2013 is flying by, remarkably fast, so it was time to check how the class 977 patent filings are coming for the new year. Last year provided a record 4,098 nanotechnology publications. After 16 weeks in 2013, the PTO is on pace to publish 3,478 nanotechnology publications. While the number is projected to be lower, there is still clearly a large volume of nanotechnology filings for the PTO to examine. Stay tuned.
An updated URGENT alert that the new U.S. first-to-file patent reform laws are now less than two weeks away. Many companies, whether nanotech, cleantech, biotech, or other types of emerging technology companies, should consider the merits of filing new, quality patent applications by March 15, 2013. Time is flying in 2013. The USPTO recently issued its finalized rules and processes for implementing the new system.
Also, bear in mind the new US PTO fee system activates March 19, 2013.
Technology Review recently highlighted new published research from IBM and others on nanoscale magnetic resonance imaging (or nanoscale NMR). Perhaps proteins can be imaged.
IBM nanoscale research is noted in this link. IBM has hundreds of granted patents falling into the class 977 nanotechnology class.
IBM symbolizes as well as anyone the convergence revolution of physical sciences, biological sciences, and information technology.
I saw this recent article on the “nanotechnology patent jungle.” The article refers to another recent article on the subject of making nanotechnology research “open-source.” Patent jungles are all around us; the concept is not unique to nanotechnology, and it is important to establish what exactly is a jungle (do you need five or a 100 patents to create a jungle?). Some might call it good business planning when a company elects to try and create a patent jungle against competitors. Indeed, it takes but a single company to create a substantial jungle with a strong patent filing program coupled to R&D. In some cases, one is forced to “take a license” because it seemingly is cheaper to license than to study all the patents with the help of competent legal counsel. Competent legal counsel is needed to really study the impact of a perceived jungle (there might not really be a jungle – just a scare of a possible jungle).
I suspect that in the history of technological development for material things, there are many more examples where important technology is subjected to a lot of patenting, compared to examples where important technology is NOT subjected to much patenting. If you work in patenting long enough, you start seeing the concept of patent jungles being applied to multiple technology sectors (I can, for example, recall hearing about patent jungles with single site polyolefin catalysis or “metallocenes” in the 1990′s).
In a nutshell, the global patent system, as of 2013, has evolved to where one should quickly file patent applications to protect your technology (even the US is moving to a first-to-file system on March 16, 2013 which suggests a need for fast filing). Then, in the shorter and longer term, one should update on-going reviews for freedom-to-operate in the space of your invention, as part of a larger commercialization strategy. Patent jungles are not unique to nanotechnology and one should do IP due diligence as part of commercial investment. Nothing too new or unique here, although this is a more interesting discussion when focused on particular aspects of nanotechnology such as graphene or carbon nanotubes.
One can try to do business in sectors of the economy which are not directly based on technological development, but if you want to work in a sector for which technology innovation is essential for success, then one cannot ignore the patent system, or alternatively, one cannot wish the patent system would go away.
I do believe government policy makers should monitor patenting and its impact throughout the economy, including nanotechnology. Such past monitoring helped create the drive for patent reform and the move to a first-to-file system in the U.S.
I attended today the USPTO partnership meeting on “additive manufacturing” (aka 3D Printing). The content was excellent, covering both talks and demonstrations. Companies presenting included 3D Systems, Stratasys, Shapeways, MakerBot, Ex One, and EOS. Several hundred persons attended, including in person and via the web, and the room energy was excellent throughout the three hours plus of content. The 3D printing revolution appears to be on after some 25 years of gestation.
The USPTO should be congratulated for putting together this informative, exciting event. The USPTO did not give too much overview of how patenting impacts this, but patenting was frequently noted by the speakers, and the PTO did note that there have been around 6,800 patent applications filed in this area over the past ten years. I was particularly struck by the concept that 3D printing can in some cases make objects which cannot be made by other ways. I would also like to hear more about nanoscale aspects of this including materials, interfaces, and nanoscale resolution. One of the driving forces for nanotechnology and nanomanufacturing is additive manufacturing. This recently published U.S. patent application from Lockheed Martin (2013/0018243) shows use of carbon nanotubes and uses the phrase “bio-additive manufacturing.” We will continue to monitor patent filings in this important area as 2013 progresses.
