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.
MakerBot is featured in this article. Ex One is featured here.
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 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!).
The NNI is now presenting to the public a new signature initiative devoted to sensors. Two thrusts are identified: (1) use of nanotechnology in building sensors, and (2) develop better sensing methods for detecting nanomaterials. An associated white paper provides more details.
This is the fifth signature initiative from the NNI. According to the announcement, past sensor work has been held back due to problems with lack of reliability, reproducibility, and robustness. Sensors apply to a broad spectrum of industries, including energy, health, and defense. Certainly, after 9-11, sensors were identified as a key technology associated with homeland defense. Hence, federal thrusts in this sector would seem to make sense.
Some references to commercialization are present. For example, the announcement refers to US Patent No. 7,889,954 as an example of the type of technology upon which they want to build (from the Sailor group at University of San Diego). However, as if often the case with the federal government announcements, the commercialization issues at stake lack detail. For example, no patent studies are noted as part of what is important commercially in work to date. No analysis of the Bayh-Dole system in this sector or of the history of licensing or venture funding for sensor technology is noted. Brief reference to nanomanufacturing is noted (nanomanufacturing is another NNI signature initiative).
The ’954 patent, according to PTO records, is assigned to University of California and the federal government, jointly. Federal money apparently was used to develop the invention. The patent abstract for this patent is below:
An embodiment of the invention is a remote sensor that has an optical fiber terminating in a tip. A thin film porous particle having a characteristic optical response that changes in the presence of an analyte is optically coupled and physically attached to the tip of the optical fiber. The optical response of the particle changes in the presence of analyte, and the particle also serves to concentrate analyte. The thin film porous particle can be functionalized toward sensitivity for a predetermined analyte or analytes. A method of remote sensing exposes the remote sensor to an environment to be monitored for analyte. The thin film porous particle is probed with a beam of light. Reflected light is monitored through the optical fiber for a shift in frequency or intensity.
The magazine, Technology Review, provided a colorful, short feature on a leading nanomanufacturing company, Nanocomp Technologies in its last issue (pages 80-83 for the print version). In the U.S. presidential election year of 2012, manufacturing will be a leading theme for economic policy debate, and high tech and intellectual property aspects of manufacturing will be a particular focal point for U.S. concerns. Ironically, Nanocomp Technologies is located in New Hampshire, site of the primary this week. Nanocomp makes carbon nanotube (CNT) yarns, sheets, and related products. The materials’ weight savings have energy efficiency implications.
In looking at the Nanocomp webpage, I noted a number of their prior press releases explaining receipt of SBIR funding, confirming the important role SBIR funding can play for nanotechnology and cleantech. For example, a March 24, 2008 press release announced a DOD SBIR. Their most recent press release, November 16, 2011, notes they were selected by the DOD for a program which would include creating a path toward commercialization for civilian industrial use, as well as supply to the DOD and NASA. On SBIR updates, Congress recently passed legislation renewing the SBIR program for which Foley has provided expert commentary.
We noted the carbon nanotube industry in our October 22, 2011 blog includng reference to a recent review of the industry and the leading CNT producers. 2012 should prove to be an important year for the growth of nanomanufacturing, both in a bulk volume aspect and also in a more refined, strategic aspect.
The NNI’s draft strategic plan is available now at www.nano.gov. One of the most interesting aspects of the report (about 40 pages) is the set of three "signature initiatives" near the end, which include:
(1) Nanotechnology for Solar Energy Collection and Conversion
(2) Sustainable Nanomanufacturing – Creating the Industries of the Future
(3) Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond
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