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.
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.
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.
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 (see our October 7, 2012 blog entry, for example). We did not see as many granted patents in 2010 and 2011 compared to 2012 (likely a trend reflecting the increased importance of hydraulic fracturing in recent years). One exception was US Patent No. 7,722,770 granted May 25, 2010 (the listed assignee is Anticline Disposal, LLC). Anticline now has five granted patents, best we can tell (8,105,488; 7,722,770; 7,628,919; 7,527,736; and 7,510,656). The processes appear to link to nanotechnology via nanofiltration and reverse osmosis. See also this link. Nanotechnology continues to be a prominent theme in new hydraulic fracturing technologies although many of these nano-HF patent filings are not included in the 977 nanotechnology patent class.
For the Anticline ’770 patent, the abstract indicates:
ABSTRACT: Systems and methods have been developed for treating the waste water contaminated with methanol and boron in addition to other contaminants. The systems and methods allow specifically for the removal of the methanol and boron without the addition of significant chemicals to raise the pH. The water is treated by removing the methanol via biological digestion in a bioreactor, separating a majority of the contaminants from the water by reverse osmosis and removing the boron that passes through the reverse osmosis system with a boron-removing ion exchange resin.
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 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).
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.
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.
President Obama’s recent State of the Union address spoke of domestic oil and gas industry including shale gas (“American-made energy”). A leading but controversial technology for this industry is, of course, hydraulic fracturing. A brief review of the patent literature for 2012 confirms that inventors in this area for US patent filings are largely from the US. In a global economy, such domestic concentration for inventorship is somewhat unusual. The concentration of this innovation in the U.S. should be monitored.
As of today, in 2012, 38 patent publications refer to “hydraulic fracturing.” Of these, 27 (71%) list all U.S. inventors, and 32 (84%) list all U.S. inventors or list a majority of inventors as residing in the U.S. Only 5 of the 38 (13%) list all non-U.S. inventors. The leading state for inventors is Texas.
2012 is well underway with class 977 nanotech patent publications continuing to issue at high rates. We have noted the explosive growth of 977 nanotech patenting many times previously. To date in 2012, 219 patent publications have published in the 977 patent class, which projects early on to about 2,850 patent publications for the year. While it is too early to project meaningfully for all of 2012, if this pace continues, 2012 will be another year of high rate of nanotech filings and may eclipse last year’s record number (3,439).
The role of government in innovation is a hot topic these days. Of these class 977 patent publications, 33 (15%) appear to have the federal funding contract clause. A total of 40 grants are referred to in the clauses. Defense leads the way with funding of 13 of these grants (33%). In number two slot was the NSF (12); in number three slot was NIH (9); and pulling up the rear was, surprisingly, Energy with only 6.
The defense funding was broken up among Air Force (5), DARPA (3), Navy (3), and Army (2). With cuts in defense spending in the news, time will tell if these numbers can be maintained.
Building on our prior December 10, 2011 blog post, we can now confirm as 2011 finishes that the PTO on Thursday set a record in publishing nanotech 977 patents. The final count for the year was 3,439. Last year was only 2,770, in contrast (2009 was only 1,499).
Will investors and the federal government take notice?
Coincidence? The last patent to publish was to GE, 2011/0320142! Our December 21 blog post noted GE patenting.
Today, Tuesday, was the last day in 2011 in which the US PTO granted patents (actually, the clock is now unfortunately past midnight so seems it was yesterday now). The 977 nanotech patent count for 2011 is now in: 792 nanotech patents were granted (classified as 977 patents). That is up from 780 in 2010, and only 532 in 2009 (432 in 2008 and 352 in 2007). The total number of 977 nanotech patents now stands at 7,464, which means more than 10 percent of them issued in 2011.
The last patent for the year was US Patent No. 8,086,432 for a “Molecular Motor.”
Patent counting has its limits. Nevertheless, one famous company, it is reported, used to keep a “patent clock” in the lobby which kept digital scoreboard of its patenting. Nanotechnology was an important aspect of that patent clock. There is a management idea that good management will only flow if that which is being managed is measured. Maybe.
Undoubtedly, patents will continue to be counted in 2012. Hopefully, that will lead to good management.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has indicated that 900 registrants will seek a $50,000 innovation prize for winning a software tournament, the goal of which is to improve the US PTO examination process.
Hopefully, the innovation will be the subject of a patent application – and that the PTO will wave the normal PTO fees!?
The problem to be solved: most patent examiners (and patent attorneys, for that matter) “waste” time in reviewing figures by the need to go back-and-forth between the drawing and the text describing the drawing.
The solution: better software.
How to get the solution: set up a software tournament with a cash prize!
Winners to be announced around February 16, 2012.
We have written before about the prize approach to providing the incentive to innovate (see August 1 and July 8, 2010 blogs, for example).
Hopefully, the NNI and other government organizations associate with nanotech and cleantech are watching.
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.