In 3D printing, an object is built up layer-by-layer under computer controlled manufacturing. The talks today covered the historical development including the original stereolithography, laser sintering, binder-on-powder printing, and inkjet 3D printing. Today, some of the companies are trying to “democratize” the technology and introduce this wonder to the general public. With 3D printing, everyone can become a creator. Recently media reports on 3D printing have been abundant. Hopefully, venture capital will be interested. Stay tuned!
The Economist, one of the more worthy media sources these days for connecting technology to larger society, included a page on nanomedicine in its special issue, “The World in 2013.” (page 128). The article is by Professors Omid Farokhzad and Rober Langer and focuses on bio nanotechnology from BIND Biosciences. BIND recently announced a development deal with Amgen. Professor Langer is a founder of BIND and Professor Farokhzad also works closely with BIND (according to the BIND Web page). The technology is for polymeric nanoparticles which smartly carry a payload. Cancer treatment is a leading application. Patenting is an important part of the company strategy per their press releases and web page content.
Lets hope more deals are in the works for nanomedicine as 2013 moves ahead into the market place from academic research. Venture capital is an important part of this story.
Another interesting nanotechnology book recently appeared, The Visioneers, by W. Patrick McCray, 2013, 323 pages, $29.95 hardback at Barnes & Noble (“How a group of elite scientists pursued space colonies, nanotechnologies, and a limitless future”). One focus in this book is on the history of nanotechnology up to around 2004, including the role of Eric Drexler and Richard Smalley and their famous debate. The origin of the NNI is briefly covered. The multiple strands of nanotechnology are explored, ranging from futuristic concepts to advanced materials science for making products now. Tensions between different nanotech philosophies and groups are explored. Good read, although it would have been interesting if more content had been provided for after 2004. Also, nanotechnology is only one of two conveyed stories of visioneering.
Also, 3D printing seems to be the rage these days in the technical and general media. The USPTO will hold a special session on 3D printing on January 23,2013. The 3D printing company ExOne is announcing an IPO attempt. In 3D printing, thin layers are built on one another. Nanotechnology connects in the materials used for 3D printing, as well as the notion of making thinner and thinner layers. Where is nanotechnology going? It is impacting personalized medicine and energy.
Clearly, one visioneering answer also now arising is in 3D printing.
The final phases of U.S. patent reform become active on March 16, 2013 when the U.S. patent system switches to a “first-to-file” system. The USPTO has to date only issued draft guidance on this switch. Hopefully, they will issue final guidelines soon so patent applicants can adapt well to the new regime, particularly if the final guidelines differ from the draft guidelines issued last August 2012. Many patent applicants will want to consider filing applications before March 16, 2013 if appropriate to avoid the new law. In some cases, split parallel filings, rather than a single filing, may be a good call. Hence, planning should have started by now.
While patent reform impacts all technologies, not just nanotechnology and clean technology, the patent filing rates in these sectors are rising, so attention to patent reform is particularly needed in these sectors.
Finally, March 16 is a Saturday so it would be very good to have all the ducks lined up on or before March 15, 2013 !
The nanotechnology patent filing boom continues. In 2012, the USPTO published 4,098 nanotechnology class 977 applications, which represents a 19.2% increase over last year. By way of comparison, in 2008, the USPTO published only 827 nanotechnology applications, and in 2009, only 1,499. Hence, the number has almost tripled in three years.
This patenting trend is consistent, as we have previously commented in our November 25, September 4, and July 8, 2012 posts. Hopefully, federal policy makers are noticing this important trend and managing well the implications including licensing and litigation. At least 12.4% of the filings report a federal funding statement as required under the Bayh-Dole act.
This week, press reports show Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) received a large, jury damage award ($1.17B) in a patent infringement lawsuit. This significant development is part of the on-going important policy dialog about university patenting, as noted in the attached press report link. Apparently, the patents arose out of the CMU Data Storage Systems Center (DSSC) (see US Patent Nos. 6,201,839 and 6,438,180; noise detection technology for computer hard drives). The damages might rise or fall with additional legal proceedings.
