IPO Inventor Award Rewards Green Technologies

This article continues our Earth Day 2013 series with a look at the IPO Inventor of the Year Awards. 

Four times over the past nine years the Intellectual Property Owners (IPO) Education Foundation has recognized inventors of green technologies as the Inventor of the Year. This trend is certainly not accidental given the growing interest in green technologies and the increased importance they will play as the global economy shifts from a carbon-based energy platform to more sustainable and environmentally friendly sources of energy.

Of course, we are many years away from a totally renewable energy economy. While there are some that are working on the “home run” solutions, many others work on important incremental advances. These incremental advances are what the patent system thrives on and particularly incentivizes. As you can see below, 3 of the 4 green technologies recognized by the IPO over the past decade relate to reducing energy consumption. The other relates to cleaning water, which saves lives in third-world and developing countries. Indeed, there are numerous ways to be green!

Will the IPO continue its recent trend and recognize a green innovation in 2013, making 5 out of the last 10 years a celebration of environmentally friendly technologies? That is at least in part up to the community. The IPO is currently looking for nominations for the 2013 Inventor of the Year Award, which will be handed out in a ceremony in Washington, DC, in December 2013. The nomination deadline is May 15, 2013.


2004: Air and fuel supply system for combustion engine

The 2004 IPO National Inventor of the Year Award was given to James R. Weber and Scott A. Leman from Caterpillar Inc. for their development of one of the core technologies that comprise Caterpillar’s ACERT® diesel engine technology.  Weber and Leman invented an air and fuel supply system that is designed to significantly reduce diesel emissions, which was embodied in U.S. Patent No. 6,688,280, which issued on February 10, 2004.

Weber and Leman invented an advanced air management system that couples precise valve control and series turbochargers to provide optimal quantities of cool, clean air to the combustion chamber.  The introduction of this air lowers the temperature of combustion and reduces the formation of emissions at the point of combustion rather than downstream in the exhaust.  A novel variable valve actuation device influences valve events at various engine loads and speeds, thereby enabling airflow that is tailored to yield best possible emissions and fuel economy for each operating condition. This invention combined with advanced fuel systems, engine electronics and after-treatment processes make up ACERT® technology.

By the end of 2003, Caterpillar had begun outfitting all of its on-highway truck and bus engines with ACERT® technology.  Caterpillar was the first engine builder to offer diesel engines certified and compliant with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2004 standards.


2006: Water treatment compositions

The 2006 IPO National Inventor of the Year Award was given to Philip Frank Souter and Colin Ure from Procter & Gamble Co. for their development of PuR® Purifier of Water Sachets. Each small sachet is capable of purifying 10 liters of water by pulling dirt, organic matter, heavy metals, spores, and other contaminants out of non-potable water.  The product is inexpensive and simple to use. The technology underlying this innovation is represented in U.S. Patent No. 6,827,874.

This innovation is significant because more than 1 billion people lack safe water, and an estimated 2.2 million children die each year because of diarrheal diseases, many of which could be prevented by safe drinking water.  Studies show that PUR sachets can reduce diarrhea illness in children up to 50 percent. Thus, not only is this innovation a green technology that cleans contaminated water, but it directly saves lives where deployed by clarifying and reducing microbial pathogens, improving the quality of drinking water.

Through its Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program, and in partnerships with relief organizations including UNICEF and the Red Cross, Procter & Gamble has been using this invention to provide millions of households the means to purify drinking water.  Procter & Gamble has reached households in Guatemala, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, Liberia, Uganda, Ethiopia, the Congo, and Malawi.


2008: LED power control method and apparatus

The 2008 IPO National Inventor of the Year Award was given to Ihor Lys, co-founder of Color Kinetics, for his development of Powercore® is a breakthrough in digital power processing technology specifically designed to increase efficiency, lower the overall cost, and simplify installation of LED (light emitting diode) lighting systems by integrating power and data management directly within the fixture. The technology underlying Powercore® is covered by U.S. Patent No. 7,233,115 and U.S. Patent No. 7,256,554.

LED sources are highly efficient, long-lasting, easily controllable, and environmentally friendly.  LED sources are expected to supplant conventional light sources such as incandescent, fluorescent, and halogen, for illuminating homes and workspaces in the future.  However, to be useful for illumination, they must be integrated into systems that account for optics, high-efficiency LED drivers, advanced power components, and thermal management.

Powercore® technology integrates power, data management and voltage conversion into the light fixture, eliminating the need for a separate power supply.  It streamlines multiple conversion and regulation stages into a single, flexible, microprocessor-controlled power stage that rapidly, efficiently and accurately controls power output to LED-based systems directly from line voltage.  Powercore® represents a completely new and holistic approach to power control and conversion – specifically optimized to drive LED lighting systems.


 2009: Plasma transferred wire ARC thermal spray apparatus and method

The 2009 IPO Inventor of the Year Award was given to Keith Kowawlsky, Dan Marantz, David Cook, & James Baughman for their invention of the Plasma Transferred Wire ARC Thermal Spray Apparatus and Method (PTWA), a process that applies a coating of molten metal to the interior of an engine, which makes the engine wear and heat resistant and improves fuel economy. The technology underlying this innovation is covered by U.S. Patent No. 5,808,270, which issued in September 1998. This belated recognition was due to the fact that the invention was first commercialized in 2008, making it qualify for IPO recognition, which seeks to recognize recently patented or recently commercialized innovations.

Plasma Transferred Wire ARC Thermal Spray Apparatus and Method (PTWA) is a process that applies a thin controllable thermally sprayed coating of molten metal onto the cylinder wall using a rotating thermal spray device.  The PTWA thermal coating improves fuel efficiency by reducing engine weight and running friction and improving heat transfer.

The process and apparatus were perfected by Flame-Spray Industries and Ford Motor Company.  The invention was first implemented in the 2009 Motor Trend Car of the Year Winner, the 2008 Nissan GT-R.

Ford has since licensed this technology to outside companies including Caterpillar’s remanufacturing business, which repairs parts that would otherwise be discarded. Thus, not only does this innovation improve fuel economy, but it also allows for the recycling of parts that would otherwise be discarded, providing dual environmental benefits.


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