There’s a famous Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times” which certainly applies now. It seems that every cornerstone we’ve relied on has slipped, creating instability in all aspects of modern life. As humorist Ogden Nash remarked: “Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long.”
We live in a world where seemingly everyone has a cell phone —and a rifle. Every day we learn of breathtaking scientific discoveries and atrocities straight from the Dark Ages. Thanks to technology images of beheadings travel instantly around the world.
Debates rage over hot button topics widening divisions in society. One is over the merits (or demerits) of the patent system. That’s really a subset of a larger question: does innovation lead to prosperity for most people or does it merely widen the gap between the haves and have not’s?
What, if anything, should be done to correct “income inequality” is a point of contention in our political system. President Obama says that growing income inequality and a lack of upward mobility is “the defining challenge of our time.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) ads: “Trickle down (economics) doesn’t work. Never did.”
The pharmaceutical industry is widely criticized for wasteful spending on duplicative research to develop “me too” drugs, and focusing their efforts on “evergreening” patents. Those who argue that incremental innovation and follow on improvements to existing therapies aren’t worthy of patent protection need to look more deeply at the reality of what subsequent innovation provides. The case for protecting incremental innovation is laid out in a new publication by the Fraser Institute (released 19 June 2014), in which a thorough exploration of the therapeutic and economic value of follow-on pharmaceutical innovation is provided.
Pharmaceutical innovation is an inherently dynamic process; one innovation builds on another and improvements draw from a long history of earlier technological advances. Sir Isaac Newton once stated, “If I have seen far, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In her classic paper on innovation, Scotchmer cites this quote and emphasizes that virtually all technical progress builds on a foundation provided by earlier innovators. Innovation is an undeniably cumulative event, and progress happens both in leaps and bounds (radical innovation) and in small steps (incremental innovation). In the context of the pharmaceutical industry, radical innovations encompass breakthrough discoveries of the ‘first-in-class’ medicine with a new mechanism of action. In contrast, incremental innovations may expand an existing therapeutic class through the development of a new drug based on differences in adverse effects, delivery systems, dosing schedules, or heat stability. In 2012, 45 new drugs gained regulatory approval from the US FDA, the highest number since 1997. Currently there are 907 biologics, medicines and vaccines in development, targeting more than 100 diseases. Much of this innovation can be considered incremental, resulting in so-called ‘me-too’ or follow-on drugs. These are therapies that largely replicate the action of existing drugs. All indicators suggest that a significant share of medical progress is happening through incremental innovation.
As the sweltering heat of summer begins to set in across the country during the summer months, people all over the country are running to their thermostats or single-unit air conditioners to stay cool. Just by pressing a few buttons, a typical American homeowner has the capability to completely control the temperature and humidity in a space. This innovation has revolutionized the demographics of our entire country, allowing many people to live comfortably in southern climates which would otherwise be oppressively hot.
IPWatchdog is returning once again to our Evolution of Technology series to take an in-depth look at how AC technologies have developed over the years. Modern air conditioning goes back more than one century in America, although the evidence showing human attempts at cooling the air goes back millennia. Today, we’re sharing a quick timeline of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technologies, with a special focus on beating the heat. We also take a closer look at the current state of air conditioning technologies, including a trio of patents related to air conditioning within automobiles..
Those who claim that patents harm innovation and stifle innovation see a patent at an insurmountable hurdle, or perhaps a brick wall. There is no way around the obstacle. The only option is to infringe or simply not offer the product or service, but to them that is not an option because if they can’t sell the product that they want to sell then that has to mean that innovation is being harmed. But innovation is about busting through the brick wall, or going around the brick wall. Because of the existence of that brick wall a paradigm shift is necessary, and that is what leads to true innovation.
Of course, critics don’t understand true innovation because they conflate a particular product or service, which is new to them, to be something that is innovative. I have always found it amazing how true inventors so frequently don’t think what they have come up with is unique enough to pursue a patent, but those who offer little or nothing unique conclude that their product represents innovation. The hubris is high on the part of those who really don’t understand innovation, and the true purpose of a patent system. Those who don’t understand think it is an afront to humanity if they are not able to sell what they want, when they want, without having to pay a licensing fee to the innovator.
