The OSTP has provided updated information noting two efforts by the Obama administration related to materials. This includes the older Materials Genome Initiative and the newer Critical Materials Initiative (a Department of Energy program). Other efforts from the Obama administration in connecting technology and economic policy include the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. The Materials Genome Initiative is now about a year and a half old (dating back to the first Obama term), so 2013 will be an important year to see where it is going. The Critical Materials Initiative is announced as a new, post-election effort and appears to focus on the shortage of rare earth metals and lithium and clean energy industry. Hopefully, fiscal cliff and budget haggles will not slow progress in these arenas.
There is another update in the story of the nanotech/cleantech company A123, which recently declared bankruptcy. According to the Washington Post this weekend, “Wanxiang America, the U.S. arm of a Chinese automotive parts giant, won the bidding for a bankrupt Massachusetts-based lithium battery manufacturer that was once hailed as a cornerstone of President Obama’s quest for American dominance in electric vehicles and battery technology.”
“A123 Systems announced Sunday that Wanxiang would pay $256.6 million for all of A123’s technology, its manufacturing facilities in the United States and China, and its contracts with utilities seeking grid storage and automakers seeking batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles.”
“Wanxiang would not acquire A123’s Ann Arbor, Mich.-based government business, which includes all of its U.S. military contracts. Those would be acquired for $2.25 million by Navitas Systems, a Woodridge, Ill.-based provider of energy storage products for commercial, industrial and government agency customers.” Please see the Washington Post article for more details.
Intellectual property concerns of various stripes apparently did not stop the sale, for now at least.
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.
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.
Congratulations to Carnegie Mellon University for breaking ground on a new energy/nanotech-related building last weekend, as they report on their university webpage:
“Under sunny skies that were later punctuated with daytime pyrotechnics, the excitement was palpable as Carnegie Mellon University broke ground for Sherman and Joyce Bowie Scott Hall — future home to the university’s work in nanotechnology, biomedical engineering and the new Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation.”
Located in western Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon also addressed issues during the ground breaking events about how to handle shale gas and water:
Presenting the four top energy topics voted on by the audience were CMU’s:
- Jeanne VanBriesen, Shale gas development: what’s the story with water?
- Baruch Fischhoff, How will human behavior affect energy futures?
- Ed Rubin, Clean coal: oxymoron, or path to sustainability?
- Jay Whitacre, Can low cost batteries help us to use more renewables and build fewer transmission lines?
Interesting recent article by Professor Josh Lerner on venture capital investing, including a reference to advanced materials (“The Narrowing Ambitions of Venture Capital,” September 6, 2012, Technology Review). Lerner presents a seemingly pessimistic view of the current venture capital world noting sub-themes of the limited scope of investment objectives, too many boom-and-bust cycles, and “mercurial” public markets. (side note: The comments posted to date are generally negative.)
For advanced materials, Lerner writes about explaining the concentration of venture capital into certain sectors, “One answer is that venture funds have done much better in categories where the innovation cycle is short, such as media and software, than in areas like advanced materials and biotechnology, where the time frame for success is longer than the eight-to-10-year life of the typical fund.”
Lerner concludes: “…the venture capital model is no panacea for innovation. The boom-and-bust cycle, the mercurial effects of public markets, and the narrowing of its objectives have made it something far less substantial.”
Hopefully, needed investments in advanced materials, nanotechnology, cleantech, medical devices, health, and the like will be healthy and not be allowed to be sacrificed in the name of a better social life on the internet while physically stagnant in front of a computer screen.
The National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) is participating in a statement responsive to the “No More Solyndras Act.” The gist is to not “throw the baby out with the bathwater” in “fixing” the government programs that led to the Solyndra problems.
NVCA also reports life sciences investing (biotech and medical devices) was down in Q2, the fourth quarter in a row for decline (see press release on home page for nvca re Q2).
In comparison with life sciences, cleantech was modestly up and featured some of the largest deals in Q2, falling within the “Industrial/Energy” group, including investment deals with Fisker Automotive, Bloom Energy, Harvest Power, and SunRun, Inc. Clean technology is said to cross industries – remains a bit of a mystery what is an industry versus a sector – distinction without difference? Many technologies cross industries. Just explain why a particular classification system is chosen. For many years, it has been said that ”nanotechnology is not an industry,” but I am not sure what is the point of saying that as many things seem to not be industries (e.g., cleantech)? Have not heard a good explanation despite asking a number of persons who make the point.
