The hotter months have arrived, which means that it’s the time of the year that we feel solar energy the most. In fact, the heat and longer days make it perfect to enjoy some of the better things that Mother Nature has to offer.
Inventors have been filing for patents regarding solar powered items for at least several decades. Patents issued by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office during the early ‘80s show how inventors have used solar energy to power lighting systems (US Patent No. 4,384,317) and even for the propulsion of aircraft through the sky(US Patent No. 4,415,133). In the 1990s, more interesting applications for solar energy use in outdoor entertainment can be seen, such as this patent protecting a solar-powered hot dog cooker (US Patent No. 5,054,467).
Today at IPWatchdog, as we continue our Summer 2013 series, we take a look at some of the patents and applications regarding the application of solar energy to improve outdoor summer activities. A few patent applications give us an insight to some of the intriguing uses of solar energy we might see someday in our own backyards. One application describes an umbrella table capable of storing electricity and sending it to electrical outlets on the table. Another application is for a grill canopy with solar-powered lighting displaying downward from the fabric top. A third application would protect a solar powered outdoor lamp with a more stable base for non-permeable ground settings.
Earlier today Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) released the rankings for the 2013 Global Innovation Index. Switzerland and Sweden remain #1 and #2 respectively, but the United States jumped 5 places to #5.
According to the report, the United States benefited from a strong education base, with many top-ranked universities. Additionally, over the last year the U.S. has seen significant increases in software spending and employment in knowledge-intensive industries. The U.S. was last in the top 5 of the Global Innovation Index in 2009, when it placed #1.
There was also good news for innovation in general, which is alive and well despite the global economic crisis, which drags on. The report explains that “[r]esearch and development spending levels are surpassing 2008 levels in most countries and successful local hubs are thriving.”
The Zup™ is perhaps the most cool and innovative wake board you have ever seen. There are a number of other patent applications pending, trademark applications pending and ongoing research and development for future products. The Zup™ is special because literally anyone can ride the board and participate in the fun. I knew that Glen was onto something when he showed me a video of an early prototype in use years ago. There was a giant fellow — 6’8″ and easily 290 pounds — who managed to get up on the board with ease. I thought to myself, “that shouldn’t happen!” Being a big guy myself I understand how difficult, if not nearly impossible, it is to get up on a traditional wake board. In that same video I also saw an elderly grandmother get up on the board. Neither size nor upper body strength mattered. It was then I knew Glen had something special.
Glen will easily be one of my most successful clients ever when all is said and done and we are telling our stories at our retirement parties. An inventor on several patents prior to his entry into the wake board market, Glen has simply done everything right along the way. He has listened to advice and has surrounded himself with an all-star advisory group of industry insiders who are very optimistic about the likely future success. Thus, this is a story of growing success, but also one of perseverance and commitment. It illustrates the importance of moving forward with a patent position to secure rights that can be build upon, and how critical it is to surround yourself with people knowledgeable about the industry. As Glen explains below in our interview he managed to connect with several key industry leaders who helped open doors for the Zup™ and who are on his advisory board.
To all the journalists, reporters, mainstream technology and business bloggers, and other well meaning but seriously misinformed writers:
PLEASE DO NOT SPEAK ON INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY MATTERS THAT YOU DON’T REALLY UNDERSTAND!
Before you decide to bash the United States patent systemor teach Patents 101 in 300 words or less, please acknowledge your limited knowledge of the subject matter. Please tell your audience that your article is only part of a much larger story that can’t be covered in a single column or blog post. Above all, please do not encourage them to take actions that could have serious legal consequences.
You are telling an incomplete story.
What you don’t know, and what you aren’t reporting on, is an important piece that’s missing from mainstream media coverage of today’s intellectual property issues. And that is a problem.
The University of California public university system proves over and over again that academic research centers can be major contributors to the intellectual property industry. In 2011, the university states that1,581 new inventions were developed by employees of the educational system, 58 of which led directly to technology startups. Since 1985, the university system has developed its own patent policy regarding inventions developed within university facilities.
This week at IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series, we decide to leave the private sector and check out the recent patent applications and issued patents assigned to the University of California. This academic research system is involved with the research and development of computer, medical and energy technologies, among others.
As many of the patents and applications we feature below indicate, the University of California is a major developer of medical technologies. A patent issued by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office protects a system of developing transplantable kidney tissues from embryonic structures. Two other patent applications would protect a method of making synthetic red blood cells and improvements to current methods of detecting arthritis in patients.
The recent Supreme Court decision in the Myriad case, like past decisions, did not announce a clear rule that can be extrapolated from the decision and applied in other technology areas. Consequently, the determination of what subject matter is patent-eligible continues to be unclear. Patent law specifically identifies four broad categories of subject matter—process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter—that are patent-eligible. Although very few things fall outside these categories, the Supreme Court has engrafted some exceptions and limitations onto these statutory categories. Patentable-eligible subject matter that is otherwise within these categories is deemed ineligible for patent protection if it is a “law of nature,” a “physical phenomenon,” or an “abstract idea.” The precise meaning or scope of these exceptions and limitations are difficult to enunciate despite the numerous courts that have grappled with this issue. These exceptions and limitations can be viewed as labels that are attached after a judicial balance has been made between competing or conflicting underlying concepts. Justice Thomas recognized that balance in Myriad when he wrote, relying on both Mayo, and Chakrabarty, that “patent protection strikes a delicate balance between creating ‘incentives that lead to creation, invention, and discovery’ and ‘impeding the flow of information that might permit, indeed spur, invention.’”
This balance provides the underlying justification for viewing some discoveries as being so basic or fundamental that everyone should be free to utilize them. Nevertheless, it is imperative that a clear rule or test, based on this justification, is enunciated by the Supreme Court. Any resulting rule will be imperfect because it will potentially be over or under inclusive. Additionally, it will have disproportionate effects on different industries. But the importance of a uniform and predictable rule outweighs these deficiencies because it allows a business enterprise and courts to more easily make decisions. Recent Supreme Court patent decisions have generally rejected bright line tests in favor of a more-opened ended or flexible approach. Unfortunately, this provides limited guidance to lower courts and consequently the issue remains unsettled.
Nothing fires up a legislative debate like an unexpected White House intervention, and if the Obama administration’s patent-policy announcements this month were aimed at generating headlines and Capitol Hill conversations, they succeeded. See White House Task Force on High Tech Patent Issues.
But if the intent was to steer the debate toward a balanced approach that would curb frivolous litigation without imperiling an intellectual-property protection system so key to nurturing innovation and job protection in this country, the effort appears to have failed.
Please don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of good reasons for the White House to get involved.
There are nearly half a dozen patent-related bills or proposals under consideration in the House and Senate, and the debate is sorely in need of facts and serious study. Much of the proposed legislation would make wholesale changes to the patent system, ignoring two centuries of clear evidence that strong patent protection promotes innovation, economic growth and a higher standard of living for Americans.
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