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.
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 The USPTO has to date only issued draft guidance on this switch.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.
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.
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 USPTO has now in 2012, as of July 5, published 2,137 patent applications falling within the nanotech 977 classification. If that publication rate continues, 2012 will be another record year for nanotech patent application publishing at the USPTO. Aproximately 4,000 will publish this year if the trend continues. Last year, a record 3,439 nanotech 977 applications were published, so an explosively rapid rise is present.
Recently, I was invited to talk to the USPTO about nanotechnology later in July as part of the USPTO’s efforts to train examiners. With all of this nanotechnology patenting effort, clearly we will have a lot to talk about. If readers are interested in working with the PTO on giving talks on technology, please let us know.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). 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).
Based on review of the US PTO webpage statistics today, the PTO should still be accepting green tech petitions for accelerated examination. The PTO had declared in December that they would stop the program upon granting of 3,500 petitions, or upon reaching the date, March 30, 2012, whichever occurs first. As of the statistics posted today, only 3,375 petitions have been granted. Hence, the program should still be open, in theory at least. However, caution: the statistics also show 335 petitions are being considered, so if a petition is filed now, it may not be reviewed in time.
When this program expires, patent applicants can still file for a track I accelerated examination.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Department of Energy web page today featured use of wind power in my hometown area, Lancaster County Pennsylvania. Two new wind power units were installed in early 2011. Built by GE. They can be observed when driving into the county, crossing the river. Subject of discussion over Thanksgiving dinner.
That led me to think about wind power in Pennsylvania more generally. After all, we regularly see the wind turbines off the PA turnpike in Somerset, PA. An ounce of research indicated, again, built by GE. First installed October 2001.
Then, thinking more, I recalled the US PTO announcement this past fall about GE’s extensive use of the greentech accelerated examination program. GE was awarded the 500th patent in the program for – you guessed it – wind power technology. See my October 17, 2011 post. GE had at that time 116 greentech patents.
In 2011, a brief patent search showed 210 patents have issued assigned to GE on the cover that refer to wind turbines! That is a lot. Putting that in context is the fact that last year, 2010, saw only 85 such GE patents, and the year before, 2009, saw only 41 such GE patents (2008 was 52; 2007 was 30; and 2006 was only 21). That is also called “building a patent fortress.”
Much hot, bitter, and salty press in 2011 about cleantech companies flailing and failing like Solyndra. Perhaps that is not the real cleantech story of the year.
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.
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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The story reports that Calera, a California company working to provide "green cement" for use in building construction, has fast-tracked twelve patent applications through the Green Technology Pilot Program.
The story was presumably intended to provide a concrete (get it?) example of the successes available using the USPTO’s Green Technology Pilot Program, but updated Pilot Program statistics continue to indicate less than heavy utilization by applicants. The USPTO reports that 1,918 petitions under the Green Technology Pilot Program have been granted to date. This pace indicates that the program will not likely reach its maximum of 3,000 granted petitions prior to the Pilot Program’s planned expiration date on December 31, 2011. 328 patents have been issued under the Pilot Program.
Last week, the House passed complex patent reform legislation, HR 1249. In considering how this might be reconciled with a Senate version passed earlier this year, PTO fee diversion is a key issue. Many in the high tech community, including cleantech and nanotech, would like to see fee diversion end so as to promote a stronger US patent system. However, another issue was noted by Erin Coe’s article in IPLaw360 which links to the PTO’s green tech accelerated examination program. Coe writes:
"Another measure only mentioned in the House bill authorizes the USPTO to grant priority examinations to technologies that are critical to the U.S. economy.
The USPTO already has a pilot program in place allowing a certain number of green technology patent applications to take priority over other patent applications, but this provision would give the USPTO director broader authority to declare other technologies important and allow those patent applications to go to the front of the line, Bloch said.
“That’s a power that could be abused and it could be controversial in the reconciliation process,” he said. “If semiconductor technologies are promoted, the pharmaceutical industry or the automobile industry may ask why their technologies are not important to American competitiveness.”"
The text of the bill at issue, section 26, is provided below:
SEC. 26. PRIORITY EXAMINATION FOR TECHNOLOGIES IMPORTANT TO AMERICAN COMPETITIVENESS.
