Archive for April, 2012
The normal posting schedule of 2-3 times a week will be on hold for the next week and a half while I attend to some business and then go on a mini-vacation! Posts will resume May 8th.
Upcoming posts will talk about ways licensing can be used to spur industry growth, NASA inventions of the year, how hiding the ball from the patent office can cost you a perfectly valid patent, and everyone’s new favorite topic: space mining!
What other topics would you, dear reader, be interested in hearing about? Let me know in the comments below!
Rocket science, rocket artistry, momentum-altering sorcery. Whatever term you apply to it, launching large rockets is serious business with the capacity to do a lot of harm if things go awry. Concerns about launch vehicles and their spacecraft inadvertently falling from the sky and hurting people or property loomed large in the minds of men in the early days of spaceflight. Before the Space Shuttle first flew, international law established that countries are responsible for the damage caused by spacecraft launched from their nation, regardless of where the damage occurred or who launched it.
In order to regulate and monitor the space transportation industry and share the burden of this potential liability, commercial space launch companies must apply for and obtain launch licenses from the FAA. The FAA cannot permit a launch unless the total expected average number of casualties (Ec) for the launch and subsequent mission is less than .00003. In other words, the FAA cannot issue a launch permit through the traditional launch licensing process if there is a better than 30 in a million chance that people will be harmed by a commercial launch. The FAA has outlined the general methods for making Ec calculations, but sometimes launch vehicle operators and the FAA arrive at different Ec values. Read the rest of this entry »
Space Sysems/Loral (SS/L) has a long, successful history of building commercial satellites. Nearly 50 years ago, they built Courier 1B, the first active communications satellite. Fast forward to the present and we find that SS/L is producing communications satellites for a variety of companies, including a single satellite, the ViaSat-1, which can provide 12Mbps internet connectivity for nearly 1 million people in the US. ViaSat, Inc awarded SS/L the contract to construct ViaSat-1, ViaSat’s first satellite, but ground-based trouble has arisen in the form of a patent dispute. On February 1st of this year, ViaSat filed suit alleging that SS/L copied proprietary and confidential technologies ViaSat disclosed during the development of ViaSat-1. Allegedly, SS/L integrated these technologies into a competitor satellite SS/L was building, the Hughes Jupiter satellite. ViaSat also alleges that SS/L is infringing at least four of ViaSat’s patents, including a patent on the placement of Earth-based transmission stations in relation to end users, which issued the day before ViaSat filed suit. SS/L, owner of approximately 160 patents on satellite and related technologies, has counter sued, alleging that ViaSat has infringed SS/L patents and arguing that ViaSat’s patents are invalid because Lockheed Martin actually invented the technology and ViaSat may have neglected to mention that fact to the Patent Office while it was trying to secure its patents! Read the rest of this entry »
Pierce Brosnan declared the plot of his 1999 James Bond film The World is Not Enough convoluted and mystifying, a suitable description of Cold War villain-based movies more than a decade after the Cold War had effectively expired from hypothermia. At first glance, “convoluted and mystifying” is also an apt description for licensing deals. The beauty of a license is also its curse. You can make the license look almost any way you want, granting virtually unlimited rights or giving only the slimmest of rights to use the covered invention in Palatka, Florida on the 3rd Tuesday of every month. It is extremely important to consider each and every word in a license agreement in terms of how the technology involved will actually be used. For example, consider the following language that might appear in an R&D contract for the development of a new type of RCS thruster for satellites: the Satellite Manufacturer “shall retain a nonexclusive royalty-free license [to the developed technology] throughout the world.” What good does a merely worldwide license for a new RCS thruster do a satellite manufacturer? They need a license that actually applies to where they will use the developed technology: outer space. Read the rest of this entry »
In 2011, NASA used the SBIR program to funnel over $150 million to small business to carry out research and development. Phase I grants of up to $150,000, Phase II grants of up to $1,000,000, and follow on Phase III grants are available to qualified companies. Since 1982, nearly 18,000 companies have participated in the SBIR program and over 67,500 patents have issued on SBIR-funded technologies. SBIR grants represent a great way for small aerospace companies to receive research and development dollars. Many of the technologies NASA wishes to develop through SBIR grants are directly in line with or closely related to the development paths of commercial spaceflight companies. Because these technologies are closely related to technologies small commercial spaceflight and space services companies wish to develop, ideally companies participating in the SBIR program will retain patent rights or a license to utilize the technologies they have developed under an SBIR grant. Luckily, NASA’s SBIR contracts include the contract provision FAR 52.227-11, which provides a clear path for retaining IP rights in SBIR funded technologies. Read the rest of this entry »
In 1982, the Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant program was launched. Since then, small technology companies have received more than $26 billion to develop and commercialize new technologies. The SBIR program is designed to spur technological innovation, satisfy Federal R&D needs, and increase commercialization of technologies derived from Federal R&D. Eleven Federal agencies, including DARPA, NASA, and the DoD, participate in the SBIR program. These agencies must spend at least a portion of their annual R&D budgets on SBIR programs.
