Archive for universities

May
21

More Cold Water on the Fire of Innovation: Unnecessary Patent Reform

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iStock_000050431454_LargeAbraham Lincoln said that the patent system “added the fuel of interest to the fires of genius.” Today the fires of genius and the fire of innovation itself is getting doused with something less helpful than fuel. These fires are being cooled and, in some cases, extinguished with harsh attacks on the IP rights that once enabled and motivated lone inventors and small businesses to take the fruits of their genius to the market.

The owners of small businesses, the people who generate most of the innovation and business growth in the United States have good reason to be worried. Their ability to attract funding through valuable intellectual property is being compromised. Their ability to protect their products and innovations from the power of corporate giants is being whittled away. This has come from many quarters, but there is a widespread anti-patent movement driven by politics and misinformation. It’s the bitter fruit of a bitter anti-property rights movement that exaggerates the threat of a few bad actors to justify widespread weakening of property rights in ways that will hurt the economy and our society for years to come.

We have seen a recent series of Supreme Court cases that have made it much harder to obtain patents and enforce them. We have seen massive changes in US patent law that make it easier to invalidate patents after they are granted and make it harder and more costly to stop infringers if your patent survives. Now the bogeyman of “patent trolls” is held up as a threat to America that requires more sweeping “patent reform” to make it even harder to enforce a patent, and it looks like both parties are united in a quest to do “something big” to shake up the IP rights that helped drive the American economy for so many decades. Corporate giants benefit from this reform as it clears away the annoyance of other people’s IP rights standing in the way of their marketing muscle. But the economy as a whole and the rights of many are hurt in this process this amplifies innovation fatigue .

Several recent articles highlight just how serious the problem has become. Louis Carbonneau in “Toxic Asset: The Gradual Demise of the American Patent” (IPWatchdog.com, December 10, 2014),  surveys the radical changes in the past two or three years:

On the judicial front, in 2014 we saw no fewer than 5 Supreme Court decisions going against patent holders on the various subjects of obviousness (a key test for patent validity), what constitutes “abstract ideas” (which now undergo a more stringent test for patentability), business method patentability, indefiniteness (how you construe claims), reasonable royalty (how you calculate damages), willful infringement (how you punish the “bad actors”) and fee shifting (making losers pay for winners legal fees). All of these decisions have collectively made it harder for patent owners to: i) maintain the validity of duly issued patents (previously presumed by law), ii) pursue infringement claims, ii) prove damages (let alone treble damages), iv) have open discussions with potential infringers prior to litigating, and have left the unsuccessful patent owner at risks of paying millions in legal fees to the other side if the judges so decides.

Parallel to judicial reform at the federal courts, recent US patent reform with the American Invent Act (AIA) introduced a new post grant review mechanism called Inter Partes Review (IPR) which allows a party to challenge the validity of any issued patent before the Patent Trial & Appeals Board (PTAB). Strangely, despite the PTAB being an emanation of the same USPTO that delivered all these patents in the first place, there is no longer a presumption of validity before the PTAB for the patents being challenged while other rules make it easier to invalidate patents based on prior art.

Finally, on the political front, in 2013 the US House of Reps. passed the Goodlatte bill, which would erode rights conveyed to all patent holders despite being primarily directed at NPEs. It is now expected that the new Republican led Senate will revive the bill -currently on hold- in early 2015 and, with a rare showing of bipartisanship from the White House, it is expected to be signed into law. At the same time, 27 US States have passed or are in the process of passing laws that make it harder for people to assert the patents they own.

Carbonneau goes on to explain that in recent Federal Circuit cases, patent owners are being crushed, and in Inter Partes Review (IPR) cases before the USPTO, nearly 80% of the owners of challenged patents are being told by the USPTO that their patents are not valid over the prior art that the USPTO itself supposedly considered before granting the patent in the first place. Carbonneau puts it rather wryly:

The most interesting statistics come from the PTAB [the USPTO’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board, which processes IPR cases] because it only focuses on validity issues based on prior art; the very same prior art patent examiners are supposed to have found and analyze prior to issuing a patent. Since patents going through IPRs are usually the same ones that being litigated, you would assume that owners did a lot of due diligence before investing in a costly patent lawsuit. Well, the PTAB is declaring 77.5% of reviewed patents invalid! And this is not limited to “abstract” software; patents related to biotech and pharmaceuticals, medical and mechanical devices, are being invalidated at an even higher rate! Remember, this is an offspring of the very same agency that inventors paid thousands of dollars in the first place to review applications and issue their patents. Now, after having to pay a quarter to a half million dollars in legal fees (average cost of an IPR procedure for a patent holder), the same agency is telling patentees nearly 80% of the time: “Very sorry we made a mistake; we would not have allowed your application had we looked more carefully for existing prior art. And no, there is no refund available.

Personally, I cannot think of any industry that could survive more than a month with a nearly 80% defective rate, let alone by forcing you to spend a fortune for the “privilege” to confirm that indeed your title was invalid in the first place! Only a government can come up with such a broken system and get away with it.