Also, good to see the Wall Street Journal provide a nanotechnology commercialization story recently. A nanotechnology renaissance could be, indeed, a boom to the economy if the government and venture capitalists can figure out a better model for investing in the physical sciences.
Have been reading the 2011 book, Bottled Lightning, Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy, by Seth Fletcher. An excellent read for anyone interested in cleantech and nanotech commercialization. The focus is on the lithium ion battery and its scientific, engineering, and manufacturing history. Also, its application to the electric car. The need for high energy density batteries at good cost is a fundamental challenge for nanotechnology (e.g., development nanophosphate battery packs). High surface area is a key parameter directly linked to nanotechnology. The book also draws attention to patent and licensing issues which was interesting. Much bang-for-the buck in this 215 page paperback – enjoy! Here is one public review.
Also, was at the US PTO Cleantech Customer Partnership Meeting this week. In the technical presentation, focus was more on wind and solar.
However, advanced batteries continue to be a critical aspect for cleantech and one of its flagship products, the electric car.
The USPTO is now announcing that its next clean tech customer partnership meeting will be held on June 12, 2012 at 1-5 p.m. at its Alexandria, VA campus (South Auditorium, Madison Building). Those who wish to attend can contact Jill Warden, 571-272-1267 (email@example.com). This will be the second customer partnership meeting; the first was held in May 2011.
Note: the USPTO is no longer accepting the petitions to make special based on its green technology pilot program. Somewhat surprisingly, the leading tech center (TC) for the petitions was TC 2800 (Semiconductors). Less surprising, the other two leading tech centers for the petitions were Chemical (TC 1700) and Mechanical (TC 3700).
Today, a fresh crop of 102 nanotech class 977 patent publications were published at the US PTO. The total now for 2012 is 1,249, which projects to the end of the year to be 3,608. If this continues through 2012, it will be another record year for publishing nanotech 977 patent applications. The numbers go up each year: last year 2011 was 3,439; the year before 2,770 (2010); and before than 1,499 (2009). Hence, the number has more than doubled in but two years.
The 977 nanotech patent applications cover the gamut of nanotech commercial application spaces including personalized medicine, cleantech, defense, semiconductors, and the like. See, for example, US Pat. Pub. 2012/0088235 published April 12, 2012 for rapid DNA sequencing, which is critical to personalized medicine.
Hopefully, government is working with venture capital on how best to adapt the investment systems for commercializing nanotech innovations (e.g., technology transfer from universities and federal labs, including the Bayh-Dole system). Otherwise, many opportunities will be wasted.
Hydraulic fracturing (HF) has become a substantial economic force and the subject of strong policy debate. HF has several connections to cleantech, including issues of water treatment and disposal. Recent patents related to water and cleantech include, for example, USP 8,119,007 to MIT, 8,110,115 to Ibex, and 8,105,488 to Anticline Disposal. U.S. Patents that refer to HF now grant at almost twice the rate as 2009 and before. This year, already, 41 have granted, and the number in 2011 was 224 and in 2010 was 257.
Nanotechnology also should become part of the search for HF technical solutions. USP 8,105,492 to Baker Hughes (“Methods for Recharging Nanoparticle-Treated Beds”) relates heavily to nanotechnology. The patent was not classified as a 977 nanotechnology patent, however. The Abstract shows:
Nanoparticle-treated particle packs, such as sand beds, may effectively filter and purify liquids such as waste water. Proppant beds treated with nanoparticles may fixate or reduce fines migration therethrough. When tiny contaminant particles or fines in these fluids flow through the nanoparticle-treated bed or pack, the nanoparticles will capture and hold the tiny contaminant or fines particles within the pack due to the nanoparticles’ surface forces, including, but not necessarily limited to van der Waals and electrostatic forces. Nanoparticle-treated beds or packs may be recharged by contacting the bed with an inorganic acid (but not hydrofluoric acid) or an organic acid, and optionally followed by subsequent treatment with hydrofluoric acid. This treating substantially removes the nanoparticles and the fine particulates that have been removed from a fluid (e.g. wastewater being treated, produced fluids in a formation, etc.). The particle pack may then be re-treated or recharged with nanoparticles.