In order to qualify as a small business, the US company must have fewer than 500 employees and meet a few other criteria. Qualified small businesses are given money in phases to develop new technologies based on their proposed solution to R&D prompts issued by participating agencies. This research and development generally leads to the development of new technologies, some of which are patentable. To find out who owns the patent rights, and what obligations a small business has under SBIR grants, Read the rest of this entry »
Recently, the Web (or at least the space-oriented part) has been filled with discussions, defenses, and even some dismissals of a proposal by the Space Settlement Institute called the Space Settlement Prize Act. This proposed law would create a framework for recognizing private ownership claims on the Moon and other celestial bodies. In other words, it would pave the way for private property on the Moon, something many believe the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (OST) prohibits. Who do we have to thank for this renewed debate? Rand Simberg, aerospace engineer and noted space policy commentator (among other things). Rand champions creation of private property rights in space. In a recent CEI paper on the subject, he points out that property rights are the sine qua non of wealth creation and argues that there is a loophole in the OST which allows private lunar land claims. I, too, am strongly in favor of personal, real, and intellectual property rights in space. Personally, I’d like to retire to my own modest crater overlooking the Sea of Tranquility one day. Jeff Foust and many others have done a great job of capturing the essence of Rand’s arguments so I will spare you my hackneyed attempts to condense the ever-growing conversation. Instead, let’s look at how the United States and other nations have already limited the reach of the Outer Space Treaty via patent law and customary international law. These limitations may provide support for adoption of the Space Settlement Prize Act but may also lessen the need for such an explicit confinement of the OST. Read the rest of this entry »
Fellow physics guy and rocketeer extraordinaire Dr. Robert Goddard was one of the founding fathers of modern rocketry. He also saw that rockets could be used for more than just an ordinance delivery platform; rockets could be used for scientific discovery and manned spaceflight. The dawn of the 20th century was very hostile to some of these ideas, leading to misrepresentation of Goddard’s visions of space travel.
Among Goddard’s many contributions to rocketry was the invention of the liquid fueled rocket. In fact, the liquid fueled rocket was one of the first of the 214 total patents issued to him. Patent number 1,103,503, entitled “Rocket Apparatus”, describes ways of making rockets more powerful while reducing the casing mass of the rocket. The patent was issued July 14, 1914. Read the rest of this entry »
NASA and its commercial partners develop a wide variety of cutting edge technologies. Would you expect much else from nine centers filled with more than 18,000 employees? That much brain power focused on the black unknown is bound to produce some pretty awesome ideas, inventions, and technologies, even if NASA doesn’t always have the money or support to fully develop and utilize the technologies. In fact, NASA has over 1,000 patents and patent applications covering a plethora of technology areas. NASA has been directed to promote rapid development and commercialization of technologies it develops via commercial partnerships. What happens when NASA doesn’t have the resources to implement a new technology it has developed? NASA offers these inventions to the public via its Patent Licensing Program (PLP).
Well known companies such as Bigelow Aerospace have been founded on technologies licensed through this program. Click through to learn more about the process of accessing NASA-developed technologies as a private enterprise. Read the rest of this entry »
Like many emerging technology fields, the commercial spaceflight industry has a long close relationship with their patent attorneys. Patents are an excellent way for companies to maintain the hard-won competitive edge the skull sweat of their R&D group has created. Even before man made it to space, patents and patent applications have been filed on a variety of space-related technologies including: rocket steering systems (filed 1952!), escape tower rockets (filed 1959 on behalf of NASA), and sea-based recovery of space launch vehicles (filed 2009 by Blue Origin). Intellectual property rights protect new technologies and provide a potential avenue for royalty profits through licensing. What is a license, you ask, and how can it boost the company bottom line? Read the rest of this entry »