Tag Archives: US Patent and Trademark Office

US Patent and Trademarks Office invests in a public relations campaign

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC has been renovating its Arts and Industries Building since 2004. It is not scheduled to reopen until 2014 but there will be a ‘soft’ launch of a new partnership between the Smithsonian and the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)  in June 2013, which relates to building’s refurbishment, according to David Bruggeman’s Jan. 20, 2013 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog,

The partnership will include developing and displaying innovation-themed exhibits in the Arts and Industries Building.  In addition, the Smithsonian and the USPTO will sponsor an Innovation Expo in June 2013 at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria (with future expos in the Pavilion).  Placing this pavilion in the Arts and Industries Building is a sort-of homecoming, as technology and progress were themes of many exhibits when the building first opened as the National Museum in 1881.

This seven-year, $7.5 million partnership is not the first collaboration between the USPTO and the Smithsonian. …

Here’s more about the Expo from the USPTO Innovation Expo webpage where they are appealing for more exhibitors,

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the Smithsonian Institution are teaming up to stage the 2013 Innovation Expo. This is your chance to join a select group of technological game-changers in a celebration of ingenuity and patented technology.

The Expo will be held June 20-22, 2013, at the USPTO’s headquarters in Alexandria, Va., just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital. The combination of the USPTO’s soaring architecture and the Smithsonian’s world-renowned exhibition programing makes the Innovation Expo an extraordinary opportunity for both exhibitors and attendees. Under terms of an agreement signed by the USPTO and the Smithsonian, the Expo will move to the National Mall in the summer of 2014 when the historic Arts and Industries Building reopens.

For three days, exhibits at this free and open-to-the-public event will showcase the latest technological developments from America’s innovators affiliated with large corporations, small businesses, academic institutions, government agencies, and the independent inventor community.

The Expo will also demonstrate the vital role America’s intellectual property system and the USPTO play in promoting and protecting innovation, a role that contributes greatly to America’s competitiveness and prowess in the global economy. [emphases mine]

The application deadline has been extended to March 31, 2013. Exhibition slots will be awarded to qualified U.S. patent owners on a rolling basis. Space is limited, so apply now.

Applications will be reviewed by an independent committee made up of representatives from some of the most important and respected intellectual property organizations.

If that wasn’t enough, the Smithsonian Institution’s Jan. 16, 2013 news release makes the purpose for this project blindingly apparent,

The collaboration will begin this year with an Innovation Expo June 20-22 at the Patent and Trademark Office’s headquarters in Alexandria, Va., where the latest technological developments—patented technologies from American companies—will be showcased. The three-day expo will feature a narrative about how the U.S. patent system promotes innovation and technological development. [emphasis mine] The Innovation Expo, which will be organized in partnership with the Smithsonian, will serve as a template for future expos to be held in the Innovation Pavilion at the A&I Building (the Pavilion will cover around 18,000 square feet of the 40,000 square feet of public space in the building).

During 2013, the Smithsonian will also develop further designs for the new Innovation Pavilion and begin work on plans for exhibitions and programming. The Pavilion will be a center for active learning, engaging visitors using digital technology and informing them about new developments in American innovation and technology. The collaboration is described in a Memorandum of Agreement signed by the Smithsonian Secretary and the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The USPTO anticipates supporting the Pavilion over the term of the collaboration.

“The Arts and Industries Building has always been about celebrating innovation and progress, and it has been one of my goals to reopen the building and return it to that purpose,” said Wayne Clough, Smithsonian Secretary. “Through this collaboration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, we will create a program that not only celebrates American ingenuity, but also reflects the 21st century expectations of our visitors.”

“We look forward to working with the Smithsonian to showcase America’s rich history and bright future of innovation, providing a workshop where inventors of all ages can interact together,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos.

The Smithsonian and the USPTO have worked together on several projects in recent years, including three exhibitions: “The Great American Hall of Wonders” and “To Build a Better Mousetrap” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and an exhibition about Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs’ patents in the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center.

$7.5 million of taxpayer money to promote an intellectual property system that seems to be in serious trouble, along with many other such systems around the world, is a time-honoured fashion of dealing with these kinds of  problems. Generally, they are doomed to fail. As I like to say, you can put a gift bow on a pile of manure but unless you trot a pony out right quickly, it’s no gift. And, the USPTO definitely does not have a pony waiting nearby.

I have written many pieces on the problems with intellectual property systems. There’s this Nov. 23, 2012 posting about patents strangling nanotechnology developments, this Oct. 10, 2012 posting about a UN patent summit concerning smartphones and patent problems; and this June 28, 2012 posting about patent trolls and their impact on the US economy (billions of dollars lost), amongst the others. For more comprehensive news, Techdirt covers the US scene and Michael Geist covers the Canadian scene. Both cover international intellectual property issues as well.

