WASHINGTON — NASA’s Space Technology Program is looking for visionary advanced concepts. This year’s annual call for NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts Program (NIAC) is seeking proposals for revolutionary concepts with the potential to transform future aerospace missions. Proposed concepts should enable new missions or significantly improve current approaches to achieve aerospace objectives.
NIAC studies visionary aerospace architecture, system or mission concepts that are exciting and unexplored, yet credible and executable. The concepts are early in development — generally 10 years or more from operation. They are chosen based on peer review of the potential impact, technical strength and benefits of the proposed study.
“While Goddard or Tsiolkovsky envisioned rockets taking humans to space, the rest of the world focused on the industrial revolution and challenges of the early 20th century,” said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA’s Space Technology Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “These visionaries had radical ideas of space travel and exploration that would take dozens to hundreds of years for maturation, but were worth waiting for. NASA’s NIAC seeks proposals from today’s visionaries who have futuristic concepts that may transform how we live, work and explore the high frontier.”
Pulling the plug and letting out the baby with the bath water is ridiculous, on that everyone can agree. What people can’t agree on, surprisingly, is selecting a path for the future from the playbook of winning plays. Time and time again any more “do-gooders” seem to want to call plays from the playbook of plays that have never succeeded. In what universe does that make any sense whatsoever? When will they realize that plays that have not worked have failed for a reason? Success is not overdue. Get a grip!
With a firm grasp of some alternate reality, critics of the patent system, and specifically the critics of software patents, would have the United States forfeit the future in favor of something that has never worked. Curtailing patent rights has never worked to produce more innovation anywhere it has been tried. The inconvenient truth is that there is no evidence that a weaker patent system fosters innovation, but there is overwhelming evidence that a strong patent system does foster innovation, leads to growth, investment from abroad and a growing more prosperous economy. Indeed, weak patent rights virtually guarantee innovation simply won’t happen.
So what is fueling the anti-software patent hatred and ridiculous claims that software patents are somehow evil? It is a particular world-view or ideology that approaches religious zealotry. It certainly isn’t anything that resembles factual truth or reality.
Did you know you could secure a business loan with your patent(s)? Many people are unaware that a patent or patent portfolio can be used as collateral to secure a loan, but if you take a look at the assignment records at the USPTO you can see just how common this practice really is.
An assignment indicates who owns an issued patent or pending patent application. They are registered with the USPTO and available for public inspection. There is a special type of assignment called a “security agreement”. A security agreement indicates that a patent owner has used its patents as collateral for a loan. The security agreement says that the lender will get ownership of the patent if the current patent owner defaults on the loan. The security agreement also restricts what the patent owner can do with its patent so that the value of the patent is preserved. A patent owner might be obligated, for example, to pay the maintenance fees for an issued patent. Once the loan is paid off, the security agreement is released. If the loan goes into default, however, the ownership of the patent is transferred to the lender.
All too often inventors and entrepreneurs spend so much time creating that they have their head down, plowing forward, focusing only on the day to day operations associated with inventing and growing a business. Almost without fail, inventors know very well what they have invented and what they plan to do, but they have a terrible sense of what their invention could be. Just the other day I had a conversation with an inventor who thought we might not be understanding his invention because the first draft of the patent application seemed to miss the simplicity of his invention. Our job as patent attorneys is to not only try and protect the invention presented, but to work with the inventor to figure out the full glory of what the invention could be and what it could evolve into.
A patent application should certainly protect what the inventor is doing and what they want to do, but remember that in order to get a patent you do not have to produce a working prototype. You just need to be able to explain the invention with sufficient detail so that others skilled in the relevant technology area could both make and use the invention themselves without having to engage in undue experimentation. What is “undue experimentation” is a topic for another day, but suffice it to say that invariably what the “invention” is from a patent perspective is much broader than what an inventor thinks they have, and that is one critical reason (among many) why if you can afford to hire a patent attorney or patent agent you are always going to be better served by doing so and will wind up with much broader protection than doing it yourself.
Patent Agent, engineer and Internet entrepreneur Kevin Prince is attempting to raise money on Kickstarter. His project? A book that celebrates the art contained in published U.S. patent applications and granted U.S. patents.
Before going any further it will probably be beneficial to discuss what Kickstarter is, and what it is not. Kickstarter is a funding platform focused on a broad spectrum of creative projects, and is fast becoming a popular way to raise small but meaningful amounts of capital to kick-start a project, even an invention or company. It is different than raising money for an equity position, which is specifically prohibited by Kickstarter. The Kickstarter funding model instead is based on the offering of rewards – copies of the work, limited editions, fun experiences, etc.
