin disease.  AU means Art Unit in patent speak though depending on the patent domain it can also be a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal and the atomic number 79 - GOLD.

Use the list to throw around the acronyms like the rest of the patent cognoscenti or to figure out what they are taking about.

Way Better Patents has a variety of patent information tools designed to make information about patents more accessible and easier to understand.   From time to time we post updates on these tools here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

PBR – Rubber, Not Beer


It was always curious  the fear that college organic chemistry engendered in students. Yes, it could wrap your brain around the axle learning the various bond types, transition states, and compound-naming conventions, but come on, gang, it’s fascinating!

A recent posts featured a photo of a stack of tires. The Rubber Manufacturers Association estimates that 292 million tires weighing a total of 4.9 million tons, were scrapped in the US in 2009. The largest percentage of these (40.3%) were disposed of as tire-derived fuel, with the next largest category being ground rubber. For this end-use, molded and extruded products, sports surfacing, playgrounds/mulch/animal bedding, and automotive uses were the descending order of uses. The RMA also estimates that 162 million new tires were manufactured in the US in 2012.

A common thread between tires and your car, the roads you drive on, the tennis courts you play on, surgeries or medical implants and devices you might be treated with, and that evil-of-evils (not!), hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking), is polybutadiene rubber (PBR). Polybutadiene is a polymer (a chemical compound or mixture of compounds consisting of repeating structural units – proteins, DNA, and the polystyrene found in styrofoam are polymers.) first polymerized by Russian chemist Sergei Vasilyevich Lebedev in 1910. The compound is highly wear resistant, and about 70 percent of its production is used in tire manufacture.

Electrically conducting tires

One of the most recently issued patents related to the use of PBR in tires is US 8,376,005, “Pneumatic tire.” It was granted in February 2013 to Norihiko Nakamura (Osaka, Japan) and assigned to Toyo Tire & Rubber Co., Ltd., also of Osaka. His abstract summarizes the invention:

“A pneumatic tire that can be manufactured according to the conventional method without requiring special tire manufacturing steps and without needing addition of material members and production steps, has excellent rolling resistance and wet properties, and has conductivity. A pneumatic tire has a side wall contacted with a rim strip of a bead part and extended outward in a radial direction of a tire from the bead part to be coupled to a ground contact edge region of a tread part, the side wall comprising a two-layer structure of an internal layer rubber and an outer layer rubber, characterized in that on the circumference of unilateral or bilateral part of the tire, the rim strip and either the internal layer rubber or the external layer rubber of the side wall are formed into a continuous conductive path by a conductive rubber material, only the conductive path is used as a conducting path of the tire, and members other than the conductive path are selected and used from a conductive rubber material or a nonconductive rubber material.” Drawing references deleted for clarity.

As is common in modern tires, silica is used in the tread rubber. This leads to a problem, however: “With this silica compounding technology, static electricity charged in vehicles gives rise to the problems that discharge phenomenon is generated when a tire passes on manholes and the like, resulting in radio noise, adverse influence to electronic circuit parts, generation of short-circuit, and the like.”

Nakamura solves this static electricity problem by including a conductive rubber material in the tire tread. That conductive layer contains polybutadiene rubber.

Tires in your roads

“Asphalt rubber is the largest single market for ground rubber, consuming an estimated 220 million pounds, or approximately 12 million tires,” according to the USEPA. Ground tire rubber (including the PBR found in tires) can be blended with asphalt to provide longer-lasting road surfaces, reduced maintenance, lower road noise, and shorter braking distances.

Lance Allan and Jim Farnell (both of Santa Fe Springs, CA) have received one of the most recent patents related to rubber-containing asphalt – US 8,377,190, “Methods and arrangement for creating asphalt emulsion,” issued in February 2013. They provide “[a] method for creating asphalt emulsion …. The method includes heating a base asphalt. The method also includes injecting the base asphalt into a colloid mill. The method further includes breaking up the base asphalt into small particles. The method yet also include preparing a soap solution, wherein the soap solution includes an acid, water, and a first emulsifier, wherein the first emulsifier is an alkyl amines salt based emulsifier. The method yet further includes combining the small particles of the base asphalt with the soap solution to create the asphalt emulsion.” Their claim 6 specifies that the “base asphalt is a tire-rubber-modified asphalt”.

We considered pothole repair last year.