While the patents in the suit were not nanotechnology patents, the DSSC has a large nanotechnology aspect to its efforts. Also, university patenting is an important part of the nanotechnology innovation “ecosystem.”
Momentum for “additive manufacturing” (aka “3D printing”) continues to grow. The USPTO recently announced a customer partnership meeting to be held on January 23, 2013.
In addition, in August 2012, the Obama administration announced a new National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) initiative, including $30M federal funding. This week’s Economist also features an example, a new “carbomorph” material which can be used to print flexible electronics. One 3D printing ink is based on silver and carbon nanotubes. Carbomorph, however, is based on carbon black and polyester. Apparently, this enables far easier printing of electronic circuits.
Many links exist between additive manufacturing and nanotechnology. Key aspects of additive manufacturing are the materials used, and nanomaterials are an important ingredient. Also, forming high resolution solid structures cuts to the essence of nanotechnology.
General Electric’s CEO Jeff Immelt recently spoke on his company’s efforts with additive manufacturing, indicating manufacturing will become “sexy” again. Hopefully, additive manufacturing will also become an area for venture capital and angel investing. The USPTO event apparently will feature the companies Stratasys and MakerBot, and MakerBot just started in 2009.
PCAST recently submitted a very interesting, readable, and searchable report to the OSTP on federal policy for the future of basic research funding and commercialization (124 page pdf). Nanotechnology was mentioned on page 22 as an example of benefits of basic research including its influence on energy:
“-Nanotechnology research, on the heels of coordinated Federal investment, is leading to advances in areas such as new drug delivery systems, more resilient materials and fabrics, safer and more effective industrial catalysts, faster computer chips, and sustainable development in water and energy resources.”
Nanotechnology also appeared on page 45 with respect to discussion of university “proof-of-concept” centers:
“-The (MIT) Deshpande Center supports emerging technologies, including biotechnology, biomedical devices, information technology, new materials, nanotechnology, and energy innovations. It sponsors a grant program, a catalyst (mentor) program, innovation teams (i-Teams), and events.”
Finally, nanotechnology was mentioned on page 80 with respect to attracting researchers from abroad to come to the U.S.
Commercialization, patents, and technology transfer are important themes mentioned throughout. Nanotechnology is but one of a variety of “labels” used to describe sectors of research for policy analysis. Nanotechnology integrates closely with many of these other “labels.” Hopefully, its importance will not be lost in the integration.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) recently announced updates with the Materials Genonme Initiative (MGI). $25M in grants are noted, and the awardees include universities, national laboratories, and private sector companies (e.g., GM). Collaboration continues to be a strong theme.
Collaboration usually sounds good and makes sense in many contexts, particularly for purely basic research with long-term visions. However, collaborations can also generate complicated intellectual property and patent issues. For shorter term research with commercial applications as a goal, this can become a problem if not managed well. Hopefully, the MGI is considering this aspect of this new, exciting commercialization program. The MGI is now about 1 1/2 years old. The MGI has many close links to nanotechnology and the NNI (National Nanotechnology Initiative) including a program for predicting the properties of nanomaterials. Hopefully, the MGI is well and efficiently integrated with the NNI.
Also, hopefully 2013 budget issues do not slow down the MGI. Stay tuned.
Patent publications continued last week on Thursday, despite Thanksgiving. We checked. The USPTO continues to be on pace to publish about 4,000 nanotech class 977 patent publications in 2012. This would be a record as the previous high last year was 3,439. This record explosion is a solid, long-term trend, representing a substantive increase of at least 15%, as noted in our prior postings this year on September 4, 2012 and July 8, 2012.
Another “march-in petition” has been filed recently as part of the on-going implementation of the Bayh-Dole system. The attached web page provides access to the petition, cover letter, and broader context. Now, several groups are seeking march-in against a series of AIDS/HIV related drug patents. Funding for the underlying inventions was provided by the NIH.
No march-in petition has ever been granted during the 32 years of the Bayh-Dole system. If one were granted, the grant would likely have a major impact on the Bayh-Dole system, extending beyond the particular case at hand. Best I can tell, the last march-in petition was filed about two years ago, but the petition failed (see our prior blog entry).