The impact of these anti-patent efforts has been a surprisingly sudden break from the trend of increasing IP litigation, with litigation in 2014 down about 13% from the previous year according to a new 2015 PwC report on patent litigation. The problem of explosively increasing patent litigation, a common excuse to justify the slashing of patent rights, is not supported by the data.

Richard Lloyd, writing for the IAM Blog, draws this observation from the PwC report:

Of these three classes [of patent litigants considered], NPE [non-practicing entity] companies have been successful 31% of the time in patent cases brought since 1995; this compares with a success rate for universities and non-profits of 48% and a lowly 18% for individual inventors. Individual patent owners also do far worse with damages pay-outs, getting a median award of $3 million compared with $11.5 million for company NPEs and $16.2 million for universities/non-profits.

There could be many reasons for individual inventors doing relatively badly. Although the PWC study doesn’t provide any, it’s easy to speculate that small inventors may have lower average quality patents to begin with, while they probably don’t have the same kind of litigation savvy as other NPEs and are much less likely to have access to the same kind of litigation expertise that larger, better funded patent owners can turn to.

But what PWC’s numbers also strongly suggest is that the US patent litigation system is strongly stacked against small, patent owning entities. Bearing this in mind, it is worrying that the main packages of reform proposed in the House of Representatives (the Innovation Act) and the Senate (the PATENT Act) are only going to penalise them further.

Lloyd notes that potential irony now that many lone inventors, recognizing that they have little chance of winning and have almost no chance of affording the punitive legal bills they may face if they sue and lose, may be more likely to turn to NPEs (“patent trolls”) for help as the most practical way to realize any benefit from their work.

There is a need to rebuild an innovation climate in the United States, starting with educating our leaders about the need for IP rights and the value of patents. If we don’t teach this lesson from within, it will eventually be taught rather loudly from without, for Europe and China are both moving to strengthen IP rights and strengthen IP enforcement. Europe’s Unitary Patent system could be a boon to IP there, though much remains to be seen, but the changes in China are strong and dramatic. That nation has gone from no patents and no IP system in the early 1980s to the world’s biggest source of IP generation and IP litigation, with many changes steadily strengthening the nation’s IP system. There is a long ways to go for China still and there have been some setbacks, but at current rates we can see China becoming a leading source of global innovation while the US loses its lead.

Will the flames of innovation be largely quenched in that nation? Much depends on what we do with IP rights now, the rights that will shape our culture and economy for decades to come. May the fires of genius be encouraged with something other than the cold water Congress and Courts have been sloshing.

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Dec
13

Open Innovation and Trade Secrets

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A culture that can protect trade secrets is vital for innovative companies. Such a culture becomes especially important in collaborative innovation efforts where failure to protect trade secrets can severely damage partners and the offending company’s reputation. 
Chinese companies are increasingly recognizing the value of what the West calls “open innovation.” In fact, forms of open innovation were the basis of a great deal of innovation in China long before the term was coined in the West. Innovation in China tends to be fueled by guanxi with trust between partners being far more important than the legal details drafter by lawyers for a joint venture or other collaborative effort. Innovation in China, though still largely overlooked by the West, frequently occurs as trusted friends or acquaintances discuss their needs and challenges and find new solutions by crossing disciplinary borders. The many partnerships and allies involved with leading innovators like Ten Cent, Alibaba, Foxconn, and Huawei testify to the fluidity and rapidity of innovation in China achieved via collaboration and shared vision among partners. 

However, when companies in China or anywhere collaborate to find innovation, the inevitable sharing of trade secrets between partners puts the players at risk should there be inappropriate disclosure. Two leaders may fully trust each other, but if one of them leads a company with a weak IP culture where individuals fail to respect trade secrets, the partnership can be destroyed and severe damage can be done. Those engaging in a collaborative venture should be aware of the risks and consider their own culture and processes, as well as the culture, processes, and track record of partners. Zealous efforts are needed to avoid harm, even when there is no intent to harm or defraud. Simple slips can disclose information inappropriately and hurt a partner and one’s own reputation. Those pursuing open innovation need to pay particular attention to trade secret protection and ensure that only a few well trained employees will be exposed to the trade secrets involved in the partnership. 

Unfortunately, university culture in China and throughout the world, generally speaking, is inherently geared toward sharing and publishing information, so partnerships with universities should be carefully pursued with the realistic expectation that information may be leaked. Containing the scope of the partnership and minimizing any sharing of corporate secrets can reduce risks, while still allowing a company to tap the many riches of knowledge and innovation in China’s academic community, where many companies are finding success in advancing innovation.

 

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Nov
07

Tortoise Innovation: The Problem with Hiding in a Shell

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tortoiseMany large companies take a tortoise approach to innovation and stay as hidden within their shells as possible, even some who advocate open innovation. Tortoise companies may have creative R&D staff, including many scientists doing good work, but they keep these inventors hidden in the shell rather than encouraging them to publish or present their work.

