Tuesday, September 22, 2009

To all the "next big things" that weren't

Within a post titled Kappos on the US Economy, Music to My Ears at IPWatchDog, one has the text:

On March 30, 2009, I wrote A Patent Proposal for Green Technology, suggesting:

On July 28, 1987, President Ronald Reagan set forth what became known as the “11-point superconductivity initiative” in a speech to the Federal Conference on Commercial Applications of Superconductivity. As a part of President Reagan’s superconductivity initiative he proposed amendments to the antitrust laws to make it easier for companies to collaborate with respect to basic research, he requested changes to the Freedom of Information Act to allow national laboratories to keep basic scientific research secret and he required the United States Patent Office to proceed with all due speed on applications relating to superconductivity technologies. In this speech President Reagan explained: “We need to strengthen patent laws to increase protection for manufacturing processes and speed up the patent process so that it can keep pace with the fast-paced world of high technology.” This caused the US Patent Office to allow Petitions to Make Special to be filed along with applications relating to superconductivity inventions so as to accelerate the examination process. See MPEP 708.02. This is exactly what we need to do today for green technologies. While I am not foolish enough to suspect much of Reagan’s agenda will be adopted by President Obama, this is one lesson President Obama should learn from. Expediting patent applications on green innovations will help the economy, make the world more environmentally friendly and improve US national security.

Given the fate of 1-2-3 superconductors in the time since 1987, any argument based on anything related to the "commercial applications of superconductivity" is like arguing for hydrogen-filled zeppelins after the Hindenburg.

As pointed out in the IPBiz post
Flashback on peer review
, AT THE TIME these superconductors were big in the press (say 1987), the NYT observed
Patent lawyers were chaperoning the research teams like pilot fish surrounding sharks. But this was based on perception, not reality. LBE can remember the photo op of President Reagan with Al Schriescheim (once of Exxon) pouring liquid nitrogen out of a Dewar. But did the world change? Was there an innovation? No. Were there inventions? Yes. Did the superconductivity inventions need to be expedited? No. Did the later buckyball inventions need to be expedited? No.

Do we need to expedite patent applications on green technologies? It's absolutely true that we do not need a huge backlog of patent applications, wherein some applications languish for more than three years without an Office Action on the merits. Does the experience with superconductors argue for expedited patent applications? No, it argues against them. There was nothing there that was going to change the world, as has become evident in the following twenty plus years. Does the popular press "know" what the "next big thing" is? No. The experience with superconductors, buckyballs, superluminal propagation, etc. show they do not. Do big companies (like IBM) know what the next big thing is? No. The experience of Chester Carlson, xerography, and IBM vividly illustrates that big companies will ignore disruptive innovations, even when placed right in front of them. The USPTO should make the patenting process facilely available to the guy who really has the "next big thing." Just getting the system to work on a reasonable time scale might be enough. Expediting applications claiming 20,000 gallons of biofuel per (acre-year) probably is not needed.

See also

IP in the movie "Duplicity"
: one recalls the real-world stories of 1-2-3 superconductors and buckyballs, wherein true discoveries had little or no value, and did not represent innovations, despite many popular press stories to the contrary, and one large US company buying up Chu's patent rights on 1-2-3 superconductors. [Nobody seems to hold the patent in a buckyball, and, at this point, no one cares.]

from http://ipbiz.blogspot.com/2008/11/flashback-on-peer-review.html , on a significant message from the saga of 1-2-3 superconductors as to "special handling":

Chu had pleaded with the journal for special handling, insisting on secrecy, fearful that the editors would leak. ''Which we now know they did - like a sieve,'' says Arthur J. Freeman, a theoretical physicist at Northwestern University. ''Only they leaked ytterbium instead of yttrium. I had heard for weeks that the material was ytterbium, and now I know where it came from.''

There was little doubt that Chu's "ytterbium" idea was stolen through leaks at PRL. Chu however had placed an incorrect idea in the PRL drafts, so the thieves got worthless chaff, but had the audacity to complain about it.

Also in the NYT article:

As news of the yttrium-ytterbium affair spread through the scientific world, the journal's editors denied vehemently that they had divulged the secret. They privately expressed anger at Chu, suspecting an intentional deception on his part to mislead competing researchers. (Chu's friends share the suspicion. They have been retelling the joke about the king who leaves to his favorite knight the key to his queen's chastity belt, only to hear the knight gallop up behind him, shouting angrily, ''It's the wrong key.'')

**Also on the topic of leaks

A D.C. whodunit: Who leaked and why? has text:

The simplest theory — and one most administration officials Monday were endorsing — is that a military or civilian Pentagon official who supports McChrystal’s policy put it out in an attempt to pressure Obama to follow McChrystal’s suggestion and increase troop levels in Afghanistan.

But not everyone in Washington is a believer in Occam’s razor, so all manner of other theories flourished.
There are believers in the reverse leak, in which the leak itself is meant to damage McChrystal’s position by inducing White House anger at the general. There’s the fake leak, in which the White House may have been trying to back itself into a corner. A former government official with ties to the Pentagon said the talk in the building was that a senior military official had given it to the reporter for his book on the Obama White House — not realizing it could end up in print sooner.


But some said all this speculation may be overthinking the matter. Many people in Washington, after all, are motivated by personal vanities as much as by policy convictions.
“It’s most likely someone who has or is cultivating a personal relationship with Bob Woodward and positioning himself to look good in Woodward’s next book,” said Matt Bennett, vice president at the Democratic-leaning think tank Third Way, echoing the views of many inside government and out.

**UPDATE. Biofuels Digest in Nov. 09 which includes:

As we head into the last day of voting for the 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy, here are a few that have been making conspicuous progress, if not always conspicuous noise.


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