I had the honor of being invited to the White House today for the Innovation for Global Development Event, which was held in support of the President’s commitment to using harness the power of innovation to solve long-standing global development challenges. As a part of this event, David Kappos, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, launched a pilot program dubbed Patents for Humanity, which is a voluntary prize competition for patent owners and licensees. The pilot program seeks to encourage businesses of all kinds to apply their patented technology to addressing the world’s humanitarian challenges.
As an incentive to participate in the Patents for Humanity pilot program winners will be rewarded with a certificate that can be used to accelerate a patent application, an appeal, or an ex parte reexamination proceeding before the USPTO. Up to 50 winners will be chosen as a part of this pilot program. The award winners may choose to accelerate any patent application in their portfolio, not just the humanitarian technology that qualifies for the award.
Those wishing to participate in the Patents for Humanity pilot program will submit applications from March 1, 2012 through August 31, 2012. At this time the link for downloading the applications is not yet live and takes you to an error page saying “this page does not exist,” thus I cannot relay exactly what the application entails, or what participants must agree to in order to participate. Notwithstanding, we do know that applicants will be asked to describe how they have addressed humanitarian needs with their patented technology.
This 12-month Patent for Humanity pilot has been conceived as one way to advance President Obama’s global development agenda by rewarding companies who bring life-saving technologies to underserved regions of the world, and by highlighting positive examples of humanitarian actions that are compatible with business interests and strong patent rights.
“Sweeping revolutions in technology remind us of what the innovative drive and entrepreneurial spirit can do to build a better world,” said Kappos. “This pilot program underscores that in the face of some of the most daunting challenges humans confront on this planet, the power to innovate is the power to lead by design and by solution.”
The pilot will be run as a prize competition for applicants that have leveraged their patented technology to significantly address public health or quality of life issues faced by an impoverished population. By demonstrating how they have contributed a patented technology to advance scientific research on neglected humanitarian issues, organizations will be awarded with the acceleration certificate of faster patenting processing in matters before the USPTO.
The acceleration certificate the winners will receive may be used to: move a “patent re-examination proceeding” to the front of the queue; move a patent appeal case in front of the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI) to the front of the queue; or accelerate the examination of a patent to ensure a final decision on the application within 12 months.
Judges will be selected from academia for their expertise in medicine, law, science, engineering, public policy, or a related field—and will evaluate applications in four categories: Medical, Food and Nutrition, Clean Technology, and Information Technology. Types of technologies eligible for consideration within the program will work to confront global challenges including life-saving medical diagnostic equipment, water sterilization devices, mosquito control, and land mine detection, among others.
The first 1,000 applications received that meet the competition criteria will be considered by the judges, with each application reviewed by three judges working independently. Diversity of contributions will be a consideration as the pilot program seeks to highlight success stories across all types of technologies, organizations, and practices.
In addition to the diversity consideration, three neutrality principles will apply. First, evaluations are technology-neutral, meaning inventions from any field of technology which address the competition criteria will be considered. Second, the program is geographically-neutral, meaning that the targeted impoverished population may be located anywhere in the world. Finally, decisions will be financially-neutral so that any means of getting technology to those in need may qualify without regard to financial consideration.
Also at today’s event, Global Access in Action, in partnership with Baker & McKenzie, announced plans to develop and implement a program to educate patent holders and their lawyers about humanitarian use licenses for life-saving intellectual property. Additionally, the American Bar Association is also promoting Patents for Humanity by encouraging participation. The National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy also separately announced new programs to expedite and facilitate transfers of global health and clean energy technologies to not-for-profit institutions.
Also announced at the event was the beginning of a collaborative effort between NIH and the private sector to create a free online disease database called Global Health Connect that will bring disparate databases and research together. The hope is that merging disparate databases researchers will be able to access better, more complete information quickly, which will accelerate the development of lifesaving treatments to combat the neglected tropical diseases that afflict many of the world’s most impoverished.
Along with its partners, USDA also launched GRIN-Global, a plant genebank information management system that enables researchers to more efficiently source crop breeding material with specific traits. USDA also announced a partnership with CABI Plantwise to increase food security by decreasing crop losses in 19 countries through Internet-connected “plant doctors.”
In a tangential related story, yesterday President Obama welcomed students to the White House for the White House Science Fair. The President even participated in a demonstration of an air cannon, shown in the video below.
Whether you like President Obama or not, and whether you plan on voting him in for a second term, it is hard not to notice that his science and innovation agenda has been exceptionally strong, and if you ask me the best thing he or anyone else can do is spend time encouraging our children to pursue scientific studies. If we stoke the fire of imagination and encourage dreaming and imagination those students will grow up to become the engineers and scientists of tomorrow, some of whom will have Hall of Fame careers. We need more Hall of Fame caliber inventors, and that has to start with our youth.
Yes, I would have preferred the President not to dismantle the space program like he did, and the abuse of federal money going toward failing alternative energy companies is inexcusable, but the federal government has always invested in technologies for the future. Government involvement in encouraging technological advancement is hardly new and is the backbone of the extremely success Bayh-Dole legislation, for example.
Under the capable leadership of David Kappos the Patent Office is operating at a high level once again. His commitment to alternative forms of energy will pay dividends in the future and we will likely look back to his time in office as the start of what will eventually be a renewable energy economy; whenever that might scientifically be feasible it has to start somewhere, and it has started now. And as President Bush was committed to investing in Africa to help the most impoverished fight HIV/AIDS and other diseases, President Obama’s team continues to facilitate collaboration with the private sector to address vexing global health issues, which is certainly commendable.
I tip my hat to the White House and everyone involved in today’s event and everyone who will play a part in bringing this vision into being.