Louis Foreman, the producer of the Emmy Award winning PBS television show Everyday Edisons and the publisher of Inventors Digest, announced in April 2011 that he was launching of a $25 million Innovation Fund. Phase 1 of the search for inventions for the Fund to invest in was completed in mid-June 2011. Phase 2 of the search for inventions and ideas has just begun and will run through Monday, September 12th, 2011.
“The Fund is off to a great start and we have received some very innovative technologies as part of the first wave,” Foreman said. “I am amazed at the creativity and ingenuity. It just reinforces our original premise that everyone has a great idea, but most people don’t follow through. The Fund has become a catalyst to submit these ideas and see if they have commercial viability.” The proceeds of the Fund which will be invested by Edison Nation to bring innovations to market. Inventors who have their inventions or ideas selected will share in any profits with Edison Nation.
This morning the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Stanford v. Roche, a decision that has been much anticipated in the technology transfer world. Technology transfer is the front line for the interfacing of University research and private sector commercialization, so it is no great wonder that this case captured the attention of academia and the private sector alike. At issue in the case was whether the Bayh-Dole Act automatically vested ownership of patent rights in Universities when the underlying research was federally funded.
Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion in a 7-2 decision.
It is not at all an exaggeration to say that Bayh-Dole is one of the most successful pieces of domestic legislation ever enacted into law. The Bayh-Dole Act, which was enacted on December 12, 1980, was revolutionary in its outside-the-box thinking, creating an entirely new way to conceptualize the innovation to marketplace cycle. It has lead to the creation of 7,000 new businesses based on the research conducted at U.S. Universities. Prior to the enactment of Bayh-Dole there was virtually no federally funded University technology licensed to the private sector, no new businesses and virtually no revolutionary University innovations making it to the public. Bayh-Dole set out to remedy this situation, and as a direct result of the passage of Bayh-Dole countless technologies have been commercialized, including many life saving cures and treatments for a variety of diseases and afflictions. In fact, the Economist in 2002 called Bayh-Dole the most inspired and successful legislation over the previous half-century. Nevertheless, the question remained, at least until this morning, whether ownership of patent rights immediately vested in the University as the result of federal funding.
Getting Your Invention off of the Ground with Crowdfunding.
Crowdfunding is a newly proven way to get initial funding for the commercialization of an invention. Crowdfunding involves posting a project description on the internet, asking for pledges to complete the project, and if the minimum amount of pledges are received by a certain deadline, having the funds transferred to the project. If the minimum isn’t reached, no one gets charged.
Crowdfunding addresses the two biggest challenges many inventors have. “What is the market for my product?” and “How do I get initial funds to produce it?” Conventional sources of funds include yourself, “friends and family”, and angel investors. Crowdfunding adds a new source of funds, the initial consumers. Inventors get committed funds and guaranteed customers. Backers get to be the first to get an exciting new product. If the funds are raised, you know you have a market and you have the resources to produce the product. If the funds aren’t raised, you have valuable market feedback.
The Subcommittee on Energy and Power held hearings earlier this month on “The American Energy Initiative.” The hearings provided an overview of the challenges and opportunities for alternative transportation fuels and vehicles. The hearing explored a number of issues, including the current status of the Renewable Fuel Standard, and implementation challenges facing regulators, producers, and marketers of renewable fuels. The hearing also discussed the prospects for meeting future conventional and advanced biofuels targets under the Renewable Fuel Standard, and issues related to their incorporation into the gasoline supply, as well as the current status of efforts to expand the use of natural gas and electric vehicles, the cost of driving, the economy, jobs, and national security.
Louis Foreman at Inventors HOF Induction May 4, 2011
Louis Foreman, the producer of the Emmy Award winning PBS television show Everyday Edisons, as well as the CEO of the design firm Enventys and publisher of Inventors Digest, recently announced the launching of a $25 million Innovation Fund, the proceeds of which will be used to bring innovations to market. In an interview with Foreman (see below) he explained to me that he is looking for inventions and ideas for all kinds of products, and not just the consumer products that Everyday Edisons has become known for. Foreman explains that medical devices, military and law enforcement technology, social networking innovations and even software are all desirable ideas/innovations for the Innovation Fund.