We have been reviewing the President’s budget proposals announced yesterday, February 13, 2012 (fiscal year 2013 President’s Budget). In particular, we are looking at impact on nanotech and cleantech. Some highlights:
First, the NNI was given a 4.1% increase (NNI is National Nanotechnology Initiative). The total would rise to $1.8B.
Second, within the NNI heavy cuts are slated for defense, including DOD (down 20%) and Homeland Security (down 14%).
Third, within the NNI, heavy increases are proposed for Energy (up 40%) and the EPA (up 12%).
Interesting that in the webinar provided explaining the rationale, a research program can be cut for failure for lack of good future prospects. Alternatively, however, a research program can be cut if it is commercially successful and transitioning to the private sector. Hence, the input from government is for those programs in the middle.
The webinar also featured the administration continues to assert that the federal government had a major impact over the past thirty years on shale gas developments.
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu visited Pittsburgh today to review energy, natural gas, and innovation. In his remarks, he spoke of using shale natural gas as a balancing tool for wind and solar power. Chu also stressed the role of patents in innovation.
I noted discussion today at a Nanobusiness Commercialization Association meeting re role of nanotech in shale gas technology and its relationship to cleantech. So awareness of the connections are growing.
Interesting that the administration continues to push that the federal government’s shale gas research of the late 1970′s, in the Jimmy Carter era (and also Gerald Ford), has an important connection with 2012 events in deep shale drilling. Some recent blog activity noted this.
Possibly, or necessarily, shale gas and cleantech can and should arrive at a synergistic relationship.
Of course, for those who know Pittsburgh, competing with Chu in Pittsburgh today for attention was the Steelers introducing their new offensive coordinator. There is always something new.
Two items of note today:
1) The US PTO today finally issued its proposed rules to implement its novel procedure called supplemental examination. Bad news; and maybe outrage to follow. They will charge a PTO fee of $5,180.00 “for processing and treating a request for supplemental examination.” They will also charge a whopping fee of $16,120.00 “for ex parte reexamination ordered as a result of a supplemental examination proceeding.” !
Even more, to file a request for reexamination will cost $17,750.00 in PTO fees.
The public has two months to comment (to express their outrage?).
2) Also, I participated in a panel at American University today on patent reform and post-grant review processes. I tried to express the need, conveyed by clients, that the complexities of the patent system need to be held in check, particularly for small business innovators. Now it also appears that costs also appear to be in need of holding in check in the new US PTO. One can only guess the PTO fees for things like inter partes review or post-grant review. Numbers like $40,000 were noted on rumor-like basis.
The humor was along the lines of one can buy a nice car with these fees!?
President Obama delivered his state of the union address tonight. He hit many points of interest to those of us monitoring the high tech ecosystems: innovation, start-ups, basic research, federally-financed labs, universities, clean energy, etc. etc.
Killing cancer cells but leave healthy ones, he said. Sounds like nanotech.
Lightweight vests for cops and soldiers that can stop any bullet, he said. Sounds like advanced materials and/or nanotech.
Curious it was to hear him say that public research dollars were used to develop the technologies to extract natural gas from shale rock. Really? Not sure about that one. We can research more but am dubious from patent literature surveys.
Finally, do not forget his high tech batteries – more nanotech.
Also, the OSTP webpage on the State of Union speech noted more about Dr. Hiroyuki Fujita’s achievements with high tech companies QED and eQED.
The patent system apparently was not stated – a disappointment. Patent system’s regulations in view of reform are increasing heavily these days, which is at odds with his concept to cut regulation.
Nevertheless, the vision is a good one for cleantech and nanotech. Time to make it happen; cut through it time. Vision not enough.
The Department of Energy (DOE) recently featured lead-free solder innovation and licensing from the Ames National Laboratory and Iowa State University. Apparently, $39M of licensing income has been received to date, which makes it now the highest royalty producing patent(s) at Ames. The lead-free compositions are based on tin, silver, and copper mixtures (alloys).