Section 2(b)(2) of title 35, United States Code, is amended–
(1) in subparagraph (E), by striking ‘and’ after the semicolon;
(2) in subparagraph (F), by inserting ‘and’ after the semicolon; and
(3) by adding at the end the following:
‘(G) may, subject to any conditions prescribed by the Director and at the request of the patent applicant, provide for prioritization of examination of applications for products, processes, or technologies that are important to the national economy or national competitiveness without recovering the aggregate extra cost of providing such prioritization, notwithstanding section 41 or any other provision of law;’.
The USPTO held its first Clean Technology Partnership Meeting on April 27, 2011 at its Alexandria facility. Attendance was strong. Providing a broad set of perspectives, presenters included USPTO officials, Du Pont, Argonne National Laboratories, Foley and Lardner, NanoInk, and the Pennsylvania Nanomaterials Commercialization Center. Linked here are the slides that I presented for Foley and Lardner regarding patent landscaping for cleantech. Themes included how cleantech is maturing but also dynamic with many recent changes. Discussion also included government influences, role of nanotech, international issues, and Marcellus Shale. The USPTO provided updates about its Green Technologies Expedited Examination Pilot Program (Pilot Program). They also expressed interest in hearing more from the public regarding the Pilot Program (November 2010 program update linked here).
The USPTO announced yesterday, January 13, 2011, that its Green Tech Program is "starting to take off." This will be an important development to watch in 2011.
The program, now in its second year, was expanded in May 2010 and again in November 2010 to cover any unexamined application and to extend into 2011. Since November, 149 new petitions were received at the USPTO. Nearly 1,000 applications have been "fast tracked" and 156 patents have issued, according to the USPTO. The program is still capped at 3,000 applications.
One thought: It would be useful if the USPTO were able to list the patent filings and patents which are funneled into the green tech program so the public can review more easily some of the consequences of petitioning to be a green patent.
As of November 10, 2010, the USPTO has further expanded the scope of its Pilot Program for expediting the handling of patent applications for environmentally friendly technologies. In particular, the Green Technologies Expedited Examination Pilot Program (Pilot Program) will now include applications filed on or after December 8, 2009. The Pilot Program was previously limited to applications filed before December 8, 2009. The expansion also includes a duration extension until December 31, 2011, rather than the prior December 8, 2010 deadline.
Although the expansion will allow applicants to strategically request expedited examination for newly filed applications, the original 3,000 application limit of the Pilot Program has not been expanded. Those interested in the Pilot Program should file petitions for inclusion as soon as possible.
The PTO continues to execute on its Green Patent Pilot Program, recently releasing statistics in a report dated June 28, 2010. However, this program now more than a half year old appears to continue to suffer from insufficient use and needs further adapting to customer needs, based on these new PTO statistics. With the December deadline quickly approaching, time is running out…
December 8, 2009 marked the advent of the PTO’s Green Technology Pilot Program which sought to expedite the examination of patent applications directed to certain green inventions. Nearly four months later, internal remarks from the new PTO Commissioner, David Kappos, reveal that the PTO has confirmed 450 of 850 patent applications sought in this space since the launch of the pilot program.
While the snowfall may have closed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) for a fourth day in a row, a fresh crop of patents have issued again as happens each Tuesday. Many of these patents are vital to the future of nanotechnology and cleantech. Below are my top 10 patent observations based on a brief review of the most current PTO data available online.
Starting with the last, but not the least:
10. The PTO has now classified 5,909 patents as being under Class 977 as nanotechnology patents. This number continues to grow solidly. As highlighted in our posting Update on USPTO Nanotechnology Class 977 in August 2009, the number of 977 patents then was only 5,594. So over 300 nano patents have been granted in six months, which is higher than average (typically, the annual number of granted nano patents is only 250 – 500 patents per year).
On December 7, 2009, the USPTO announced that it will implement a green technology pilot program (Pilot Program) to expedite the examination of patent applications directed to certain green technology inventions. While eligibility is currently limited to applications filed before December 8, 2009, the USPTO has hinted toward expanding the program if successful. We will continue to monitor this program as it progresses into 2010.