The hares, on the other hand, take greater risks as they frequently step out of their comfortable burrows. They let their inventors not just show up at conferences and other events, but take the podium and present. Or, when appropriate, publish their work in major journals. As a result, their inventors become known and get to know many others with related interests. It is that visibility that allows potential partners to find them, to learn about their work, and to come forward with proposals for partnership or further innovation. These visible minds become more highly connected and able to contribute more directly and effectively to the open innovation needs of the Corporation. They are connected to other industries and better connected to the market, and may be more likely to recognize ways to adapt their inventions for better success.

The extreme of tortoise innovator may well be the large body of government scientists that conducted high-tech R&D for decades in the old Soviet Union. One of my past open innovation activities at Innovationedge included traveling to Moscow to assist Russia (more specifically, ISTC: http://www.istc.ru/) in finding external partners for the huge body of invention that arose from government labs in past work (this public information: e.g., I am listed as a speaker on the published agenda of a biotech meeting in Moscow with a presentation entitled “Innovationedge Partnership to bring innovation from Russia to the U.S.”). Unfortunately, much of that work in the Soviet Union, in my opinion, was dominated by deep drilling into highly isolated wells of expertise, with advanced technologies that were unconnected to real-world industry and markets. Creating connections and finding market opportunities after the fact (as in “answers in search of problems”) is much less efficient that developing inventions tailored to meet real market needs in the first place. The scientists were some of the best in the world, but they were working in isolation, often in great secrecy, with little ability to discuss their work with outsiders and obtain needed feedback and insights to make their work more useful outside their immediate focus. Looking back in time at the fruits of past Soviet era R&D to me looked like closed innovation to an extreme.

My observation of the isolation of Russian R&D relative to industry and markets is consistent with the detailed observation and analysis by Dina Williams in “Russia’s innovation system: reflection on the past, present and future” in The International Journal of Transitions and Innovation Systems, Vol. 1, No. 4, 2011, p. 394-412, available via Academia.edu at http://www.academia.edu/1207385/Russias_innovation_system_reflection_on_the_past_present_and_future (free download with registration).

Success in open innovation and even in making conventional internal innovation more successful can be enhanced when innovators “get out more often” and increase their visibility in relevant communities. Innovation is frequently about crossing boundaries and making new connections, and open innovation almost by definition involves reaching past one’s own corporate boundaries to find solutions outside. What better way to do this than by having innovators physically or virtually stepping outside those boundaries and being visible to potential partners?

One of my favorite experiences during my days at Innovationedge involved seeing a technology go from an inventor’s garage to a multinational corporation where it is now being commercialized globally. A key event in that story involved speaking at technical conference where my presentation included some information about our client’s invention. Afterwards, I was approached by an R&D leader from a significant corporation who wanted to know more. There was much more work after this—open innovation success is rarely fast and easy—but that new connection took us on a path toward success. Related stories occur frequently when innovation is shared. But silent companies who rely on their tortoise shell eventually find that solid defense is irrelevant. Sometimes, the prizes go not to those who best hide behind their fortifications but to those who cross the finish line in the race for innovation.

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Feb
22

Patents: Sucking the Lifeblood from the Economy??

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There’s an anti-patent sentiment in some parts of the public that argues that they are destroying the economy rather than helping. There is particular resentment against non-practicing entities (NPEs), often called trolls, for owning (and typically acquiring large numbers of) patents for products and processes that they don’t actually use themselves. That sentiment, naturally, is most likely to be held by large companies who want to make a lot of money by making and selling whatever they want without some little guy’s patent getting in the way. Trolls with their patents are, we are told, sucking the lifeblood out of the economy. They are especially deadly in the areas of greatest innovation such as software. The related field of business methods is one where the whole concept of patenting is viewed by some as especially dangerous and destructive.

A healthy perspective is now offered by Jeff Wild in his post for IAM Magazine’s blog, “If trolls are destroying US jobs, why is the apps sector booming?” Here is an excerpt:

Last week a shocking report was produced by an organisation called TechNet. Based in the US, it describes itself as “the preeminent bipartisan political network of CEOs and senior executives that promotes the growth of technology-led innovation”. Where the Jobs Are: The App Economy claims that more than 450,000 app-related jobs have been created in the US during the last five years and that the app economy could now be generating annual revenues of up to $20 billion. What’s more, there seems to be no sign of a let-up in the good news. “In the year ending December 2011, the average number of tech want ads containing the word ‘app’ was still 45% higher than the previous year. That’s rapid expansion by anyone’s standards,” the report states.

As I say, it’s shocking stuff. For those of us who remember the multiple news stories and blog pieces during 2011 that focused on NPEs such as Lodsys taking action against app developers in the US, the idea that the sector is actually booming and creating jobs at breakneck speed is hard to comprehend. Weren’t the “trolls” supposed to be destroying a nascent industry and driving jobs and dollars away from the US? How can it possibly be that the reverse seems to be happening? Indeed, how can a serious report on the American app sector not mention NPEs or trolls at all?

Surely, it must be an amazing oversight. Or perhaps not. Maybe all the outrage and doom-mongering last year was overhyped hysteria. Maybe the reality is that NPEs, or “trolls”, or whatever you want to call them, are really not a decisive issue in the app economy at all. And maybe that applies to NPEs and trolls generally: in the great scheme of things, they are not a big deal.