Review of the patent literature confirms that many nanotechnology and clean tech inventions arise from federal funding and invoke the Bayh-Dole system. Funding comes from the NNI and Department of Energy, for example. However, it is not unusual to find investors and executives in these areas to be relatively unaware of the Bayh-Dole system and its legal implications.
I will note briefly that I found the petition dialog interesting for attempting to legally separate out what appears to be (1) a primary use of the patented invention, from (2) secondary uses of the patented invention, or what is called a “dependent technology.”
Media reports re A123 System’s bankruptcy confirm that A123′s intellectual property is an important part throughout the lifecycle of a struggling company. While Johnson Controls was an initial suitor for A123′s assets, the Wanxiang Group is also now inserting itself into the bankruptcy proceeding. However, concern is present that the IP could “go to China.”
In any event, stay tuned. Emerging growth companies should recognize the value of IP thoughout corporate lifecycles, including bankruptcy. In the on-going debate about whether to file patent applications in China, the debaters should note key situations such as this A123 situation where Chinese companies and investors are critical factors.
W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. is now petitioning to the Supreme Court over a long-running case involving joint inventorship law. In an era of collaborative research, joint inventorship law continues to be a critical aspect of groups and individuals communicating with each other over technology innovation. The technology behind the patent issue is the Gore-Tex(R) expanded polytetrafluoroethylene advanced material and its microsctructure. Gore argues, briefly, in its policy aspects that the Supreme Court must intervene to avoid chilling collaborative research and harming academic research, including research which is part of the Bayh-Dole system. Important, interesting reading.
We continue to monitor patent literature for water and liquid treatment technologies related to hydraulic fracturing. This technology is especially important for western Pennsylvania, the center of the Marcellus Shale region. Yesterday, for example, I listened to a speech by Carnegie Mellon University’s president, which stressed the importance of this technology. CMU has a new energy center which will include work in this area. CMU has also published a research guide on hydraulic fracturing.
Recent patents in 2012 which relate directly or indirectly to this subject include 8,273,320 (FracPure Holdings); 8,226,832 (NCH Ecoservices); 8,211,296 (NCH Ecoservices); 8,171,993 (Heat On-the-Fly); 8,158,097 (FracPure Holdings); 8,119,007 (MIT); 8,110,115 (Ibex); 8,105,488 (Anticline Disposal); 8,105,492 (Baker Hughes); and 8,132,632 (ConocoPhillips).
Integrated Water Technologies has an interesting, lengthy video which summarizes the FracPure process. The process includes the water supply, water treatment, and extracting solids from the treated waters.
Good to see: high throughput, inexpensive DNA sequencing is being featured on NPR this week in a series entitled the $1,000 Genome. Many of the technologies for this revolution in sequencing, of course, relate closing to or directly are nanotechnology (e.g., nanopore, microfluidic, and/or lab-on-a-chip technologies). Personalized medicine depends on it. More generally, the interface between biology and electronics is one of the most compelling arguments for further development and commercialization of nanotechnology and, more particularly, bio nanotechnology. Another leading example is allowing partially blind or blind persons to see better with artificial retinas.
A brief check of the nanotechnology class 977 patent literature shows IBM has activity in this area. See, for example, their recent US patent publications 2012/0199483 (published August 9, 2012); 2012/0193237 (published August 2, 2012); 2011/0308949 (December 22, 2011); and 2011/0279125 (November 17, 2011).
Hopefully, angel and venture capital investment will also flow to these exciting areas. This appears to be turning out to be one of many virtually secret “killer apps” for nanotech. For example, the NPR series does not delve too much into how the sequencing is done (per the series, sequencing done in a ”black box”). Hopefully, despite the secrecy, the federal and state governments, including those who fund and run the NNI, are watching.
The September 3, 2012 issue of C&EN discusses what it calls an “onslaught of nanotech drugs coming down the pike” for FDA review. See article entitled “Mapping Nanotech Drugs’ Landscape,” pp. 46, 48.
The FDA is generating a database for nanotech drugs and currently has 158 entries according to the article. The leading application area is cancer treatment (38%). Most are developed to be administered intravenously (56%). The leading types of formulation are liposomes (39%) and nanoparticles (27%).