Athletic courts, concert stages

David Barlow (Seminole, FL) received US 8,266,857 in September 2012 for his invention “Interlocking floor system with barbs for retaining covering.” He provides “[a] flooring system includ[ing] multiple polymeric panels that are interlocked into a floor system and then covered with a material such as carpet and artificial turf. A top surface of the polymeric panels includes barbs to hold the material from moving laterally during use.” He envisions that his floor covering can be used on basketball courts, concert stages, as the finished surface for athletic courts, or as an underlayment for tennis courts or lawn bowling areas. The rubber in the panels “can include structural foam and processed recycled automobile tires mixed in a bonding agent.”

PBR in medicine

The synthetic rubber polybutadiene plays a role in the medical device industry. A recent invention in this art is US 8,303,973, “Multifunctional compounds for forming crosslinked biomaterials and methods of preparation and use,” granted in November 2012 (on Election Day, to be precise) to George Y. Daniloff and co-inventors and assigned to Angiotech Pharmaceuticals (US), Inc. (Seattle, WA). Daniloff et al.’s abstract states:

“Multifunctional compounds are provided that readily crosslink in situ to provide crosslinked biomaterials. The multifunctional compounds contain a single component having at least three reactive functional groups thereon, with the functional groups selected so as to be non-reactive in an initial environment and inter-reactive in a modified environment. Reaction of a plurality of the multifunctional compounds results in a three-dimensional crosslinked matrix. In one embodiment, a first functional group is nucleophilic, a second functional group is electrophilic, and at least one additional functional group is nucleophilic or electrophilic. Methods for preparing and using the multifunctional compounds, and kits including the multifunctional compounds are also provided. Exemplary uses for the multifunctional compounds include tissue augmentation, biologically active agent delivery, bioadhesion, and prevention of adhesions following surgery or injury.”

Polybutadiene is one of the ‘multifunctional compounds’.

Rubber in fracking fluids

We’ve considered in past posts the process of hydraulic fracturing and inventions related to various aspects of this process that is re-defining natural gas production, especially in the US. You can find them by searching here. A review of hydraulic fracturing fluid is here.

A team of Schlumberger Technology Corporation inventors led by Evgeny Barmatov were granted US 8,141,637, “Manipulation of flow underground”, in March 2012. Their invention relates to placement of propane in a formation, or to blocking unwanted flow paths in the underground rock. Their abstract states:

“Solid material required at a subterranean location is supplied from the surface suspended in a carrier liquid and agglomerated below ground by means of a binding liquid. To achieve agglomeration, the binding liquid and the particulate solid are similar to each other but opposite to the carrier liquid in hydrophilic/hydrophobic character. The solid and the binding liquid may both be hydrophobic while the carrier liquid is hydrophilic, or vice versa. The solid may be hydrophobically surface modified to render it hydrophobic. The binding liquid may be provided as a precursor which converts to the binding liquid below ground to trigger agglomeration after arrival at the subterranean location. The agglomerates may function as proppant heterogeneously placed in a fracture of a reservoir, or may serve to block an unwanted path of flow. The binding liquid may polymerise after agglomeration so as to stabilise and strengthen the agglomerates.”

According to claim 17, “the binding liquid undergoes polymerisation after the agglomeration has taken place.” The patent’s Specification clarifies that the binding liquid can contain polybutadiene - that same compound found in your tires.

PBR in fracking well cement

When oil and gas wells (including those used for hydraulic fracturing) are drilled, a long length of pipe (the casing) is placed in the wellbore and a cement slurry is then placed between the casing and the surrounding rock formation. Many factors determine the composition of the cement slurry (this is not like mixing a sack of concrete to fix your sidewalk or patio), including slurry density, rheology, pump time, fluid loss, settling and gas migration mitigation during placement and compressive strengths for long term performance, according to inventors B. Raghava Reddy and Krishna M. Ravi. They were granted US 7,913,757, “Methods of formulating a cement composition,” in March 2011. Their patent is assigned to Halliburton Energy Services. Inc.

Reddy and Ravi provide “[a] method of cementing a wellbore in a subterranean formation, comprising formulating a cement composition that may be suitable for long-term zonal isolation of the subterranean formation by evaluating a subterranean formation, preparing a base cement composition, determining the compressive strength of the base cement composition, determining the tensile strength of the base cement composition, and adjusting the ratio of compressive strength to tensile strength as need to within a first optimizing range to form a first optimized cement composition, and placing the optimized cement composition in the wellbore.” To adjust the strength of the slurry mixture they incorporate “an elastomer, a rubber” or a combination. One of the rubber compounds they specifically claim (claim 13) is cis–1,4-polybutadiene rubber - the same PBR used in tires.