In a piece published by Forbes last week, Ken Lustig, head of strategic acquisitions at Intellectual Ventures, points out that the number of patent suits initiated in the US has remained relatively flat for the last 10 years and that only around 100 actually go to trial. What’s more, there is much less patent litigation now than there was in the 19th century, supposedly a golden age of American innovation. Indeed, says Lustig, revered names such as Thomas Edison used the NPE model to diffuse their inventions and grow rich. What is being reported today in such dramatic and negative terms is what has always happened in the US when new technologies appear:

Every major technological and industrial breakthrough in U.S. history—from the Industrial Revolution to the birth of the automobile and aircraft industries and on up to today’s Internet and mobile communications revolutions—has been accompanied by exactly the same surge in patenting, patent trading, and patent litigation that we see today in the smartphone business. This is how the rights to new breakthrough technologies have always been distributed to those best positioned to commercialize them—to the benefit of the whole nation in terms of new jobs, new medical advances, and new products and services.

He also summarizes the important research compiled by Michael Risch of the Villanova University School of Law. The bottom line is that both sides in the debate about NPEs have made mountains of molehills, though the defenders of NPEs do have a valid point in one particular area: “the evidence does support one defense of NPEs: they provide a better way for individual inventors to enforce their patents than bringing lawsuits themselves.”

NPEs don’t just include patent aggregators like Intellectual Ventures or Acacia. Universities and numerous lone inventors are often not (yet) in the business of producing and marketing goods but have significant inventions to market. Based on the research about the impact of NPEs and their patents, there is no need for alarm and no need to revise patent laws to stamp them out. Doing so could stamp out the fires of innovation that have brought us out of the stone age into the booming knowledge economy. IP needs to be protected and nurtured, not vilified and weakened. And certainly not discouraged with much higher fees at the USPTO, which the current Administration is proposing. Taxing innovation and other steps that discourage inventors by making it harder to protect their inventions are far more likely to suck the lifeblood from the economy than the existence of NPEs. More innovation fatigue is not what this economy needs.

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May
06

The Innovative University: Review of the Forthcoming Book by Clayton Christensen and Henry J. Eyring

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The landscape of higher education will soon witness dramatic change as technology coupled with new business models provides customized education to more people at lower cost. For unprepared institutions, the winds of change may be disruptive. Important aspects of the future of higher education are illuminated in The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out (John Wiley & Sons, 2011), a landmark book by Clayton Christensen of the Harvard School of Business and Henry J. Eyring, Vice President of Academics at Brigham Young University-Idaho. Clayton is the man who gave the world a new lens to better recognize the threats and opportunities of “disruptive innovation,” and Henry Eyring at BYU-Idaho is a thought leader who has chronicled the details of a successful experiment in disruptive innovation in education at BYU-Idaho. The collaboration of Christensen and Eyring represents a pleasantly surprising combination of talent and insights, one that is fitting given the influence of Harvard on BYU-Idaho’s journey of innovation.

Henry J. Eyring kindly allowed me to interview him about this forthcoming book that is scheduled for release later this summer. He displayed great passion for the mission of taking the blessings of education to more people at lower cost, and applying new tools and business models that can make this possible without sacrificing quality. Henry is concerned that the cost of a 4-year college degree has increased by 2 to 3 times since the 80s while starting salaries for graduate have remained flat in real terms, leaving universities vulnerable to classic disruptive innovation in which a once easy-to-ignore “inferior,” low-cost alternative improves gradually to the point where it can become a serious threat.

Online course content, once viewed as inadequate, is now generally accepted by students and can result in better educational performance, especially when used in hybrid models with face-to-face elements and with adaptive tools that respond to what and how students learn. Online models can allow a course to be customized to meet the learning styles and needs of a student, improving the quality of education. “Existing universities must view online learning as a sustaining innovation for their models,” Eyring says. Failure to embrace the potential of online learning will leave universities vulnerable to disruption, both from competitors and from budgetary pressures. “Even the best universities will be pressed to show better ROI.” They may need to become less universal, no longer offering the same graduate programs in all fields as they do in science and engineering. There is a need to change the very DNA of the university, the thrust of The Innovative University, a remarkable fruit of the collaboration between Henry Eyring, who began writing about the BYU-Idaho experience in 2008, and Clayton Christensen, who teamed up with Henry to add the framework of disruptive innovation and further insights from the Harvard perspective to complete this scholarly but highly readable work.

Like many of the best books about the future, this one is based upon a great deal of history. Much of the book explores the stages of development in education and business models for two very different schools, Harvard and Brigham Young University-Idaho (initially Bannock Stake Academy, then Ricks College and more recently BYU-Idaho). The scholarship is outstanding, the writing crisp and clear, and the stories told interesting and instructive. Some readers may not wish to grasp the historical foundations of these universities and the currents of change that have brought us to our present state. Fortunately, the book is organized to allow the impatient to turn to the latter portions of the book (say, Parts Four and Five) to access major conclusions and recommendations.