Patent bonanza in nanotechnology (sigh)

This is more of a snippet than anything else but since it touches on patents and nanotechnology, I’ve decided to post this excerpt (from J. Steven Rutt’s Jan. 2, 2013 posting on JD Supra Law News),

The nanotechnology patent filing boom continues. In 2012, the USPTO [US Patent and Trademark Office] published 4,098 nanotechnology class 977 applications, which represents a 19.2% increase over last year. By way of comparison, in 2008, the USPTO published only 827 nanotechnology applications, and in 2009, only 1,499. Hence, the number has almost tripled in three years.

Rutt is a lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP and he’s much happier about this news than I am. Of course, a lawyer is much likely to profit from this trend than anyone else (except maybe for a patent troll). My Nov. 23, 2012 posting (Free the nano—stop patenting publicly funded research) highlights some alternative perspectives.

Free the nano—stop patenting publicly funded research

Joshua Pearce, a professor at Michigan Technological University, has written a commentary on patents and nanotechnology for Nature magazine which claims the current patent regimes strangle rather than encourage innovation. From the free article,  Physics: Make nanotechnology research open-source by Joshua Pearce in Nature 491, 519–521 (22 November 2012) doi:10.1038/491519a (Note: I have removed footnotes),

Any innovator wishing to work on or sell products based on single-walled carbon nanotubes in the United States must wade through more than 1,600 US patents that mention them. He or she must obtain a fistful of licences just to use this tubular form of naturally occurring graphite rolled from a one-atom-thick sheet. This is because many patents lay broad claims: one nanotube example covers “a composition of matter comprising at least about 99% by weight of single-wall carbon molecules”. Tens of others make overlapping claims.

Patent thickets occur in other high-tech fields, but the consequences for nanotechnology are dire because of the potential power and immaturity of the field. Advances are being stifled at birth because downstream innovation almost always infringes some early broad patents. By contrast, computing, lasers and software grew up without overzealous patenting at the outset.

Nanotechnology is big business. According to a 2011 report by technology consultants Cientifica, governments around the world have invested more than US$65 billion in nanotechnology in the past 11 years [my July 15, 2011 posting features an interview with Tim Harper, Cientfica CEO and founder, about the then newly released report]. The sector contributed more than $250 billion to the global economy in 2009 and is expected to reach $2.4 trillion a year by 2015, according to business analysts Lux Research. Since 2001, the United States has invested $18 billion in the National Nanotechnology Initiative; the 2013 US federal budget will add $1.8 billion more.

This investment is spurring intense patent filing by industry and academia. The number of nanotechnology patent applications to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is rising each year and is projected to exceed 4,000 in 2012. Anyone who discovers a new and useful process, machine, manufacture or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent that prevents others from using that development unless they have the patent owner’s permission.

Pearce makes some convincing points (Note: I have removed a footnote),

Examples of patents that cover basic components include one owned by the multinational chip manufacturer Intel, which covers a method for making almost any nanostructure with a diameter less than 50 nm; another, held by nanotechnology company NanoSys of Palo Alto, California, covers composites consisting of a matrix and any form of nanostructure. And Rice University in Houston, Texas, has a patent covering “composition of matter comprising at least about 99% by weight of fullerene nanotubes”.

The vast majority of publicly announced IP licence agreements are now exclusive, meaning that only a single person or entity may use the technology or any other technology dependent on it. This cripples competition and technological development, because all other would-be innovators are shut out of the market. Exclusive licence agreements for building-block patents can restrict entire swathes of future innovation.

Pearce’s argument for open source,

This IP rush assumes that a financial incentive is necessary to innovate, and that without the market exclusivity (monopoly) offered by a patent, development of commercially viable products will be hampered. But there is another way, as decades of innovation for free and open-source software show. Large Internet-based companies such as Google and Facebook use this type of software. Others, such as Red Hat, make more than $1 billion a year from selling services for products that they give away for free, like Red Hat’s version of the computer operating system Linux.

An open-source model would leave nanotechnology companies free to use the best tools, materials and devices available. Costs would be cut because most licence fees would no longer be necessary. Without the shelter of an IP monopoly, innovation would be a necessity for a company to survive. Openness reduces the barrier for small, nimble entities entering the market.

John Timmer in his Nov. 23, 2012 article for Wired.co.uk expresses both support and criticism,

Some of Pearce’s solutions are perfectly reasonable. He argues that the National Science Foundation adopt the NIH model of making all research it funds open access after a one-year time limit. But he also calls for an end of patents derived from any publicly funded research: “Congress should alter the Bayh-Dole Act to exclude private IP lockdown of publicly funded innovations.” There are certainly some indications that Bayh-Dole hasn’t fostered as much innovation as it might (Pearce notes that his own institution brings in 100 times more money as grants than it does from licensing patents derived from past grants), but what he’s calling for is not so much a reform of Bayh-Dole as its elimination.

Pearce wants changes in patenting to extend well beyond the academic world, too. He argues that the USPTO should put a moratorium on patents for “nanotechnology-related fundamental science, materials, and concepts.” As we described above, the difference between a process innovation and the fundamental properties resulting in nanomaterial is a very difficult thing to define. The USPTO has struggled to manage far simpler distinctions; it’s unrealistic to expect it to manage a moratorium effectively.

