Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Divine Inspiration

Today's Globe and Mail carried a death notice for a Lawrence Abello SJ, a Jesuit priest who passed away on January 22 at the age of 80. According to his obit, Abello earned a PhD in physics from Wayne State University and was an inventor. In 1975 he obtained US and Canadian patents for a device for enabling a gasoline engine to run on hydrogen. His patents were assigned to the Canadian Jesuit Missions of Toronto.

The notion that a priest might be interested in patenting an invention is not that unusual. There are many examples in the patent record. Some have even achieved fame from their inventions. For example, Rev. Julius A. Nieuwland of the University of Norte Dame is an inductee in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Nieuwland, a chemist, invented and patented the first synthetic rubber, neoprene, in 1931.

The California and Chicago provinces of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) own several patents; US5054310, related to ultrasonic beams; US4970907, transducer holder; and US4403916, wind turbine.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Changes to US Patent Law - New Rules for Prior Art

There's a nice summary of the recent changes in U.S. patent law in the Jan. issue of Physics Today, and their relevance to academic scientists and engineers. The American Invents Act moves the U.S. from a first-to-invent system to a (modified) first-to-file system. Under the pure first-to-file system used by most countries, publication of an idea or invention prior to filing a patent application will prevent an inventor from obtaining a patent. The AIA retains a one-year grace period for publications authored by the inventor (the inventor's own work) or derived from the inventor's work. The article has a nice flowchart that explains how the one-year grace period works.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Wikipedia References in US Patents Increase in 2011

Wikipedia continues to be a favorite source of prior art references for inventors filing patent applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The number of issued U.S. patents that cite Wikipedia articles increased by 26.3 percent in 2011, reaching an all-time high of 2,425. This is roughly one percent of all patents issued in 2011, a small but growing fraction. 

The top ten assignees shown in the table below hold approximately 17.65 percent of the 2011 patents that cite Wikipedia, which is off 5 percent from 2010. Once again, ICT firms dominated the top ten, which suggests that computer and telecommunications patents are more likely to cite Wikipedia than patents related to other technologies. The top three assignees (IBM, Microsoft and Google) account for nearly 10 percent of the total. Google jumped from 7th to 3rd place. Apple, which was in the top three last year, dropped to 5th place in 2011. Approximately 5 percent of the patents citing Wikipedia were unassigned, which is unchanged from 2010.

The second table below shows the top ten primary U.S. patent classes assigned to patents that cite Wikipedia. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the classes relate to information and communication technologies (ICT). However, four classes in the top ten, 514, 424, 435 and 463, cover technologies (pharmaceuticals and games) not directly related to ICT. In most cases, the percentage of patents in each class that cite Wikipedia exceeds the percentage of patents in that class. For example, Class 707 accounts for 7.67 percent of the patents that cite Wikipedia articles but only 2.16 percent of all patents issued in 2011.