The authors chronicle the rise of BYU-Idaho from its humble rural Idaho roots to a bustling campus of over 22,000 students. Rather than ascend the traditional “Carnegie ladder” of adding ever more expensive programs and costly benefits, BYU-Idaho recently embarked on a path aimed at getting the most from the heavy investment in the physical campus and staff, while offering more students an enhanced education at lower cost. Much of this was driven by a Dr. Kim Clark, who came to BYU-Idaho after serving as a noted and respected Dean of the Harvard School of Business. Clark built on the foundation of major reforms implemented by the previous president, David Bednar. Change was also driven by the vision of leaders in the church that owns and oversees BYU-Idaho, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The resulting innovations include:

  • a new trimester schedule that keeps the campus in heavy use year round;
  • dramatic revision in course offerings such as modular majors and carefully tailored GE courses making it easier and less costly for students to switch majors or to customize their education;
  • strengthening of internship program to better prepare undergraduates for employment;
  • elimination of expensive inter-collegiate sports programs;
  • combining online content and face-to-face instruction to reach more students and improve education (with many innovations on the path to high-quality online content);
  • augmentation of faculty teaching with peer-to-peer assistance in which students who understand the material efficiently help their peers;
  • extension efforts in several cities where online content is coupled with face-to-face mentoring to reach more students;
  • establishing a common “Learning Model” for education, with emphasis on learning experiences and case studies that can be enhanced with peer-to-peer interaction and supplemented with online content; and
  • elevating faculty pay to above-average levels to compensate for the additional effort required of the faculty to make the more intense BYU-Idaho system succeed.

The importance of online content as an element of disruptive innovation is emphasized in the book, which offers numerous valuable insights into the business models and applications of the technology that have brought success to BYU-Idaho, as well as the foundations for Harvard’s success and leadership in education. Those interested in either school or in higher education in general should appreciate the historical development and insights. Many other innovative schools are also highlighted in case studies throughout the book.

The authors use the theme of DNA throughout the book, and argue that successful educational reform requires changing the DNA of a university. “Genetic reengineering” is needed to build new models and systems that will be sustained over time and grow. The book is aimed at identifying and spreading the new genes that will result in healthier, stronger education. For those that resist and cling to the old DNA, disruptive innovation could one day overtake the universities and leave them unable to compete and unable to serve, saddled with shrinking resources, higher costs, and fewer students willing to endure their increasingly less competitive programs.

The learnings from the journeys of BYU-Idaho and Harvard University are extended to the broader challenges faced by institutions of higher education worldwide. How can they adapt their programs to be more efficient, to better serve more students at lower cost? How can they provide education without requiring students to take on a mountain of debt? How can education be more personalized, more customized, to help students better prepare for the careers or graduate educational experiences they desire? How can universities better achieve the missions of teaching and research? What tasks do universities really need to focus on for the future? The authors offer valuable guidance, based on extensive research and insights.

Though higher education has remained relatively immune from the pressures of disruptive innovation for years, the power of new business models and technologies coupled with social and financial pressures will lead to change that may surprise and even pummel many universities now on the traditional path of making education more expensive and elite. Christen and Eyring offer a monumental guide to avoiding the pain of disruption and capitalizing on the promise of positive disruptive innovation for those institutions with the courage and vision to become an innovative university. For educators, policy makers, parents and students, I recommend The Innovative University for breakthrough thinking that can help transform education.


Update, May 10, 2011

Further information below about BYU-Idaho is based on input from Steve Davis, their Alumni Director, derived from some online comments.

Since the decision in 2000 by President Gordon B. Hinckley to turn Ricks College into BYU-Idaho, the university has grown from a capped enrollment of 8,200 students on a traditional fall/winter track, to over 14,000 students each term and over 22,000 annually — largely because of the innovative 3-track (year round) enrollment. BYU-Idaho has also launched several online initiatives, including the Pathway pilot program, discussed several times in The Innovative University, that enables students to earn BYU-Idaho professional certificates, associate, or bachelor degrees while staying at home. The online offerings at BYU-Idaho are different than independent study in that each course is semester and cohort based. Students are part of cohorts, groups of students they will interact with to enhance the educational process. or example, students in an online section could have classmates from other Pathway sites, as well as regularly enrolled BYU-Idaho students.

Online content is coupled with face-to-face interaction at a local physical location to help students in multiple regions away from BYU-Idaho. Students meet weekly and take an Institute class for BYU-Idaho credit, but the remainder of their curriculum is online. This program is now operating at 23 domestic sites (all LDS Institutes) as well as Accra, Ghana, and Puebla, Mexico.

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Apr
03

Recycling Carpet: A University Invention Becomes a Green Business

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Renewlon®: Recycled Carpet

Renewlon®: Recycled Carpet

Did you know that carpets can be recycled? The typical carpet has nylon fibers and a polypropylene backing. Thanks to Dr. Chris Roberts in the Chemical Engineering Department at Auburn University, there is now a clear, simple, practical way to extract pure nylon powder from used carpet. The remaining polypropylene can be used as well. The technology developed by Dr. Roberts was patented, and the patent estate became the basis for a start-up company, Modular Carpet Recycling (MCR). The elegant process is described in U.S. Patent No. 5,994,417, “Process for recovering polymers from commingled materials,” issued to Christopher B. Roberts and Aron T. Griffith, Nov. 30, 1999.