While Pearce points to the 3-D printing sector admiringly, there are some issues even there, as per Mike Masnick’s Nov.  21, 2012 posting on Techdirt.com (Note:  I have removed links),

We’ve been pointing out for a while that one of the reasons why advancements in 3D printing have been relatively slow is because of patents holding back the market. However, a bunch of key patents have started expiring, leading to new opportunities. One, in particular, that has received a fair bit of attention was the Formlabs 3D printer, which raised nearly $3 million on Kickstarter earlier this year. It got a ton of well-deserved attention for being one of the first “low end” (sub ~$3,000) 3D printers with very impressive quality levels.

Part of the reason the company said it could offer such a high quality printer at a such a low price, relative to competitors, was because some of the key patents had expired, allowing it to build key components without having to pay astronomical licensing fees. A company called 3D Systems, however, claims that Formlabs missed one patent. It holds US Patent 5,597,520 on a “Simultaneous multiple layer curing in stereolithography.” While I find it ridiculous that 3D Systems is going legal, rather than competing in the marketplace, it’s entirely possible that the patent is valid. It just highlights how the system holds back competition that drives important innovation, though.

3D Systems claims that Formlabs “took deliberate acts to avoid learning” about 3D Systems’ live patents. The lawsuit claims that Formlabs looked only for expired patents — which seems like a very odd claim. Why would they only seek expired patents? …

I strongly suggest reading both Pearce’s and Timmer’s articles as they both provide some very interesting perspectives about nanotechnology IP (intellectual property) open access issues. I also recommend Mike Masnick’s piece for exposure to a rather odd but unfortunately not uncommon legal suit designed to limit competition in a relatively new technology (3-D printers).

Vancouver (Canada)-based company, Lumerical Solutions, files patent on new optoelectronic simulation software

I’m not a huge *fan of patents as per various postings (my Oct. 31, 2011 posting is probably my most overt statement) so I’m not entirely thrilled about this news from Lumerical Solutions, Inc. According to the June 14, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Lumerical Solutions, Inc., a global provider of optoelectronic design software, announced the filing of a provisional patent application titled, “System and Method for Transforming a Coordinate System to Simulate an Anisotropic Medium.” The patent application, filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office, describes how the optical response of dispersive, spatially varying anisotropic media can be efficiently simulated on a discretized grid like that employed by finite-difference time-domain (FDTD) or finite-element method (FEM) simulators. The invention disclosed is relevant to a wide array of applications including liquid crystal display (LCD) panels, microdisplays, spatial light modulators, integrated components using liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) technology like LCOS optical switches, and magneto-optical elements in optical communication and sensing systems.

The company’s June 14, 2012 news release includes this comment from the founder and Chief Technical Office (CTO),

According to Dr. James Pond, the inventor and Lumerical’s Chief Technology Officer, “many next generation opto-electronic products combine complicated materials and nano-scale structure, which is beyond the capabilities of existing simulation tools. Lumerical’s enhanced framework allows designers to accurately simulate everything from liquid crystal displays to OLEDs, and silicon photonics to integrated quantum computing components.”

Lumerical’s new methodology for efficiently simulating anisotropic media is part of a larger effort to allow designers the ability to model the optical response of many different types of materials.  In addition to the disclosed invention, Lumerical has added a material plugin capability which will enable external parties to include complicated material models, such as those required for modelling semiconductor lasers or non-linear optical devices, into FDTD-based simulation projects.

…  According to Chris Koo, an engineer with Samsung, “Lumerical’s latest innovation has established them as the clear leader in the field of optoelectronic device modeling.  Their comprehensive material modeling capabilities paves the way for the development of exciting new technologies.”

I wish the company good luck. Despite my reservations about current patent regimes, I do appreciate that in some situations, it’s best to apply for a patent.

For the curious, here’s a little more (from the company’s About Lumerical page),

By empowering research and product development professionals with high performance optical design software that leverages recent advances in computing technology, Lumerical helps optical designers tackle challenging design goals and meet strict deadlines. Lumerical’s design software solutions are employed in more than 30 countries by global technology leaders like Agilent, ASML, Bosch, Canon, Harris, Northrop Grumman, Olympus, Philips, Samsung, and STMicroelectronics, and prominent research institutions including Caltech, Harvard, Max Planck Institute, MIT, NIST and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Our Name

Lu.min.ous (loo’me-nes) adj., full of light, illuminated

Nu.mer.i.cal (noo-mer’i-kel) adj., of or relating to a number or series of numbers

Lu.mer.i.cal (loo-mer’i-kel) – A company that delivers inventive, highly accurate and cost effective design solutions resulting in significant improvements in product development costs and speed-to-market.

* June 15, 2012: I found the error this morning (9:20 am PDT) and added the word ‘fan’.