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