Formic acid, the compound that provides the sting of ants and stinging nettle, is used to dissolve the nylon. The solution is then injected into a chamber with supercritical carbon dioxide. Formic acid remains soluble in the carbon dioxide but the nylon precipitates out, forming a fine powder. The pressure of the carbon dioxide can then be lowered to take it below the supercritical state which causes the formic acid to separate from the carbon dioxide. Both materials can then be used again. Simple, clean, efficient.

Another group recognized the value of what Dr. Roberts had created and worked with him to commercialize the technology, creating additional intellectual property in the way to bring the technology to an industrial scale.

The polypropylene backing of the carpet, after the nylon has been dissolved away, is also recycled. It can be used to make laminated board materials, for example.

As with most inventions, there is a need for others to contribute further advances to bring the invention forward to the point where it becomes commercial and has impact on society–in other words, to turn the invention into an innovation. Partnerships between industry and universities are increasingly important in solving real world problems in ways that change society (and make real money). And once again, having a patent made the partnership work. Without it, there would have been no motivation to work with the university and less incentive to take on the risk of commercializing an unprotected technology. It’s very basic, but worth repeating: patents can help create partnership opportunities. Patents can make it more likely for research to result in commercially important innovation, not less likely.

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Nov
22

The Invention of the Computer: Pulitzer-Prize Novelist Will Tell the Untold Story

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I am delighted to see Wired Magazine feature a story about the new book on the largely untold story of one of the original inventors of the computer. Nearly everyone has heard the standard story of the invention of the ENIAC computer at Penn State by a team led by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert Jr. However, as is so often the case in the world of innovation, those who get public credit for an invention may not be the original inventors. In many cases, one can make a case that key elements of a successful invention were borrowed or even stolen from a neglected inventor who deserves at least some of the credit.

In “Pulitzer Prize-Winning Novelist Tells the Tale of the World’s First Computer” by Gary Wolf, we learn that John Vincent Atanasoff with his partner Clifford Berry were already working in the 1930s on assembling a computer in the basement of the physics building at Iowa State University. Their invention was finished in 1942, four years before ENIAC was finished. About the size of a large desk, the Atanasoff-Berry computer (ABC) could do laborious calculations rapidly. It was relatively unknown, but was known and admired by other inventors working on related problems, including some of the team that would develop ENIAC.

Now a novelist will help set the record straight. Jane Smiley, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, has written The Man Who Invented the Computer to tell Atanasoff’s story. He had a successful career, but his magnum opus, the computer, was “forgotten until the late 1960s, when a legal battle broke out over the patents that the ENIAC project leaders had filed on basic computing concepts. In the course of the bruising litigation between the Sperry Rand Corporation, which had purchased the ENIAC patents, and Honeywell, which wanted to break them, it was proven that the ENIAC team stole key ideas from Atanasoff. The patents were declared invalid by a federal judge. But Atanasoff’s achievement never became widely known or celebrated.”

Smiley learned about his life at Iowa State, where Smiley studied and taught.

[At Iowa State,] she met someone who plays a minor, ignominious role in her tale: a professor who told her that, as a graduate student, he had been the one to dismantle and throw away the prototype of some strange calculating device that had been left behind in the basement of the physics building. The first digital computer was lost. “He ultimately went on to become the head of the computer science department,” Smiley says, “and he told me that destroying that computer was one of the great regrets of his life.” It is out of such personal twists and ironies—a novelist’s materials—that Smiley builds her tale, capturing both Atanasoff’s genius and, at the same time, the forces of chance that influence invention.

It is of such twists and ironies that the journeys of many other great inventors are formed, some of whom we discuss in Conquering Innovation Fatigue. The problems that deprive inventors and innovators of the due credit and reward for their work are often part of the innovation fatigue factors that can wear innovators down and decrease incentives for innovation for many. There are things inventors can do to improve the odds of success, and of receiving credit for their work. May great inventors never be forgotten!

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Oct
11

Engineers Interested in Innovation, Startups, and IP: Join Us at the 2010 AIChE Annual Meeting

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Chemical engineers interested in innovation and entrepreneurship should consider attending the AIChE 2010 Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City. On Wednesday, Nov. 10, I will chair a session featuring four outstanding speakers on topics that should be of interest to many engineers, including university researchers, corporate researchers, and managers. If you are conducting research that could lead to a new business, if you are involved in leading or managing R&D, if you are part of an effort where intellectual property could make a difference, then you should attend our session, “Intellectual Assets in the Digital Era.” You need to register for this conference through AIChE.

Time: Wednesday, November 10, 2010: 8:30 AM-11:00 AM
Location: Salt Palace Convention Center, Grand Ballroom G, Salt Lake City, UT
Chair: Jeff Lindsay, Director of Solution Development, Innovationedge, Neenah, WI
Co-Chair: Ken Horton, Gore School of Business, Westminster College, Salt Lake City, UT

Schedule of Papers and Abstracts:
8:30 AM, Paper #406A, “Business Development, IP, and Manufacturing Success: Perspectives From Utah’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership” by David Sorensen, Executive Director of Utah’s Manufacturing Extension Program. (See biographical information below.)