Technologies cross

These inventions are examples of the cross-cutting nature of technology and how a given material, compound, process, or mechanism can be used across a very wide range of art. In addition, the nature of innovation is such that it is unpredictable, although much effort is spent on the part of industry to try to determine future innovation trends, in part from looking for “holes” in existing patterns of inventions (this is known as whitespace or gap analysis). A compendium of recent advances in clean technology can be found in Way Better Patents’ Green Tech Discovery and Analysis report.

A Bonus

You, your kids, or parents (or grandparents for that matter. Now that is stunning.) may have enjoyed using this PBR-based product. A hint – it hit the market in the mid–60s, and it has a resilience factor greater than 90%, which is a huge part of its appeal.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Road Trip!! - Tire Tech

As of mid-February 2013, US gasoline prices have risen every day for more than a month. At a time when food prices continue to escalate (while package sizes, weights, and volumes decrease) and workers receiving paychecks notice a significant hit due to the expiration of the "payroll tax holiday", what are budget-conscious families to do? Not to be pessimistic, but do the best we can.

Innovations in vehicle tire technology, including monitoring and maintenance, help to increase auto and truck fuel economy. A recent New York Times article discussed some of the approaches being taken to improving traction while at the same time reducing the rolling-resistance of tires, which in turn leads to greater fuel economy. RubberWorld reports that the global demand for tires is expected to reach 3.3 billion units in 2015. The potential fuel cost associated with the rolling resistance, and improper inflation, of that many new tires (not to mention the existing ones that won’t be replaced that year) is huge. We offer a brief survey of tire technology that can help mitigate increased fuel costs.

They’re not just rubber

Tire technologists have worked to modify the formulation of the rubber and other compounds used in vehicle tires since pneumatic rubber tires were invented in the 1800s. Silica (the major component of quartz sand) added to tire rubber serves as a reinforcing agent and helps to reduce the rolling resistance of tires. A recent invention related to tire rubber composition including silica is US 8,336,591, “Pneumatic tire with rubber component containing carboxymethylcellulose [CMC],” issued on Christmas Day 2012 to Klaus Unseld (Luxembourg) and co-inventors and assigned to The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company (NASDAQ: GT) (Akron, OH). Unseld et al. not only use silica in their formulation, but also incorporate carboxymethylcellulose:

“The present invention is directed to a pneumatic tire comprising at least one component, the at least one component comprising a rubber composition, the rubber composition comprising: at least one diene based elastomer; and a reinforcing amount of at least two fillers comprising carboxymethylcellulose and at least one of silica and carbon black.”

They point out that “the use of renewable materials as reinforcement in rubber compounds in place of carbon black and silica is desirable from an environmental standpoint.”

You’ve encountered CMC in your daily activities. It is used:

  • As a thickener and emulsion stabilizer in various products including ice cream
  • Personal lubricants, toothpaste, laxatives, diet pills, water-based paints, detergents, textile sizing, and various paper products
  • In laundry detergents
  • As a lubricant in nonvolatile eye drops (artificial tears)
  • In pharmaceuticals as a thickening agent
  • In the oil-drilling industry as an ingredient of drilling mud, where it acts as a viscosity modifier and water retention agent
  • In ice packs to form a low freezing point mixture providing more cooling capacity than ice
  • To aid in tartrate or cold stability in wine, which can reduce electricity consumption for chilling wine in warm climates.

And now found in clean tech tires that increase your gas mileage.

They’re not just tires, they’re computer peripherals

Just when you wondered how much more expensive and complicated cars can get, and how little of a modern automobile you, the owner/operator can service yourself, come complex new millennium tire inventions.