Nanotechnology has made it again into some mainstream press. The December 3, 2011 edition of The Economist has a 28 page Technology Quarterly which is a must-read for those that follow nanotech. Nanotechnology’s role in commercialization efforts is noted in several of the articles – good to see!
First, there is “Getting Past the Guards,” an article on the health side of nanotech regarding delivering pharmaceutical drugs past the body’s natural defenses (pages 18-19 in the paper edition). One such defense is the blood-brain barrier. Another is the small size of blood capillaries. Anticancer drugs can clump too much and cause blocking in the small capillary. Recent research is reported, however, where drug particles are converted to nanoparticles with a combination of sound waves and use of polymers to form shells. Certainly, cancer treatment is one blockbuster application of nanotech which should be stressed to government officials in charge of government funding and commercialization policy. An article is also attached on delivery of drugs across the blood-brain barrier using nanotechnology.
Patent filing data are suggesting (if not confirming) that nanotechnology is an increasingly important technology sector in the U.S. For example, in 2004, the US PTO created the 977 nanotechnology class which provides a useful metric. In 2011, the 10,000th nanotechnology 977 patent publication published. The current patent publication count stands at 10,735 (as of December 8, 2011). Of these, 3,223 were published in 2011 which is about 30%. About 70% of the 10,735 have published in the past three years (2009-2011). An explosion this is.
Patent publications are a leading indicator for current trends in patenting. Because patents can take 2-6 years to grant, typically, patent publications are a more sensitive measure for the trends. Moreover, not every patent application is granted, which further skews the analysis if one focuses only on granted patents.
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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I noted several things recently which seem to connect: (i) a patent of great interest to me finally issued from the US PTO related to an important (to me) carbon nanotube (CNT) application, (ii) many of the PTO’s class 977 nanotech patents seem to relate to carbon nanotubes, and (iii) Nanowerk is listing an updated study on the carbon nanotube industry and how it has grown. So I investigated these connections an ounce.
The US PTO now has granted 7,304 class 977 nanotech patents and, of these, 1,293 (18%)mention carbon nanotube or carbon nanotubes in the abstract or claims. That is remarkable.
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 aspect of the current patent reform debate is whether the CREATE Act will be preserved or modified. Briefly, the CREATE Act seeks to promote joint research activities and allows, in essence, one to exclude as prior art selected patent filings from other parties to a joint research agreement. The statute requires that the patent application be amended in a way to reflect the CREATE Act, so one can monitor patents and published applications for use of the CREATE Act.
The current version of H.R. 1249 purports to preserve in full the specifics and the intentions of the CREATE Act. For example, the House Committee Notes refer to this issue on pages 4 and 43.
We briefly checked nanotech class 977 patents and patent publications for use of the CREATE Act. For the granted patents, only seven 977 patents refer to joint research agreements and list the parties to the agreement. For nanotech class 977 patent publications, only 11 patent publications refer to joint research agreements and refer to the parties of the agreement. Hence, while the CREATE Act may be important, statistically, the CREATE act is not being invoked very frequently, at least in the nanotech space. One point noted is that many of the nanotech 977 patent documents resorting to the CREATE Act involve parties located outside the United States.
We continue to monitor patent reform including provisions of particular importance to the nanotech and cleantech innovation ecosystems. Some of these new provisions are seemingly small points. Nevertheless, they may be representative of larger issues and problems. For example, Section Ten of H.R. 1249, the core legislative document at the center of the current patent reform, establishes a new feature of the PTO fee structure for so-called micro-entities. Micro-entities receive a 75% fee discount. This micro benefit supplements the prior small entity designation which will continue under H.R. 1249 and provides a 50% discount. The complexity of the Section 10 provision, however, appears to be anything but small and micro. The legal trend seems to be that the smaller the entity, the larger the complexity.
Variables to consider in coming to a complete understanding of the new micro-entity provision include gross income, median household income (as reported by the Census Bureau), prior employment, foreign currency exchange rate (as reported by the IRS), and the Higher Education Act of 1965. How much legal analysis and cost will be needed to achieve the micro-entity status in good faith? Universities and colleges, as well as individual inventors, appear to be targets of the new provision.
This is but a small provision of patent reform (no pun intended). However, this small provision is representative of larger trends and problems with respect to patent law. Sometimes, we have observed from patent law changes in the past two decades that the patent system appears to generate significant complexity in trying to "be fair." Examples include small entity and Patent Term Adjustment. However, the added complexity is not welcome in many quarters. We dialog with inventors and applicants that, as we hear them, primarily desire for a simplification of the patent system.
The new micro-entity provisions are not unique to nanotech or cleantech. But the nanotech and cleantech ecosystems comprise heaving inputs from the universities. Hence, the provision is important.
Also, the new micro-entity provision is not a new idea. We easily found PTO proposals for this dating back to 2002.
Lord knows what complexity will happen when someone in the future proposes the next phase of reform, supplementing small entity and micro-entity, perhaps proposing the increased complexities of a nano-entity?