Abstract: The Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Utah has assisted many companies in strengthening their strategy for success and continued growth. We will discuss what it takes to advance your business, including lessons relative to leadership, vision, intellectual property, and coping with changing regulations and policies.

9:10 AM, Paper #406b, “The Role of IP in Successful Startups,” Mike Alder, Director of Technology Transfer, Brigham Young University.

Abstract: Many AIChE members will be involved with a startup at some point in their career. While the capabilities of the management team is of utmost importance, in numerous cases, the success of the startup also depends on the quality of its intellectual property. In this era, an IP-savvy team can take several steps to secure competitive advantage and realize greater value from the technology, products, or services the company offers. This presentation will draw upon experience with many startups and startup teams and will provide guidance to researchers, business leaders, and future entrepreneurs on how to better prepare for success.

9:45 AM, Paper #406c, “An Introduction to IP Law: The Underpinnings of Intellectual Assets,” Ken Horton, Kirton & McConkie, Salt Lake City, UT

Abstract: An understanding of the basics of intellectual property law can help chemical engineers in advancing their own research, in evaluating competitive efforts, in building their own business, or in general advancing their career. This presentation will cover some of the key concepts that engineers should know, including the nature of patents, the different kinds of patents (provisional, utility, design), the role of trademarks and copyrights, what it takes to be patentable, and how changes in patent law may affect your career and business.

10:20 AM, Paper #406d, “Cost-Effective Pursuit of IP in a Down Economy,” by Jonathan Lee

Abstract: How does one get the most protection and benefit from intellectual property when the economy is down? How can patents and other forms of intellectual property be obtained in a cost effective manner when budgets are tight? In this presentation, an experienced patent attorney shares insights into cost effective IP with guidance directed to managers, research leaders, inventors, and entrepreneurs.

Biographical information:

David Sorensen
Mr. Sorensen has over 35 years of experience in a wide variety of technical and managerial assignments requiring comprehensive knowledge in several disciplines relating to engineering, manufacturing, information technology and business systems. He has been directly responsible for major contracts with industry and government agencies and has a proven record of technical competence, customer relations, and business planning in rapidly expanding technical companies. Mr. Sorensen has held increasingly responsible positions in product and service organizations. He is innovative, resourceful, and aggressive in accomplishing assigned responsibilities with major strengths in strategic planning, marketing and management. He holds a Bachelor of Engineering Science and a Masters in Manufacturing Engineering Technology from Brigham Young University.

Since 1995 he’s been the Director of the Utah Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP-Utah), serving primarily the 6,200 manufacturers in the state of Utah. MEP-Utah was selected to initiate and manage the NIST Information Technology Network for over 60 MEP Centers nationwide. Mr. Sorensen is also a BYU adjunct faculty member and the Associate Dean of Technology, Trades and Industry at Utah Valley State College. With a staff of 18, in one year MEP-Utah helped create or save 2,719 jobs in Utah, increased manufacturing sales by more than $121 million and increased employee payroll by more than $84 million.

He’s been the Chairman & CEO for Echo Solutions, a start-up software products and services company; Executive VP of Eyring Research Institute; General Manager of EG&G Services; Director of Engineering at EG&G Idaho Inc.; Manager of Architect Engineering and Construction at Aerojet Nuclear Company and Manager of Power Generation Equipment at Bunker Ramo. He also has experience with GE’s Nuclear Instrumentation as a Senior Applications Engineer, and in engineering positions at Kennecott Copper, Intermountain Industries, and F.C. Torkelson Engineers.

Michael Alder
Mike is Director of Technology Transfer at Brigham Young University, where his work has been nationally recognized by BusinessWeek and others for their success. Mike is also Chair of the Board for WestCAMP Inc. where he has also chaired the National Centers of Excellence (NCOE), a division of WestCAMP. Mike is formerly the CEO of the Biotechnology Association of Alabama. He was also a Venture Partner with Redmont Venture Partners, Inc. He has been heavily involved in the founding of Tranzyme, Inc.; Vaxin, Inc.; Folia, Inc.; Chlorogen, Inc.; Allvivo, Inc. and Cr3, Inc. All but one of these are biotechnology companies (Folia produces specialty biopolymers).

Mr. Alder has 30 years of experience in leading technology-based startup companies. He was previously CEO of Emerging Technology Partners in Birmingham, Alabama from 1997 to 2003. Prior to coming to Alabama in 1994 he co-founded the Grow Utah Fund that focused on creating technology-based businesses. In 1989 he was asked by the Utah Governor to head the State’s Office of Technology Development, which he did for 5 years as its Executive Director, helping bring Utah’s Centers of Excellence programs to national prominence. In 1973 he founded NPI, a plant biotechnology company in Salt Lake City, Utah and served as President, COO and Vice Chairman of that company for 15 years as it grew to over 700 employees.