Robert Angelo Fiore (East Longmeadow, MA) patented and retained the rights to US 7,066,226, “Fuel efficient vehicle tire having a variable footprint and low rolling resistance”, issued in June 2006. Fiore invented a system of active tire tread, connected to a computer-based tire control system, in which

“the ground-contact surface area is variable as a portion of the tread part can be retracted and/or extended using pneumatic, mechanical or hydraulic force to withdraw from, or come into contact with the road surface before, during or after operation permitting more efficient operation wherein the material used within the tread part that retains contact with the road may generally have a smaller internal friction loss than the material used in conventional tires and the rolling resistance is thereby reduced when the retractable portion of the tread is selectively withdrawn from contact with the road surface furthermore achieving a smaller ground-contact patch footprint.”

After reading that you’ll be glad to know that the tire also reduces interior and exterior noise and provides a “reduced tendency to exhibit hydroplaning action.”

No more stops at the gas station air pump

According to the US Department of Energy, “You can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires.” Automated tire inflation systems are one approach to maintaining proper tire pressure. The most-cited US patent (based on the title) in this technology is US 4,431,043, cited 41 times by more recent patents. “Automatic tire inflation system” was invented by Fred Goodell (Grosse Ile, MI) and Michael Ellison (Canton, MI), granted on Valentine’s Day 1984, and assigned to AM General Corporation (Detroit, MI). The company has “a legacy dating back to America’s first 4-wheel drive utility vehicle - the Willys Jeep of World War II – AM General is best known today for its global leadership in the design, production and support of the High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV or Humvee) … .” The invention provides “[a]n automatic tire inflation/deflation system for a vehicle … . Air passageways for the pressurize air are provided internally through the wheel assemblies without cutting into load bearing members. A rotating seal is provided by way of a pair of sealing rings located inboard of the hub bearings to protect the seals from adverse environmental conditions. A kit for retrofitting vehicles to include an automatic tire inflation/deflation system” is also provided. The focus of the invention is toward military vehicles, but the technology can also be found in commercial applications.

This is not the earliest patent for this technology, however. Arthur W. Stonestreet (Pasadena, CA) received US 1,338,337, “Automatic pneumatic, pneumatic-tire-inflating mechanism,” in April 1920. He stated that “[t]his invention relates to the automatic inflation of pneumatic tires and the object of my invention is to provide means for automatically the tire while in motion.”

And what about tire pressure monitoring? A recent patent, US 8,326,480, “Method and device for monitoring the state of tires,” was granted in December 2012 to Andreas Kobe (Bensheim, Germany) and co-inventors and assigned to Continental Teves AG & Co. oHG (Germany). It provides for measuring variables such as wheel speed, wheel rolling circumference and determining tire pressure from calculations based on these factors. We should note that this patent has been classified by USPTO as a software patent. Good? Bad? Shouldn’t have been granted? Perhaps the inventors’ statement of purpose, expressed in the Field of Invention section, sheds some light for those that desire software patents to be eliminated:

“… systems which contribute to active or passive protection of the vehicle occupants are being increasingly used. Systems for monitoring the tire pressure protect the vehicle occupants against injury which would otherwise be caused, for example, by an abnormal tire pressure. An abnormal tire pressure can, for example, increase the wear of the tire and the consumption of fuel, or a tire defect (’flat tire) may occur.”

But again, as with automated tire inflation systems, it’s been done before. In January 1920, Louis Anderfuhren (Baltimore, MD) probably celebrated his receipt of US 1,327,416, “Pneumatic-tire alarm.” He wrote:

“This invention relates to devices applicable to pneumatic tires used on motor vehicles, and operating to give warning when the tire becomes deflated to such an extent that it is liable to be damaged if the driver continues to run the car.”

Basically, the invention was for a bell and clapper mounted on the car wheel in such a way that when the tire begins to deflate, the clapper is actuated via a spring and rings the bell. This would have worked to gain the driver’s attention in an age without in-car radios, sound systems, multi-megawatt woofers, iPods, cell phones, and in-car entertainment systems.

Daddy, what’s that little light mean?

Per the USDOE, tire pressure affects gas mileage. Akihiro Taguchi (Obu, Japan) provides a “Device for displaying fuel efficiency degradation amount based on tire air pressure”, issued in March 2009 and assigned to DENSO Corporation (T: 6902) (Kariya, Japan). US 7,501,940 is a succinct invention with only two claims, describing

“A fuel efficiency degradation amount displaying device detects a tire air pressure and calculates an amount of degradation of fuel efficiency of the vehicle compared to fuel efficiency in a case that the tire air pressure is appropriate. Then the fuel efficiency degradation amount displaying device indicates not only a warning of the decrease of the tire air pressure but also the amount of the fuel efficiency degradation. Therefore the driver can recognize the amount of the degradation clearly and intuitively. As a result, it is possible to prevent drivability of the vehicle from getting worse, because the driver can adjust, knowing a relation between the tire air pressure and the fuel efficiency, the tire air pressure to the appropriate tire air pressure.”