To help what might be the best ideas and inventions percolate to the top Foreman has created what he refers to as a “Patent Attorney Referral Program.” This program is designed to benefit patent attorneys and patent agents whose clients submit innovative ideas and concepts. This isn’t one of those unethical referral programs though, so no worries there. If a client of a patent attorney or patent agent is selected and accepts the offer of assistance from the Innovation Fund then the patent attorney or patent agent representing that inventor will be retained by the Innovation Fund to provide the legal services required to pursue patent rights.
Sometimes the problems facing our nation truly are difficult to solve. Reducing the country’s out-of-control budget deficit and fixing our broken public schools systems, for example, each took decades to grow into serious threats to America’s future. And each requires more political vision and national unity to resolve than seem to exist right now.
But other problems are not that difficult to solve, if only our leaders would choose to use some common sense. Take job creation, which is supposed to be the Number 1 policy objective in America right now. The mechanics of job creation are hardly a mystery, after all. We know, for example, that all net new job growth in America comes from startup businesses, not Big Business (see research by the Census Bureau and the Kauffman Foundation). And we also know that the vast majority of these startups need patents to get the funding from investors they need to start hiring people so they can develop their innovative new products and medical treatments for the public (see the Berkeley Patent Survey of Entrepreneurs).
Gene Quinn, at University of New Mexico, April 21, 2011
Patents are indeed the lifeblood of innovation. Of course, without innovation nothing else happens, or matters, but there is definitely a symbiotic relationship between innovation and patents. The innovation that we say we most want is that innovation that is cutting edge, not just an improvement upon what already exists; paradigm shifting innovation or technologies that could be characterized as disruptive in nature. It is with paradigm shifting, disruptive innovation that we see leaps forward. Those leaps forward lead to the formation of new start-up companies and frequently to the birth of entire new industries. It is with this type of highly desirable innovation that we see enormous job growth, which the U.S. economy could use right about now. Unfortunately, this type of innovation does not come cheap.
On March 8, 2011, the United States Senate passed S. 23, the Senate version of patent reform, by an overwhelming vote of 95 to 5. Just about three weeks later the House Judiciary Committee unveiled the House version of patent reform. While the framework of the House bill is largely the same as the framework of the bill that achieved overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate, there are some non-trivial deviations that place the likelihood of achieving patent reform squarely in doubt. The two big ticket items being kicked around as differences that threaten the entirety of patent reform are inter partes review and prior user rights. These two issues could cause a splintering of stakeholders and place us back in the limbo we have been in for the past 6 years, which would be tragic because Congress is finally poised to adequately fund the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
“The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.”
– President Obama, January 25, 2011
The political climate across the nation is ripe with encouragement and support for entrepreneurship. At the national level, we are being told that to “win the future” Americans must out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. For many states that have fallen on difficult times, this message has become much more than political rhetoric.
In Michigan, for example, a former venture capitalist and Gateway Computer co-founder was elected Governor primarily on a platform of jobs and reinvention. During his inauguration speech, Gov. Rick Snyder re-affirmed his focus on innovation and reinvention, and has since outlined many aggressive plans to foster entrepreneurship. For entrepreneurship movements, such as this, to truly take root and develop into viable, job-producing industries, however, States/regions must better focus on protecting the intellectual capital created by their motivated entrepreneurs.
What appears below is the speech Henry Nothhaft (Tessera President & CEO) gave at the Innovation Alliance conference on January 21, 2010, which is published with his permission. Readers may also find interesting Nothhaft’s recent article Looking for Jobs in All the Wrong Places: Memo to the President, relating to President Obama’s State of the Union Address and published by Harvard Business Review.
Hank Nothhaft addresses the Innovation Alliance Conference, 1-21-2011.
All told, I’ve helped create more than 6000 jobs and return 8 billion dollars to investors. And this work experience has given me first hand insight into a subject that economists are only now beginning to study closely. Namely the surprisingly powerful role that start ups play in job creation and economic growth. Of course, economists have been studying the sources of economic growth for a long time. 50 years ago, Robert Solo discovered to every one’s great shock that virtually all economic growth, or at least 80% of it comes from technological innovation. Not capital inputs or productivity increases or anything else, just technological innovation, the kind of break-through innovation that crates whole new industries and millions of jobs. Like the development of semiconductors, personal computers, software, and the Internet.
How to Write a Patent Application is a must own for patent attorneys, patent agents and law students alike. A crucial hands-on resource that walks you through every aspect of preparing and filing a patent application, from working with an inventor to patent searches, preparing the patent application, drafting claims and more. The treatise is continuously updated to address relevant Federal Circuit and Supreme Court decision impacting patent drafting.
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