Preventing the introduction of lead into the environment is an important, classic example of cleantech. I can remember in the 1990′s working on patent technologies for lead-free bullets and lead-free paint. A brief search of granted U.S. patents shows 577 granted patents have “lead-free” in the claim and, even more, 838 granted patents have “lead-free” in the claims. Lead-free technology is a leading example of how environmental concerns can drive innovation. For example, some of the lead-free solders apparently have advantages over the lead-containing solders. Some additional, commercally important lessons from this cleantech story:
- government regulation, particularly in the European Union in 2006, apparently was a leading factor in increasing the license income;
- time – roughly a decade – was needed before the licensing income started increasing and maturing;
- the inventions apparently flowed from basic research efforts;
- U.S. patents with Ames inventor Iver Anderson related to this technology include US Patent Nos. 5,527,628 and 6,231,691. These patents used the important claim strategy for materials technology, use of “consisting essentially of”;
- several recent 977 nanotech patent publications show nanoparticle aspects of the technology (see, for example, US Patent Publication 2010/0031848 to Samsung);
- even though foreign filing apparently was not carried out, licensed from companies outside the U.S. apparently were forthcoming
One subject to watch in 2012 is diamond. Synthetic diamond is one important arrow in the arsenal of advanced materials and is an essential part of the carbon based nanomaterials scene including familiar materials in the press such as fullerenes, carbon nanotubes, and graphene. Synthetic diamond films and powders, however, are also an important part of nanotechnology 2012, as it can have grain sizes at the nanoscale. Indeed, class 977 nanotech patent efforts on diamond seems to be increasing. In 2011, a record number of class 977 patent applications – 28 – included diamond in the title or abstract. In 2010, that number was only 18 and the year before was only 11. Some important diamond applications lead to energy savings and better electrodes, so it is also an important material for energy and cleantech. Biosensor applications also exist.
An excellent historical treatment of the development of synthetic diamond technology is Robert M. Hazen’s book, The Diamond Makers, 1999. A major player in the field was General Electric, which continues to this day to be a leading force in advanced materials, nanotech, and cleantech.
In the conception of manufacturing at an atomic, molecular, or nanoscale, inventors and futurists have always thought of building the perfect material: diamond.
Some curious end-of-year activity for one government agency: the US PTO announced on December 15, 2011 through the Federal Register that it will extend – but also terminate – the Greentech accelerated examination program. The program was set to expire at the end of December but it will be extended to March 30, 2012. If, however, they accord 3,500 greentech applications a special status before then, the program will terminate at number 3,500. Currently, the PTO web page statistics show the count is at 2,913. They may or may not hit 3,500. The program previously was supposed to hit 3,000 – but not there yet.
So, this is it !? Irony: the program is being terminated in view of its “success,” according to the PTO. Well, if a program is successful, why terminate….(well, never mind!). Heavy budget ax times may be ahead.
The alternative, according to the PTO, is the new Track I program. While this strategic insight from the US PTO is appreciated, the PTO neglects to warn users about the hefty fee the Track I program costs.
The new patent reform statute also has provisions for priority technologies – time will tell how that is used and if greentech will be a player.
While Thanksgiving this year was a holiday for most of us, filled with visiting relatives, turkey, and football, the US PTO quietly published a bumper crop of nanotech 977 patent applications on Thanksgiving Day – 62 to be precise! Some of my “favorites” include those with applications in cleantech and bionanotech. In addition, the intersection of polymer science and nanotechnology is clearly evident and commercially significant in the nanotech patent literature. Polymeric nanoparticles are an important type of nanoparticle, supplementing inorganic nanoparticle systems like quantum dots.
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Following OLED commercialization updates is becoming pretty interesting. See, for example, www.OLED-info.com. Some recent news featured there include, for example:
- Universal Display Corp. (UDC) recently reported its first profitable quarter. See, also, the UDC web page update.
- Samsung Electronics plans to launch flexible OLED panels next year (perhaps starting with mobile phones, followed by tablets and other portable devices). See this YouTube video where allegedly one of these can survive a hammer pounding.
The US PTO is running its greentech accelerated examination program through December 31, 2011, or until 3,000 grantable petitions are reached. The grantable petition number now stands at 2,518 based on current PTO statistics. The PTO also recently announced that it has granted 552 greentech patents, and that at least 116 of these went to General Electric. Indeed, GE obtained patent #500.
The US PTO currently is heavily involved in implementing regulations for patent reform legislation enacted September 16, 2011. What will it do with its greentech program, and how will it find the time to decide? Many would like to know more details about how this program has progressed and who has benefited.
