A Case Study Considered
Deep in the American Invents Act is a new authority granted to USPTO. The Director is now able to grant certain economically important products, processes, or technology free prioritized patent examination.
…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
The USPTO, formerly a facilitator of US economic prosperity granting an exclusive right to inventors to make, use, and sell their inventions in the US may now become an arbiter of and active participant in the designation of inventions that are important to the national economy and national competitiveness. The narrative goes that the patent system shouldn't hinder getting important products to market. Getting our most important technologies patent protection sooner will help create lots of American jobs designing, manufacturing, selling, and servicing the new inventions covered by patents. Letting certain inventions jump the line is important to all of our economic well-being because they are economically important and maintain American competitiveness. And the authority covers products, processes, and technologies all very broad categories of of invention.
Let's find out.
All of this brings us to the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program.
In December 2009, USPTO announced a program to — "accelerate the development and deployment of green technology, create green jobs, and promote U.S. competitiveness in this vital sector."
Awesome. A program is just like the new Section 25 AIA authority. USPTO laid out the rules of how the program worked, the Office implemented the program and outlined the rules of engagement on what inventors needed to do to take advantage of the program including defining scientific and technical classifications for participating inventions. The Office received patent applications, performed its often under appreciated patent prosecution magic, granted patents. For all intents and purposes, the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program was a Section 25 program. How auspicious in creating a way to determine the potential value of moving economically important stuff to the front of the queue (docket in PTO speak.) This program is a patent statistics and public policy bonanza.
The Green Technology Pilot Program offers several analytical advantages for exploring the benefits of the type of accelerated examination program defined in the America Invents Act — and it's not rocket science. Much of the technology covered is understandable to people operating in the innovation marketplace without having to call in extreme specialists. (Even thought some of them are major headbangers.) Because the technology has a high profile there is lots of easily accessible information on the science and technology behind the inventions. Because some of the technology has been around for a long time there is robust discussion on its worthiness and market readiness. There are lots of discussions, not all of which are well informed, on the merits of the technology in many of the green tech domains (wind, solar, LED lighting, alternative fuels and others.) The Link-O-Matic provides a way to help drive self exploration by providing a variety of starting points from which to explore the inventions at differing levels detail allowing you to make up your own mind.
The technology covered by the Green Tech Pilot Program spans a broad spectrum of innovations. The program rules also morphed to allow inventors to explain why their invention merit participation in the program rather than requiring strict conformance to the original classification vision laid out by USPTO. What started out as USPTO's vision of what was green tech turned into something where the inventors took the ball and ran with it. We like this kind of innovation — let the inventors take the science and technology ingredients and cook up their own inventions.
The green tech moniker covers a known, widely disseminated and debated policy agenda — to advance green technology in an effort to create the markets and jobs of the future. Green tech, clean tech, and sustainability is part of many corporate and university agendas covering everything from LEED buildings with green roofs to sustainable environmentally friendly zero footprint manufacturing. There is a robust universe of business and legal bloggers advocating and prognosticating on the domain from a wide variety of points of view, Way Better Patents included. Business has embraced the sustainable green technology meme to sell products, promote its social and community awareness, and to take advantage of market specific financial incentives, grants, loan programs and more. There is a robust and dynamic environment to give these inventions context.
There is also the beginnings of early indicators on the economic importance of innovations in the green technology space. There are tales of university start ups in the green tech space being bought by large corporations. There are others about the failure of the solar industry and the failure of green jobs to materialize despite significant investments by federal and local governments, investors, and grant wielding institutions. Silicon Valley and the venture capitalist universe who were all in at the time the program started may be moving on to other greener pastures - no pun intended. The Silicon Valley Mercury News, purveyors of all things innovation, reports that "new figures from the National Venture Capital Association paint a sobering picture: Investments in alternative energy and related fields have dropped for five of the past six quarters. The $368 million that venture firms poured into cleantech in the first three months of this year was roughly a third of the total from the same period in 2012." All this in the same week that Consumer Reports gave the Tesla S all electric vehicle an almost perfect 99 out of 100 ranking and Fiskar is about to file bankruptcy after A123 System's failure to deliver the batteries Fiskar needed. And all of that green battery technology, some of which was paid for by research and development grants from the US government now belong to Wanxiang Group Co., China’s biggest auto-parts maker. There are lots of interesting avenues to explore.
And USPTO will be granting patents for applications accepted under the program for at least another year. For a bunch of patent nerds and patent data analytical geeks like us, and our academic research patstat associates this is the mother lode of exploring what's happening in innovation, inventions, intellectual property and patents.
So we are off. The Way Better Patents Green Technology Pilot Program Discovery and Analysis Report is emerging here. We will explore all those Section 25 AIA questions we posed using this interesting set of patents and outcomes and see where it takes us. We will share who came out to play, what invention got patents, how long it took, how people described the benefits of their invention to secure the coveted free pass to a shorter patent prosecution cycle and whether program delivered on the economically important goal articulated for the program. On the day of the program's announcement on the eve of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, Secretary of Commerce John Locke said, "Every day an important green tech innovation is hindered from coming to market is another day we harm our planet and another day lost in creating green businesses and green jobs." We'll see.