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Companies investing in developing clean technologies and researchers working in the green tech field depend on public-private partnerships, such as those represented by the Patent and Trademark Office's Cleantech Partnership program, according to participants in the PTO's first partnership meeting, held April 27 in Alexandria, Va.
A representative of the DuPont company, for example, noted that DuPont has chosen to participate in the PTO's pilot program offering expedited examination of qualifying clean or environmentally friendly technologies.
Bruce Kisliuk, assistant deputy commissioner for patents, kicked off the meeting by reviewing the goals of the program, which include efforts to train patent examiners in relevant fields and encouraging inventors to develop and use clean technologies.
Kisliuk also noted a significant overlap between clean technologies and nanotechnology, which also has been the subject of PTO outreach efforts in the past decade (70 PTCJ 35, 5/13/05).
Jacqueline Stone, director of Technology Center 1600 (Biotechnology and Organic Chemistry) reviewed the development of the Green Technology Pilot Program, which targets expedited processing for patent applications related to environmentally beneficial inventions (79 PTCJ 154, 12/11/09). Originally, the pilot program was set to expire in November 2010, but the program was recently extended to the end of 2011.
Stone noted that the most common reasons that petitions for expedited review are rejected under the pilot program are the failure to include the requisite publication fee and the failure to include a statement of materiality.
Specifically, the PTO requires that to be eligible for expedited consideration, the patent application in question “be directed to a single invention that materially enhances the quality of the environment, or that materially contributes to (1) the discovery or development of renewable energy resources; (2) the more efficient utilization and conservation of energy resources; or (3) green house gas emission reduction.”
The PTO's goal is that when a patent applicant petitions for expedited status, the PTO will issue an initial decision within two weeks of receiving the petition. If the decision is to reject the petition, the petitioner has one opportunity to request reconsideration, within 30 days.
As of April 4, Stone said that about 300 petitions were awaiting decision, 1,600 had been approved, 1,000 had been dismissed, and 200 had been denied. The PTO has issued 250 patents under the pilot program, she reported.
Initially, the pilot program was limited to granting expedited status to no more than 3,000 applications, but that the PTO may extend this program should it be considered successful.
Neil Feltham of E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. described one of DuPont's efforts to find cleaner processes through genetic engineering. William S. Elias II of Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Ill., emphasized the benefits of cooperation between for-profit industries, national laboratories and the PTO.
J. Steven Rutt of Foley & Lardner, Washington, D.C., noted the challenge issued in President Obama's 2011 State of the Union address to produce 80 percent of America's electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.
Rutt pointed to one area of disagreement in the clean technology field, exemplified on the one hand by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, who advocates taking risks in order to give breakthrough opportunities a chance to develop and on the other hand by Joseph Romm, editor of Climate Progress, who believes that it will be application of existing technologies that will be successful.
Investment in clean technology development increased by more than 50 percent over the previous quarter in the first quarter of 2011, Rutt said, and was 31 percent more than the first quarter of 2010, with the largest investments in solar energy, transportations, and materials.
The field of solar energy, in particular, is experiencing significant research spending as well as patenting activity, Rutt said.
Like Elias, Rutt emphasized the importance of government support for clean technology development, through research grants, technology transfer from government laboratories, loan guarantees, etc.
He also noted the interconnections between clean technologies and nanotechnology, with statistics showing that 215 recent publications relating to nanotechnology patents refer to solar energy in their abstracts.
Rutt also warned that Germany and China have both given priorities to clean technology and solar energy development, making it important for the United States to continue emphasizing these fields, lest it be bypassed. Rutt offered a series of recommendations to the PTO in order to facilitate clean technology development:
• Ensure that the restrictions on applicants for accelerated examinations are minimized;
• Implement a system such that clean technology applications and patents can be easily identified;
• Enhance private sector partnerships;
• Create a class or a small number of classes for clean technologies, such as the 977 class for nanotechnologies.
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