A way to easily discover and track inactive patents

via Michigan Technological University

via Michigan Technological University

A new patent search tool developed by engineers at Michigan Technological University makes it easier to discover and track inactive patents.

Many innovators and inventors feel they have squandered hours fruitlessly rifling through old patents on the US Patent and Trademark Office website, trying to figure out which are still active and how they may relate to developing technologies.

A team from Michigan Tech decided to take matters into their own hands and streamline the exploration process with an online search engine, which is now free for everyone to use at www.freeip.mtu.edu.  They tested how well the tool works and the journal Inventions published their results last week.

Something Old, Something Almost New

With today’s fast-paced innovation, 20 years is a long time to wait—and it’s how long a patent’s registration lasts. However, nearly half of all registered patents are inactive before their life time ends, which is a potential goldmine for inventors and innovators, says Joshua Pearce, a materials science and electrical engineer at Michigan Tech. Pearce and his graduate student Yuenyong Nilsiam developed the patent search engine.

“Think about what a 20-year-old cell phone looks like—it simply doesn’t make sense to use 20-year-old patents for a new innovation,” Pearce says.

But many registered, inactive patents could be inspiring. So, the algorithm Pearce and Nilsiam wrote works by scraping the US Patent Database each week when the agency updates patent statuses. Every 3.5 years, 7.5 years and 11.5 years, patents come up for renewal, and if the dues are not paid and the paperwork remains unfiled, then the patent becomes inactive and enters the public domain.

“We want to make patents useful again to inventors,” Pearce says, adding the search tool is part of a larger movement. “More companies and individuals are looking to open source hardware development, which allows you to harness a global ecosystem of innovators, engineers and designs.”

Open Source and 3-D Printing Technologies

Pearce runs the Michigan Tech Open Sustainability Technology (MOST) Lab and is deeply committed to making scientific knowledge widely available. The lab focuses on using appropriate technology to find collaborative solutions for sustainability and poverty reduction.

One of the technologies they often use is low-cost 3-D printing, which Pearce and Nilsiam used in patent queries to vet their search engine. They manually tracked patent searches using the US database and compared it to using their search engine, which cut the time identifying patents by a factor 1,500. In this case, it saved them 9 hours of tedious clicking through the USPTO database. Speeding up the process like this, Pearce says, could help innovators develop or commercialize their own technologies faster. But Pearce and his team didn’t want to keep all the benefits to themselves.

“We’re only making publicly available data more available,” Pearce says. “For innovators, this could be a first stop shop, a way to see if your idea is available and what other solutions have been thought up.”

The team hopes that by initially streamlining inactive patent searches, it will foster and speed up innovation down the road – particularly in the rapidly developing world of open source hardware. Granting access to more public domain could help more lightbulbs go off around the nation.

Learn more: Inactive Patents: Innovate More, Search Less



The Latest on: Inactive patents

via  Bing News


Innovation Toronto 3.0

We want to thank everyone for your support and interest over the past 5 years.  This is our 5th anniversary so it is time for a functionality upgrade.

Innovation Toronto started out as a support effort for the 2nd ever Startup Weekend in 2007.  It has grown over the intervening years into a passion about what’s coming next – the good, the bad & the ugly!

We believe that this is the most exciting and dangerous time in human history to be alive.  Great opportunities, great challenges and great people doing amazing things.

Search has always been the easiest way to find things on this site.  Our categories section started out as a little more than personal commentary on things we thought were of particular importance or things that we thought we all needed to pay a little more attention to.

This our very round-about way of announcing some exciting visual and organizational changes to the site that we believe will make it much simpler to find what you are looking for, or, to explore areas of interest a little more easily.

We hope you enjoy the changes.  Don’t worry if some of the areas are a little short on content for the moment – we are in the process of changing everything over on 5,000+ posts so it is going to take a little time to complete.

There are now 2 new things to pay attention too:

  1. A new category bar under the header.  This is where to find articles more easily on general and specific areas of interest.  It is a cascading system of ever-greater focus.  You will be able to find ALL items on a general topic by clicking on it directly (e.g. Energy).  Each of the sub-categories will refine the interest areas even further to make your search even easier.
  2. A new Topic bar above the header.  For some time now we have been including the latest articles on given key phrase topics in with our general postings.  From now on, you will be able to see and access the very latest news, videos and views from the blogosphere on the topics that you want the very latest information on.
  3. The category list on the right column will be updating as well to reflect the changes.

Please be patient as this is going to take a while to implement fully.  Thanks to Jack Whyte, Sue Patel, Ingrid Boss and Sean Parker for your support and suggestions.

* Please note that some browsers may have difficulty in resolving tile pages. In order to see all articles we suggest your refresh the page you are having difficulty with. We are working to resolve this asap.

As always, we invite your ideas and input to try and make Innovation Toronto evolve into something we can all find of use.

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The Myth of the Innovator Hero

John Bardeen

Image via Wikipedia

The real story is more complicated

Every successful modern e-gadget is a combination of components made by many makers. The story of how the transistor became the building block of modern machines explains why.

We like to think that invention comes as a flash of insight, the equivalent of that sudden Archimedean displacement of bath water that occasioned one of the most famous Greek interjections, ??????. Then the inventor gets to rapidly translating a stunning discovery into a new product. Its mass appeal soon transforms the world, proving once again the power of a single, simple idea.

But this story is a myth. The popular heroic narrative has almost nothing to do with the way modern invention (conceptual creation of a new product or process, sometimes accompanied by a prototypical design) and innovation (large-scale diffusion of commercially viable inventions) work. A closer examination reveals that many award-winning inventions are re-inventions.

