Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Invention Nonsense Maybe - Green Tech Edition

 The USPTO's Green Tech Pilot Program is probably the closest thing to a proxy to the new changes under the America Invents Act that authorizes the Director of USPTO to designate "economically important" technology for accelerated examination.  The program had a set of specific goals, it designated certain technology that was eligible for the program, and then moved the applications that met the requirements to be "made special" - patent speak for moving to the head of the line - to the top of the examiners docket.  

There are lots of interesting topics for the innovation and patent researchers to explore when you look at the program, the impact of green technology, what is green tech/cleantech/sustainable tech?  Let's start with how will USPTO determine what is economically important?  Did anyone think that the ability to use your thumb in a quick swipe motion to unlock your - personal digital device, electronic device, mobile phone, personal digital assistant - or all those other now somewhat archaic terms for what we call the smartphone would rock the intellectual property world?  (See Apple v. Samsung and vis versa.)

Then there are the issues of how these kind of programs morph from one thing into another and how to determine if the programs achieve their goals.  The USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program started with a list of patent classifications that covered applications that were eligible.  Then inventors shaped the program by persuading USPTO that they needed a broader definition and that important energy saving, clean tech inventions can come from a lot of places.

But somewhere along the way, USPTO seemed to do what they hate in patent prosecution - overly broad definition and scope.  Here are a few examples that result in the "Really?" response.

A patent awarded to Tesla for improving the driving experience of electric vehicles.

Patents were awarded to GE for a built in door for wind turbines and then another was awarded for the bolts that are used in their construction.

A patent for a car tent that can be attached to the back of an SUV.

There were also some very compelling patents - patents for improvements to internal combustion engines, new LED lighting, sunscreen for produce to keep it fresher longer while it's in motion moving from the farm to the consumer, commercial cookware that dramatically reduces the amount of gas needed to heat the pots in commercial kitchens.

So who knows.  Time will tell if what seems to be patent nonsense turn out to be disruptive clean tech innovations.  Who thought that coin operated binoculars would be around for so long?  The electric vehicle driving experience thing seems to be a stretch though.

*Wayfinder Digital has done an independent analysis of the program.  Learn about it here.

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