Archive for May, 2012
On the soccer field, it is not always entirely clear what behaviors a good sportsman should take, no matter how earnestly one pursues such laudable behavior. In some instances, rules guide players to sportsman-like behaviors. For example, it is considered unsportsman-like for the offense to cherry pick or to grossly outnumber the defense; therefore soccer’s offside rule was created. But this rule codifies only a narrow aspect of the custom of good sportsmanship in the beautiful game, leaving other aspects of sportsmanship defined by player custom.
In much the same way the offside rule was eventually created to explicitly direct soccer players toward fair behavior on the soccer field, international treaties like the Geneva Conventions are often created to delineate proper behavior from improper/war-like/criminal behavior throughout the world. Despite customs of humane treatment of others during war and traditions of good sportsmanship on the soccer field, neither the soccer community nor the international community have been able to put in writing and agree to a complete set of behaviors which proscribe the proper humane or sportsman-like action to take in every situation. In many areas, unwritten international custom defines the legality of an action. Lack of consensus or consistency of behavior can make it difficult to properly define customary international law.
When it comes to emerging industries like extraterrestrial resource mining, customary international law can seem like attempting to herd cats in zero gravity. Pinning down what is “fair” and “customary” in areas where no man has gone before can seem daunting but it also presents the unique opportunity to shape international custom by establishing them.
Even though it doesn’t have any legs (yet), Robonaut 2 is making great strides on the International Space Station. After months of resting comfortably in the newly installed Permanent Multipurpose Module, Robonaut 2, or R2 as it is more affectionately known, has taken a giant leap for robot kind. On May 2nd, R2 began serving the ISS crew in its mission to perform tasks which are too dangerous or mundane for ISS astronauts to perform. The semi-autonomous robot’s first task is to monitor air velocity from station vents. This is perhaps a lowly beginning for space robots, but a necessary step for the currently legless anthropomorphic creation.
R2 is the product of a successful development partnership between automotive giant GM and space exploration behemoth NASA. In addition to flying the first humanoid robot to space, more than 40 patents and patent applications have blossomed from the R2 development program. Like many other private company/government agency relationships, the partnership between GM and NASA was heavily influenced by federal laws that govern the agency involved. GM and NASA entered into a Space Act Agreement (SAA). The structure of the SAA was chosen in part to ensure that GM could protect and retain an interest in the intellectual property they developed while working with NASA on next-generation robots.
Ellipso, Inc. was founded to develop and launch communications satellite constellations situated in elliptical orbits. By placing the satellites in specific elliptical orbits closer to the Earth than geosychronous orbit (GEO), Ellipso hoped to offer lower cost satellite communications, including low cost voice, data, facsimile and geolocational services. For a time, things went quite well for Ellipso. Boeing and L-3 Communications designed and developed the satellites. Boeing was awarded a $1.4 billion contract to construct Ellipso’s satellites. Arianespace agreed to provide launch services for the would be 17 satellite constellation in addition to investing in the satellite company. Unfortunately, like other private satellite companies of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ellipso ran out of money before it could get hardware to space and was forced into bankruptcy. In order to pay off its creditors, Ellipso’s assets are being sold off. In fact, Ellipso’s intellectual property portfolio is being auctioned off by IpAuctions this month!
In Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from Zeus’ lightning, hid it in a hollow stalk, and gave that fire to humanity. His generosity toward man led to personal regret later. Zeus had Prometheus chained to a rock where he died a painful death only to be resurrected the next day to endure more mortal agonies. Let’s take another look at the Prometheus story from a modern, patent perspective. Ignoring, for the moment, the wrath of a vengeful king of the gods, could Prometheus have profited from introducing humanity to fire by securing a patent on everyone’s favorite chemical reaction: combustion? Alas, no. Poor Prometheus would have found this path a difficult one as well. Where an invention or discovery is new, useful, and non-obvious the patent system will generally grant patent protection to “anything under the sun that is made by man.” And therein lies the rub for poor, would-be fire patentee Prometheus. Patents will not be granted on laws of nature, physical phenomena, or abstract ideas but applications of such principles are fair game!