Taguchi was beaten to the punch by Vernen E. Rouch and Willim J. Abbott (Fulton, IN) in their December 1927 patent, US 1,652,733, “Electrical tire-pressure indicator.” From their patent:

"The present invention relates to an air pressure indicating device to be employed in connection with pneumatic tires of motor vehicles for signaling to the operator when the air pressure within a tire has reached a dangerously low degree.

Another important object of the invention is to provide a device of this character which may be readily and easily installed on motor vehicles now in use, eliminating the necessity of making alterations in the motor vehicle construction to accomplish installing of the device.

Another object of the invention is to provide a device which will be purely automatic in its operations and one which is electrically controlled."

Did you think that electrical, automated tire pressure indicators were a relatively recent innovation?

Your tire pressure dictates your route

We’ve looked at tire compound formulations, active tires, automated tire pressure, and tire indicators. Want to get the best fuel economy for the route you would have taken on a road trip had gas prices been lower and you had more disposable income after paying for groceries, medical visits and insurance, utilities, and increased taxes? Peter G. Hartman (Bloomfield, MI) provides help for that in US 8,374,781, “Method for vehicle route planning,” issued in February 2013 and assigned to Chrysler Group, LLC (Auburn Hills, MI). The invention gives:

“A method of planning a vehicle route includes estimating fuel requirements of identified alternative routes or route segments using navigation, vehicle, and powertrain information. The method also includes displaying for a vehicle operator a list of alternate routes that features either absolute or relative values representative of such estimated fuel requirements. The method further includes adapting values used to estimate fuel requirements based upon current powertrain operating parameters, and alerting the vehicle operator when actual vehicle fuel economy along a selected route varies significantly from the estimated fuel requirement.”

Tire rolling resistance is one of the factors that is included in the calculations. Further, the inventor considers this to be a clean tech invention:

“a vehicle’s electronic navigation system utilizes navigation information and vehicle and/or powertrain information to identify one or more routes that a vehicle operator may take to arrive at a desired destination which achieves increased vehicle fuel economy, i.e., that will use less fuel, or that results in reduced vehicle emissions, e.g., reduced CO2 emissions.”

Hartman and Chrysler did not take advantage of accelerated examination under the USPTO’s Green Tech Pilot Program, which probably would have reduced the pendency of this invention, and thus time-to-market for this Chrysler product. Oh yes, this one is a clean tech software patent too.

Everything old is new again

Inventors continue to innovate to address actual and perceived societal needs. Many of the clean tech inventions we now see are incremental changes to old technology, taking advantage of new materials, processes, and supporting technologies. This is not bad, in fact, it is completely consistent with the history of invention. There are few truly disruptive, transformative, ex nihilo inventions; most are incremental, moving forward in fits-and-starts, and build on past innovations. There is a higher degree of convergence – different technological systems that evolve toward performing similar tasks – like the iPad is a portable computer is a camera is a digital recorder is an ebook reader is a portable movie theater is a portable music library and stereo is a portable photo album. Like that.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Patent Resources - The Numbers

Patents have lots of numbers.  These resources will help you figure out what all these numbers mean.  The numbers can also help you figure out the "vintage" of a patent.

Patent Numbers By Year - A table that shows the starting patent number for each year.  This will help you get a rough idea of when a patent is granted.

Application Series Numbers - The series number is the first two digits of a patent application number.  Until recently the series numbers were the same for a long period of time.  As the number of patent applications accelerates, the series numbers are changing more quickly.  Application series numbers also help you know the type of patent application.  Applications that start with 60, 61, and 62 are provisional applications.  Applications starting with 29 are design patent applications.

There is also a link to a list of patent application numbers by year.  It is also helpful for figuring out the vintage of a patent and broad estimate of the filing timeframe when you don't have access to the patent documents themselves.

Check out our Words, Numbers, and Resources links to help you find information that make patents easier to understand.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Shield Act and Troll Hunting.