Ken Horton
Ken Horton is a member of Kirton & McConkie‘s Intellectual Property Practice Section in Salt Lake City. His practice includes domestic and foreign patent prosecution, patent opinions, intellectual property litigation (including both state and federal court actions), domestic and foreign trademark prosecution, trademark opinions, copyrights, trade secrets, intellectual property evaluations and due diligence, as well as technology and intellectual property agreements. Mr. Horton has extensive experience in both pharmaceutical and semiconductor technologies. He is a frequent speaker on the topic of intellectual property law and strategy, speaking both at the 2007 and 2010 A.I.C.H.E. annual conferences and the 2009 A.C.S. annual conference. Additionally, Mr. Horton is an Associate Professor in these topics in the MBA Technology Management Program at the Gore School of Business of Westminster College.

Jonathan Lee
Jonathan Lee is a registered patent attorney and a member of the Utah State Bar practicing at ALG (AdvantEdge Law Group). His practice focuses on adding real-world value to companies, both large and small, by acquiring, securing, and protecting intellectual property rights.

Mr. Lee has prepared and successfully prosecuted hundreds of patent applications throughout his career, primarily in the electrical, electro-mechanical, and computer engineering fields. He currently helps a number of Fortune 1000 companies manage and develop their domestic and worldwide patent portfolios. He also regularly counsels clients in other aspects of intellectual property law, including litigation, licensing, and opinion work, as well as due diligence examinations, copyrights and trademarks, and patent reexamination proceedings.

Prior to joining ALG, Mr. Lee worked for nationally recognized law firms in Washington, D.C. and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Mr. Lee was recently selected as a Mountain States Rising Star by Super Lawyers, a peer-reviewed publication.

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In May 2010 I was invited to speak at a conference of WTA (the Wisconsin Telecommunications Association) about innovation lessons for the telecommunications industry from our recently published book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). Here is a condensed version of the presentation. I’ll do another Pixetell soon with some additional content.

Can’t help mentioning this: I had a technical problem with the above Pixetell and sent an email to their tech support team. I had a response within minutes. In fact, I had a phone call – the kind that takes real people using real time – and the quickly helped me troubleshoot the problem and get this post working. Wow! Miracles still happen–or at least great customer service. Love Pixetell. Great way to turn PowerPoints or whatever you have on a computer plus your voice into a recorded presentation that you can share with a URL, embed into a blog, or save as a movie. Pixetell is a product of Ontier, Inc.

Amyris Biotechnologies logoIn my ongoing work on analyzing the intellectual property landscape in biofuels, one of the most impressive companies I’ve run across is Amyris, a renewable products company whose clever use of synthetic biology goes far beyond biofuels. Amyris was founded by Kinkead Reiling, Neil Renninger, and Jack D. Newman who met at Berkeley and founded Amyris in 2003, headquartered in Emeryville, California. With a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they first developed their technology under a non-profit initiative to provide a reliable and affordable source of artemisinin, an anti-malarial therapeutic. It was viewed as a long-shot, but they found success that paved the way for the growth of the company into other areas. They are now developing new microbial strains that can produce other useful molecules from renewable feedstocks. This industrial synthetic biology platform is providing alternatives to a broad range of petroleum-sourced products. he extremely useful molecule farnesene is an important part of their business. It provides a compound that can be used to produce flavors, perfumes, detergents, cosmetics, biodiesel, and other products.

This week Amyris created a stir by announcing a record number of deals and partnerships for a single week (a record among bioenergy companies, according to Biofuels Digest). These partnerships include P&G, Total, Soliance, Cosan, M&G Finanziaria, and Shell:

Amyris has taken it up a notch with a series of stunners surrounding its synthetic farsenene, which it has named Biofene – the first product that Amyris is seeking to produce at commercial scale.

Beyond its success this week with Biofene announcements, which are the basis for the P&G, M&G and Soliance partnerships — there are the broader arrangements with Cosan to develop a platform in renewable chemicals, and the equity agreement with Total that will provide needed capital as well as a broader platform for Amyris’s expansion into hydrocarbon fuels.

The mysterious agreement with Shell, regarding diesel, is one to watch. The decidedly vague disclosure was buried in Amyris’ amended S-1A registration statement, but not otherwise mentioned in a flurry of press releases from the company as it promotes its expansion in this pre-IPO environment. Shell Western Trading & Supply is one of 17 Shell trading companies that buy and sell to customers within and outside of Shell.

This news shows an interesting example of companies forming partnerships with an innovative start-up with great technology and apparently highly valuable IP. According to my Patbase search, Amyris has 21 patent families, quite a large number for such a young company. They clearly have been active and aggressive in pursuing patent protection, and those patents are critical for the meaningful partnerships they are now forming. It’s a great unfolding story of open innovation and technology transfer.

The story extends beyond the US. They have operations in Brazil, for example, which is one of the world’s hotbeds for bioenergy, bioproducts, and collaborative innovation.

Further information comes from today’s article, “Amyris: farnesene and the pursuit of value, valuations, validation and vroom,” also from Biofuels Digest.

Our Mission

InnovationFatigue.com is the official blog for the new book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue. Here we provide supplementary innovation, news, tips, updates, and, when needed, a correction or two, to keep those who are using the big on the inside edge for innovation success.