Posts Tagged patent

Patenting Orbits? It’s all part of the Process

Orbits may be part of a valid patent where the patent discloses and claims some new, useful, and non-obvious process or device, like a method for global telecommunications!

Patentable subject matter includes “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.” That’s the patent law way of saying essentially anything new under the sun made by the hand of man is potentially patentable! There are, of course limits to what can be patented. Laws of nature (E=mc2), physical phenomena (ice is less dense than liquid water), and abstract ideas (let’s go to Venus on a spaceship!) are not patentable. Applications of these patent ineligible areas may receive a patent. For example, patented technologies used in GPS satellites would not operate without utilizing Special and General Relativity.

Orbits may be, at a minimum, part of a process for accomplishing a task. Patentable subject matter includes processes! So new orbits/orbital maneuvers can be patent-eligible if used for some useful purpose. It is important to keep in mind however that the orbits themselves aren’t patented, technological solutions for providing telecommunications which utilize equipment in those orbits are patent eligible.

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The Worldwide Rights are Not Enough

"I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that. Your license only applies on Earth, not outer space."

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 »

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Patent Rights and Obligations under SBIR Grants, Part 2 of 2

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 »

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SIPROC 2: The Canfield Joint

US Patent Number 5,699,695
Inventors: Stephen L. Canfield, Charles F. Reinholtz, Robert J. Salerno, and Anthony J. Ganino.
Assignee: Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties, Inc.
Status: Expired.

In May 1997, Dr. Stephen Canfield submitted his PhD thesis entitled “Development of the Carpal Wrist; a Symmetric, Parallel-Architecture Robotic Wrist.” A patent application was also filed on this novel joint, better known in aerospace circles as the Canfield Joint, resulting in US patent number 5,699,695, issued December 23, 1997. This awesome little joint allows complete hemispherical movement for attached devices. Constellation’s CEV might have used Canfield joint-based solar panels and RCS thrusters, had it not been cancelled. Real-world prototypes of Canfield joint-based RCS thrusters have even been built! Read the rest of this entry »

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Trade Secrets Are Not Enough

A broad-based IP protection policy establishes your innovation sandbox.

Like many industries where there are a significant number of new entrants, many emerging aerospace companies seem to approach intellectual property in a very focused manner that just skims the surface of available protections. This kind of approach is seen a lot in software-related industries where the magic behind a company’s product is computer code that the end user cannot access. While these sorts of products lend themselves to the gossamer protections of trade secret law, patent and copyright law also provide additional product protections and add value. Many once-young software and internet-related companies such as Google have come to recognize the value of patent protection for their product offerings. Google’s patent portfolio has helped establish its market dominance in mobile computing and ward off attacks from other companies. Some up and coming technology companies, like Facebook, are currently experiencing the pain of a narrowly-focused intellectual property protection policy. They have found that defending their innovations in a Spartan fashion against legions of their competitor’s patents is not the best position to be in.

Adopting an intellectual property protection policy that is broad-based, relying on more than simple trade secret law, places both large and small companies on firm legal ground, adds value to the company from an outside investment point of view, and recognizes that different technological solutions call for different IP approaches. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fig Leaf or Battle Shield? The Scope of Trade Secret Protection

The broader intellectual property community and a lot of companies seem to forget or neglect trade secrets. Maybe theySir Trade Secret find trade secrets unmarketable, maybe just plain un-sexy (sexiness of protection is not a recommended basis for an intellectual property policy!). But not you, dear reader! To summarize, we have learned that a trade secret is any information that a company takes reasonable steps to keep secret which provides that company with a competitive edge because the information is not generally known! We know that trade secrets apply to a wide swath of ideas and information. Some of the information trade secrets apply to are also potentially protectable by other forms of intellectual property protection, such as copyright of patent law. Other ideas and information are only covered by trade secret law, making a functioning trade secret protection policy an essential part of any emerging technology company’s business operations. We know what a trade secret is, but what does it protect exactly?

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