The FDA will hold a public workshop in the coming months to get input from stakeholders for how to improve the review process.
The US patent literature confirms the role of nanotechnology innovation in cancer treatment. Of the currently published nanotechnology class 977 patent filings (there are 13,814 of them), 1.9% of them refer to cancer in the title or abstract. Considering the breadth of nanotechnology and bio nanotechnology, this is a significant fraction. Also, 4.3% of them refer to cancer in the title, abstract, or claim. Finally, 14.3% of them mention cancer in the patent somewhere.
The September 2012 major leage baseball pennant races are in high gear. I checked to see if baseball is by chance appearing in the nanotechnology patent literature. Apparently, the leading example is for better composite baseball bats. Some years ago, Easton had developed a Stealth CNT baseball bat (CNT, carbon nanotube). Zyvex contributed nanotechnology to the effort. This embedded link has some updated commentary on wooden, aluminum, and composite bats. Interesting how these can become “regulated” markets – need to protect the pitchers from rocket line drives off the bats. Also, perception exists that better bats would be some sort of undesirable performance enhancer. Some MLB teams, however, clearly need a lot more that advanced technology bats to make the playoffs and justify spending on the ticket prices.
Patent filings which refer to hydraulic fracturing are on the rise. In fact, the number appears to have almost doubled in the past five years. This is based on a review of the published patent applications at the USPTO web site. In 2012, pro-rated as of today, there should be about 473 patent applications publishing. In 2007, that number was only 246. From 2008-2010, the number rose to about 355 each year, and then rose dramatically in 2011 to 421.
Nanotechnology continues to be a source of innovation in this and related technologies. See, for example, Abstract below US Patent Publication 2012/0190598 published July 26, 2012 to Pure Liquid Solutions, LLC, on “Metallic Nanoparticle Biocide in Industrial Applications.”
We confirm that a nanotechnology patent filing explosion continues at a record pace in 2012 as we enter the final trimester of the year. On July 8, 2012, we reported that the USPTO was on pace to publish a record number of class 977 nanotechnology patent applications (over 4,000). This was also noted in past postings and reflects a solid trend. We checked again today and confirm that the current projection to end of the year remains at over 4,000 (4,043). The broad variety of technology in the filings is startling and in places unconventional. For example, US Patent Publication 2012/0221268 (the last application to publish) relates to quantum computing and lists Microsoft as assignee. Hydraulic fracturing is increasingly referred to in this body of patent literature as there are 16 such publications this year which is double the number compared to the prior three years combined (e.g., Halliburton’s US Patent Publication 2012/0220504).
Hopefully, as many of these patent filings as possible will serve useful commercial purposes and facilitate investment from the private sector as well as from government. The licensing of these patent filings can be analyzed for use in policy formulation and business development. Certainly, the on-going miniaturization of electronic devices – a hot patent topic these days with the Apple v. Samsung developments - will require more developments in nanotechnology including, for example, better batteries, power management, semiconductors, and displays. Clearly, many of the patent filings find applications related to energy, electronics, and bio nanotechnology.
In addition, hopefully the quality of filings remains solid despite the pressures to file applications. Finally, (hopefully!), patent reform will function to improve the patent system and encourage investment, particularly as it applies to nanotechnology inventions.
The recent, large judgement against Samsung in the Apple v. Samsung patent litigation has again brought patenting to the front pages of American news media. In that context, the September 16, 2012 and March 16, 2013 critical dates for when fundamentally new patent law takes effect takes on added importance. It is crucial for the innovation community to master the new patent law and PTO regulations. We will be presenting a timely panel discussion Wednesday morning September 5, 2012 in Boston regarding updates in patent reform including critical topics such as the new first-to-file system, what remains of any “grace period,” Inter Partes Review, Post Grant Review, and the like. The panel is part of the Nanomanufacturing Summit 2012 in combination with the annual meeting for the NanoBusiness Commercialization Association.
We stress, in particular, that while the March 16, 2013 date for the start of the first-to-file system seems a “long way away” today, it is not. Innovators need to plan now to adopt procedures and patent programs so as to be ready for March 16, 2013 (i.e., need to hit the ground running!).