Most scientific or engineering discoveries would never become successful products without contributions from other scientists or engineers. Every major invention is the child of far-flung parents who may never meet. These contributions may be just as important as the original insight, but they will not attract public adulation. They will not be celebrated by media, and they will not be rewarded with Nobel prizes. We insist on celebrating lone heroic path-finders but even the most admired, and the most successful inventors are part of a more remarkable supply chain innovators who are largely ignored for the simpler mythology of one man or one eureka moment.


Perhaps nothing explodes the myth of the Lonely Innovator Hero like the story of modern electronics. To oversimplify a bit, electronics works though the switching of electronic signals and the amplification of their power and voltage. In the early years of the 20th century, switching and amplification was done (poorly) with vacuum tubes. In the middle of the 20th century, it was done more efficiently by transistors. Today, most of this work is done on microchips (large numbers of transistors on a silicon wafer), which became the basic building block of modern electronics, essential for not only computers and cellphones but also products ranging from cars to jetliners. All of these machines are now operated and controlled by — simply stated — the switching and amplification of electronic signals.

The dazzling and oversimplified story about electronics goes like this: The transistor was discovered by scientists at Bell Labs in 1947, leading directly to integrated circuits, which in turn led straight to microprocessors whose development brought us microcomputers and ubiquitous cellphones.

The real story is more complicated, but it explains how invention really happens — through a messy process of copy, paste, and edit. The first transistor was patented 20 years before the Bell Labs scientists, in 1925 by Julius Lilienfeld. In 1947, Walter Brattain and John Bardeen amplified power and voltage using a germanium crystal but their transistor — the point-contact transistor — did not become the workhorse of modern electronics. That role has been played by the junction field-effect transistor, which was conceptualized in 1948 and patented in 1951 by William Shockley (seen in next photo). Today, even the Bell System Memorial site concedes that “it’s perfectly clear that Bell Labs didn’t invent the transistor, they re-invented it.”

Moreover, germanium — the material used in the epochal 1947 transistor — did not become the foundation of modern electronics. That would be silicon, since the element is roughly 150,000-times more common in the Earth’s crust than germanium.

Read more . . .
Bookmark this page for “innovator” and check back regularly as these articles update on a very frequent basis. The view is set to “news”. Try clicking on “video” and “2” for more articles.

GE Ecomagination Challenge winners announced

General Electric (GE) says that over 100 products have been brought to market since launching its Ecomagination project in 2005.

Phase I of its latest Challenge has already resulted in 12 commercial partnerships aimed at developing the next generation of power grid technologies (including the outright acquisition of smart grid technology company FMC-Tech), and now the winners of Phase II: Powering Your Home have just been announced. GE has awarded five innovators US$100,000 each to further develop their technologies and also partnered with ten home energy technology companies.

From a field of over 800 innovation submissions for second phase of its Challenge, GE’s panel of judges has chosen five to receive a cash injection to advance the development of the various clean technology concepts – including solar, communications and software and building efficiency technologies. In no particular order of preference, the winners are:

A student run initiative from London called E.quinox that’s developing a financially sustainable, off grid, stand-alone renewable energy solution for developing countries.

From a field of over 800 innovation submissions for second phase of its Challenge, GE’s panel of judges has chosen five to receive a cash injection to advance the development of the various clean technology concepts – including solar, communications and software and building efficiency technologies. In no particular order of preference, the winners are:

A student run initiative from London called E.quinox that’s developing a financially sustainable, off grid, stand-alone renewable energy solution for developing countries.

Read more . . .

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Yet Another Study Shows That Patents Lead To Sub-Optimal Innovation

Patents in force in 2000
Image via Wikipedia

from the no-surprise-there dept: Techdirt

Over the years, we’ve pointed to tons of research, especially historical research, that shows that near total lack of evidence that patents have any causal relationship to increased innovation. Some of the research shows little effect in either direction, and some of the research actually suggests a serious disincentive to innovate in the face of patents. If you’re not all that familiar with innovation and patenting, this may come as a surprise. After all, the whole idea behind a patent is to create an incentive for someone to invent something that moves humankind forward (promoting the progress). The theory is that by providing some sort of gov’t granted exclusive monopoly, the inventors have more of a reason to go forward.

There are two key problems with this theory, that explain why the historical evidence can find no support of this happening in practice. The first is that people invent and innovate for all sorts of reasons — very rarely having to do with “because I can get a patent.” It may be “because this is something I need or something I want.” Or it could be because the innovator recognizes that with or without a patent, providing that product in the marketplace is likely to be lucrative (and being first in the marketplace is even more lucrative). Or, it may just be that the innovators are driven to make the world a better place. Whether it’s profit motive or altruism, there are many reasons that invention and innovation occur without the need for patents.

The second key problem is the very nature of innovation itself. As anyone who’s been involved with serious innovation over a period of time can tell you, innovation is an ongoing process, rather than a one-and-done sort of thing. You take an idea, and you work on it, and then you see what people think, and then you innovate, and you try something different and you get more feedback and you innovate some more, and so on. It never ends. You’re always continuing to innovate. As such, others are often doing similar innovations, and the ability to leapfrog each other in the marketplace is actually a fantastic driver of innovation. If someone else is doing something cool, it’s of little use to just copy them. You want to make something even better. And then they want to leapfrog you as well. That drives serious rapid innovation. A patent, on the other hand, greatly limits this whole process. Because it assumes that innovation is a one-and-done process. Someone comes up with something new, and that’s it. The market needs to live with it until the patent expires or someone comes up with something entirely different. That’s massively stifling on the normal process of innovation.

Read more . . .

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