One of the central aspects of the recently passed patent reform in Congress is the elimination of the best mode defense by amendment to 35 USC Section 282. However, Congress did not in parallel eliminate the best mode from the requirements of 35 USC Section 112. In other words, the US PTO is still supposed to grant patents which satisfy the best mode requirement, but if that does not happen, this violation is not a defense in litigation. In past practice, the US PTO has not sought to evaluate best mode as part of examination.
Best I can tell, the odd legislation as passed represents two competing goals: (1) Congress likes a high-quality disclosure of the invention (hence, it did not amend section 112) ; (2) Congress does not want abusive litigation tactics based on best mode (hence, it amended section 282).
Note: the amendment to Section 282 also appears to remove best mode as a basis for an inequitable conduct defense. Also, best mode cannot be used as a basis for a post-grant opposition.
Quite possibly, the US PTO will provide further guidance on how it will treat best mode and what it expects from applicants in this new legal era. Also, some countries (e.g., Australia) may still require a best mode disclosure. One can check with an expert in each country. If one eliminates the best mode, one might eliminate something essential, which could impact enablement. In some cases, disclosure of the best mode might provide useful support for a non-obviousness position.
Hence, patent applicants need to stay awake. In particular, those working in the chemical, nanotech, and cleantech arts frequently encountered best mode issues. For example, a chemical patent was found by the Federal Circuit earlier this year to have been in violation of the best mode. However, one suspects that the US PTO will have its hands so full dealing with the new law that it will not have time to deal effectively with best mode issues.
Finally, the new best mode law is effective on the date of enactment and shall apply to proceedings commenced on or after that date. News reports and rumors have the President signing the legislation this Friday, September 16, 2011.
The Senate – finally – will vote on patent reform today at 4 p.m. President Obama – finally – will sign the legislation soon after. The President’s speech on jobs is set for this evening, and patent reform may be mentioned in the speech. However, no one quite knows with certainty what the impact will be on the current unemployment rate.
Cleantech and nanotech companies need to immediately understand the impact of this reform on their strategy. Perhaps the only certainty is that companies, universities, federal labs, and other entities, that do not understand the patent reform will be at a disadvantage compared to those that do.
Current wisdom noted by some if not many pundits (and/or lawyers) is that patent reform could be passed as early as September. One rationale for the September push is job creation. Certainly, patent lawyers will be kept busy based on the complexities of the issues at hand. Patent applicants and the whole innovation ecosystem will have to react quickly when final legislation passes.
Over a half dozen categories of reform are dealt with based on current legislations passed by the House and the Senate earlier in 2011. These categories range from PTO fee issues to litigation defenses; from first-to-file system to post-grant opposition of patents. Special interest pecularities are sprinkled in as well. One possible outcome is that final legislation will mirror the current House version.
How will this legal revolution impact cleantech and nanotech? The lobbying debates over this legislation, which stretch back for years, has not focused on cleantech or nanotech. The general debate has been between pharma and "tech" companies. While cleantech and nanotech covers a broad swath of commercial entities, in general, cleantech and nanotech likely falls closer to the pharma side. Many technologies in cleantech and nanotech will take a decade or more to reach market fruition, much like pharma. A strong patent system is needed to encourage investment. Like any innovation community, cleantech and nanotech companies will need to file strong patent applications from the start to benefit fully from the patent system.
Our June 27, 2011 blog noted section 25 which would allow for priority examination of cases related to technologies of national economic importance. Cleantech would certainly fall into that category, at least under the Obama administration. However, the US PTO already has an accelerated examination system for cleantech. At last count, as of August 11, the US PTO had granted 435 greentech patents (resulting from accelerated examination) and granted 2,250 accelerated examination petitions.
The forces leading to a possible September resolution are perhaps now set after years of lobbying and compromising. Nevertheless, the PTO is taking your comments as it will need to pass rules to adapt to the new law. Cleantech and nanotech will watch and respond quickly to the new law, if and when enacted. The new Congressional budget cutting "Super Committee" may also influence spending aspects of the changes including PTO fee diversion.
Whatever the legal wrangles, its time for America to invent more, faster, and better. Hopefully, the law will encourage that outcome. Hopefully, it will not just be a "legal employment act." We will plan to monitor patent reform and be ready to discuss it as needed at our panel at the 10th Annual NanoBusiness/Nanomanufacturing Summit, to be held in Boston September 25-27.