Recently this issue came up again when a comment was posted to an article about whether patents harm or promote innovation. The comment proclaimed loudly, confidently, and yet incorrectly that patents harm innovation. The commenter even provided an example about how he has received a cease and desist letter, which means the product that he is selling is in jeopardy of having to be pulled from the market and damages paid. This scenario was intended to be proof that patents harm innovation. In fact, it is proof that the patent system is working exactly as intended, and that patents do not stifle innovation. Patents foster innovation!
As the 2014 annual meeting of the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) continues, IPWatchdog also continues its coverage of groundbreaking inventions coming out of the halls and research facilities of America’s top academic institutions. Today we focus on Leland Stanford Junior University, more commonly known as Stanford University. Stanford is a private research university located near Palo Alto, CA, and boasts one of the most well developed and successful technology transfer programs in the country. But to be at the top of the tech transfer rankings that means Stanford is also committed to innovation in many forms and fields.
Our featured application today is evidenced that at least some of the research being developed by Stanford aims to improve American manufacturing. This patent application would protect a device that contains a plurality of electrodes that can create an adhering force to lift and move manufactured materials without damaging them. We also discuss a couple of patent applications related to medicine, including methods of generating ear cells from stem cells as well as better treatments for pulmonary fibrosis.
The University of California is the state’s public university system and it is comprised of 10 member institutions. This system has one of the strongest research and development operations of any American collegiate system; in 2011 alone, UC was responsible for 1,581 new inventions. Today, we’re getting a closer look at the recent patent applications and issued patents assigned to the Regents of the University of California by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. We’ve found an intriguing assortment of innovations in medical and industrial fields, and even the video game industry, coming out of these academic institutions.
The featured patent application for today’s column would protect a system of better capturing video game player motion for physical activities required of games. This system would make it harder for users to cheat these games and complete tasks without completing the physical motion the game asks users to perform. Other patent applications we discovered include better systems of creating useful stem cells and a more effective topical formula for acne treatment.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Each year February is Black History Month, but this year we will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With this in mind we decided to do a series celebrating the important and innovative contributions of African-Americans. Earlier this month Eric Guttag wrote The Black Edison: Granville T. Woods. What is below is part 2 of his article on George Washington Carver. To read part 1 visit God’s Scientist: George Washington Carver. Later this month we also will take a look at recent innovations coming out of historically black colleges and universities. For more on this topic please visit black inventorson IPWatchdog.com.
George Washington Carver circa 1910.
Carver received a fair degree of recognition at Iowa State College as the only African-American with advanced training in agricultural science. He also enjoyed a fairly comfortable income considering his very humble upbringing. By being the only African-American with advanced training in agricultural science, many other universities also wanted Carver as a professor in that science.
Then one day in 1896 came a letter from Booker T. Washington, President of the fledgling Tuskegee Institute (its full name then was “Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute”). Booker T. Washington was a well-known and influential African-American educator, later to visit the White House at the invitation of then President Theodore Roosevelt. Like Carver, Booker T. Washington had been born into slavery and felt that African-Americans must be educated if they were to achieve economic, as well as racial equality in American society.
The last day of 2013 is now upon us, and as we look ahead towards another year which is sure to be full of intriguing new technologies, we also want to take a look back and remember a few of IPWatchdog’s favorite innovations from the past twelve months. All year, our Companies We Follow series has diligently scoured the issued patents and patent applications published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. We’ve profiled numerous inventions from corporations like Apple, IBM, General Electric, Sony, Samsung, Google, Siemens, Qualcomm and many more of the largest corporations in the world. We have also looked at universities, like the University of California, and we have done special edition articles that focused on Green Tech as part of our Earth Day 2013 mini-seriesand the future of Blackberry.
With other publications weighing in on their top picks for 2013 inventions, we wanted to take some time to discuss some of the best innovations we spotted during the past year. With that in mind we went through the aforementioned Companies We Follow series to pick some of the year’s best. This year, we’re taking a look at both issued patents as well as patent applications in a single article. While some of what follows may not be protected yet, they indicate a manufacturer’s research and development goals.
Using no other criteria than my own, this list of the Top 10 Innovations of 2013, which may include a surprise or sentimental choice here and there, shows some technologies that will likely become ubiquitous in time. Especially social media and networking innovations, as well as a couple of inventions that are meant to improve well-being and sustainability among human beings, likely have real staying power. From multi-user touchscreens to self-healing electrical grids to a robotic system, here’s what I found to be some of this most interesting inventions we stumbled across this year.