The Saving High-Tech Innovators from Egregious Legal Disputes (SHIELD) Act proposes a loser pays framework for patent infringement lawsuits brought by patent assertion entities, aka patent trolls.  The PAE also needs to file a bond equal to the estimated cost of the legal fees when filing a lawsuit claiming infringement of one of their patents.

The new SHIELD ACT was reintroduced by Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) in a rare show of bipartisan cooperation.  The bill received immediate support from the high tech blogosphere where the technical cognoscenti extolled the legislation's potentially huge impact on patent troll behavior.

(How much time is spent by Congressional staff sitting around coming up with acronyms?)

Congressman DeFazio, commenting on patent trolls stated, "They pad their pockets by buying patents on products they didn’t create and then suing the innovators who did the hard work and created the product."  Yeah, kill the evil patent troll.  Not so fast. There's a bit of intellectual property vertigo setting in here.

The trolls buy patents on products they didn't create and then sue the innovators.

The companies make products that cover inventions they didn't invent and are infringing and aren't paying royalties to the inventors who did the hard work and created the invention.

There doesn't seem to be any one wondering why these guys are infringing on some inventor's patent in the first place.  And the bill isn't addressing the real issue - why is it that the brightest guys and gals in the room can't find the patents they need to license when they create their products in the first place?

After all the cheering dies down and reality sets in the  Shield Act as currently crafted raises some nontrivial issues.

First its new protections kick in too late in the PAE enforcement campaign.  Most PAE campaigns are settled long before they get to court.  Business people targeted by a PAE campaign, the bulk mailing, indicia of extortion type, are faced with two choices: settle quickly at a low price, sign the non-disclosure, go home and take a shower and get back to business; or go to battle, spend a lot of money and management energy and hope you'll win someday.

For some business people the decision is pretty simple.  A legitimate infringement lawsuit fight can go on for three or four years while you wait for the USPTO to reexamine the patent, and wind through the rest of the legal process. Getting your money back isn't the same as not spending it in the first place. Business people have to ask them selves if they have the money and stomach for the fight? A lot do not.  Most don't have the guts of the folks from Newegg or the know-how to find the prior art to invalidate an overly broad or fuzzy patent.

Then there's the bond exclusion. The SHIELD Act excludes certain parties from the bond requirement when they file an infringement suit:

1) Original inventors, joint inventors, and the original assignee of the patent;
2) Entities that have made a substantial investment in exploitation of the patent through production or sale of a product covered by the patent; (this doesn't to protect operating entities that make products but doesn't state that seem the defendant has to own the patent they are "exploiting"); and
3) Technology transfer organizations whose primary purpose is to facilitate commercialization of technology developed by one or more institutions of higher education.

The original inventor/original assignee language is problematic.  The bill doesn't address what happens when one firm is acquired by another as part of the normal course of business. Would the patent portfolio owned by Chrysler become worthless when it transferred to Fiat as part of the purchase of the firm?  And what about all those A123 Systems battery patents that transferred to Wanxiang when they acquired the company in bankruptcy, are these patents no longer enforceable and free for anyone who now wants to make the same types of batteries to exploit? Will firms engaged in these types of transactions no longer be able to protect their intellectual property from infringement? The bill doesn't address asset sales when patents are sold separately as part of bankruptcy proceedings.  Does this preclude recovery of value from assets of a company in bankruptcy by rendering the patents unenforceable?

Is a patent less valid when it's not owned by the original inventor?  Does the transfer of the patent to a third party by the inventor or assignee, after all someone needs to actually transfer the patent before the PAE can sue anyone, mean the patent can't be enforced without having $1M to post a bond?

The technology transfer exemption may seem appropriate but universities file PAE-like enforcement lawsuits they just don't send out 10,000 letter first (at least not yet).  In December 2012, a nine member federal jury ordered Marvell Technology and its US operating subsidiary Marvell Semiconductor Inc. to pay $1.17 billion in damages to Carnegie Mellon University. Carnegie Mellon University sued Marvell (MRVL: NASDAQ) for infringement of two patents, 6,201,839 issued in 2001 and 6,438,180 granted in 2002.  Carnegie Mellon may be a technology transfer organization but they aren't making any products.

Acacia Research's stock took a 4% hit while analysts try to figure out the impact on its business model if the bill becomes law.  Most of the stock value prognosticators feel that by the time Acacia goes to court it usually has a very strong case and can easily afford the bond contemplated by the bill,  a buying opportunity for ACTG's stock.

Nice try.  It looks good for the Congressmen to stand up with their venture capital and entrepreneurial innovator constituents in a show of support against the evil troll but it doesn't do much for the vast majority of situations where the demand letter arrives and entrepreneurs need to decide if it's more cost effective to pay up and move on rather than to mount a fight and hope that you'll win and eventually get your legal fees back. The only thing that's going to fix the problem is better patents, better ways to get rid of the ridiculously overly broad fuzzy ones, and creation of information resources for new companies making new products to search for and find the patents they need to license when the license is cheap and the market is small.  It is better than waiting to build markets and create value for their shareholders and then wait for the letter to arrive and hope you get your money back.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Clean Space Travel

We’ve written in the past about inventions that seem to be originally described in various popular culture outlets. For example, smart watches here,  here, and here, levitating cars, and moisture farming, and iPads and tablet computers. The latter were described by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Clarke popularized the concept of space elevators in his 1978 novel, The Fountains of Paradise. His protagonist, Vannevar Morgan, said

“If the laws of celestial mechanics make it possible for an object to stay fixed in the sky, might it not be possible to lower a cable down to the surface, and so to establish an elevator system linking earth to space? … Now the deep-space factories can manufacture virtually unlimited quantities of hyperfilament. At last we can build the Space Elevator … ”

Clarke proposed geosynchronous satellites in a 1945 Wireless World article.

There are presently four US patents with the phrase ‘space elevator’ in the title; US 6,981,674 is representative. “System and method for space elevator” was invented by James G. Dempsey of Oshkosh, WI. Oshkosh is the home of the Experimental Aircraft Association, and annually hosts “The World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration”.  It is also a prolific center for innovation, with 1501 US patents listing it as an inventor’s city. Dempsey’s January 2006 invention provides,

"A system and method for a Space Elevator using a transport tether shaped into double catenary with one catenary below synchronous orbit altitude and the second catenary above synchronous orbit altitude and while also forming a harmonic oscillator using a combination of gravitational and centripetal forces with the zero crossing of the harmonic oscillator at an altitude of approximately one half synchronous orbit altitude of attached elevator."

A catenary is the curve formed by a uniform cable hanging from two supports in a uniform gravitational field. Dempsey’s patent envisions a counterweight in orbit at about 88,000 km (54,681 mi), beyond geosynchronous altitude (36,000 km or 22,369 mi), a ribbon-shaped tether (containing carbon nanotubes), a base station, a transition point, a synchronously orbiting station, and an elevator car. All of these are described in Clarke’s novel.

Curiously, the patent does not cite The Fountains of Paradise, or any of the other documentation that Clarke lists at the end of the book. None of the other three patents (US 6,491,258, US 7,971,830; also by Dempsey, US 8,196,867) do either.

It’s a shame that one of the major proponents and early popularizers of this clean space transportation technology (there are only a few bugs yet to work out) did not get the recognition he deserved from the inventors, attorneys/agents, or examiners.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Patent Resources -- Kind Codes

Kind Codes

Kind Codes are used to identify the type of patent publication - the kind of document. Kind Codes appear on the printed document or on the PDF to the right of the patent number. Understanding the Kind Code can help you understand the history of the patent. For example, a patent with a B1 Kind Code was not published when it was a patent application. A patent with Kind Code of B2 was published as an application.  The Kind Code B1 in the example below indicates a patent where the application wasn't published after 18 months after the Pre-Grant Publication process as USPTO - Patent:  Not Previously Published.

The list is supposed to be a standardized list adopted by most of the globe's patent offices but like most things in the patentsphere there are many variations.  We have gathered the most current list of US Kind Codes used by the USPTO along with links to the two different lists that they publish that contain the data.

Just to give you a feel for the art and science of the Kind Code, here's link to one provided by the American Chemical Society:

Here's another from the European Patent Office:

And if you are really ambitious and want to explore all the global schemes and how they have changed over time, here is a link to the 101 page version from the Handbook on Industrial Property Information and Documentation from the World Intellectual Patent Organization (WIPO - pronounced Why-Poe if you want to sound like a patent cognoscenti.)

As you can see from the list, Kind Codes are fluid just like everything else in the patentsphere.

Way Better Patents has a variety of patent information tools designed to make information about patents more accessible and easier to understand.   From time to time we post updates on these tools here.