Month: February 2014

South Korean Scientist Granted US Patent for Fabricated Work

The US Patent and Trademark Office has always leaned in favor of the inventors when it comes to granting patents, but cases like this one prove that that may not be the best policy.

Hwang Woo-suk of South Korea claimed over a decade ago to have cloned embryonic stem cells, a breakthrough, that if genuine, would have far reaching benefits and consequences for the medical community. Because it was such a monumental claim, other scientists jumped in right away and began checking his research. In the end, it turned out that his research was entirely fabricated and that his results were falsely manipulated. Once other scientists tried to replicate his results but couldn’t, he was forced to admit what he had done.

Still, he applied for patents in over 20 countries, and actually succeeded in three. He holds a patent for his “discovery” in Australia, Canada, and now, the US. 

On one hand, it’s wonderful for the community of inventors to be given the benefit of the doubt. We are a creative community, and an air of suspicion from the Patent Office would be enough to discourage many from sharing their ideas. At the same time, it seems like there should be some method in place for patent officials to look into these projects a little bit and make sure they are honest. This is a case of one unscrupulous person causing problems for the majority who are acting in good faith, and it’s frustrating for those of us who just want to bring great ideas to fruition.

RoboHand Uses 3D Printing to Give a Hand

When Richard van As accidentally severed his fingers in a woodworking accident, he was disappointed to find out that there were no prosthetic limbs that would grant him the strength and range of motion needed for him to continue working as a tradesman. He asked doctors and scientists all over the world about the possibility of creating such a device, but was always told that it would be impossible.

With a lot of determination and creativity, he developed a prototype that would enable him to grasp objects just like a regular hand. After teaming up with Ivan Owen, a mechanical props designer, they launched RoboHand and began perfecting their designs. They began manufacturing their designs using a 3D printer, which kept costs low (while traditional prosthetic limbs are prohibitively expensive for many people). Once word got out about Richard’s project, families began to contact RoboHand in search for a solution that would work for children who were born without fingers.

After a few years of research and development, the design was finally ready to be custom fit to children and adults alike. The device is mostly made from orthopedic thermoplastic, which allows the user to have the mold fit perfectly to their limb, and also allows for maximum airflow and comfort. The joints are fastened with aluminum and stainless steel hardware, while a series of cables allows the wearer to control the fingers using wrist motion.

What’s truly groundbreaking is that Richard originally decided to publish the designs on Thingverse so that anyone who has access to a 3D printer would be able to manufacture their own RoboHand. The creative use of this technology has enabled people from developing nations, particularly in Africa, to have functioning hands when they would have not been able to otherwise. Since launching the open-source designs, RoboHand has decided that all of their future endeavors will be kept proprietary (mainly due to safety concerns), but either way, their process has been truly revolutionary.

This is a great example of someone creating an invention, even when the idea seemed impossible, and then sharing it with the world. RoboHand likely has a lot of intellectual property debates ahead of them, but for now, they are just excited to see so many helped by their designs.

Samsung Firing Back at Dyson Over Intellectual Property Allegations

Back in August 2013, British vacuum cleaner manufacturer Dyson filed suit against Samsung for allegedly copying the steering system from several of Dyson’s models. Samsung’s Motion Sync cleaners had been selling for two years, but when Dyson researched the designs of the Samsung products, they found unmistakeable similarities to their own DC37 and DC39 models. Now Samsung is countersuing, saying that Dyson’s accusation hurt their company’s image.

This brings up an interesting argument regarding patents and what qualifies as intellectual property. Samsung is claiming that they possessed artwork of the design that pre-dated Dyson’s patent, and Dyson’s CEO has acknowledged that this happens frequently in companies. Hidden “prior art” is found after suits are filed, and companies are able to edge their way around patent law. Dyson ended up dropping the suit against Samsung as a result of this prior art being uncovered, but it has left them frustrated with the system.

This is a lesson to anyone interested in inventing things and applying for patents: do it sooner rather than later. If you submit your drawings and apply for a patent as soon as you have the idea, you will not have to worry about someone accusing you of copying theirs later. Take a cue from Apple, who files patents all the time, even ones they never intend on building or developing. It’s an aggressive practice, but it keeps their ideas and intellectual property secure and protected.

Apple is Awarded Patent for Solar Powered MacBook

Apple made history last week by announcing that they had received a patent for their design of a solar panel that would power a laptop by harnessing the sun’s energy. The design would involve a lid backed with “electrochromic glass,” also called “smart glass.” The glass itself would be able to transition from opaque to transparent, depending on the user’s needs. Solar panels placed underneath the smart glass would collect energy from sunlight whenever the glass is on its clear or transparent setting, while a traditional circuit board would also allow the laptop to run on a regular power source if needed. 

The ultimate goal would be to make the solar panels efficient enough to produce one watt of power or possibly more. This would allow the solar panels to be able to charge the laptop’s battery even while the laptop is not in use. Users would still need a power cord, but the solar power option would certainly help those who find themselves traveling often and using their laptops near windows or outdoors. For those who have ever had trouble locating an outlet in an airport, this could be a very exciting development!

Apple made it very clear that the acquisition of the patent does not guarantee that they will produce the product. This is simply an idea they are developing, and while it has great potential, it may never see the light of day as an actual piece that consumers can buy. Apple has held many patents over the years that have never gone into production. A lot of consumers would be happy to see this; stay tuned to see what Apple decides to do with it. 

The Importance of Patent Drawings

As an inventor, your work is not done until you have secured a patent to protect your product from others who want to copy it. In order to apply for a patent, you must go through a process that involves quite a few steps. One of the required steps is to provide drawings of your invention or product along with your patent application.

Only one drawing is absolutely required, but more may be helpful. The people reviewing your application will want to see the invention from different angles, as well as the various components it is made from. A good patent drawing can also demonstrate the uses for the product and the functionality of it. 

There is no rule saying that you, the inventor, must do this drawing yourself. There are dedicated patent illustrators who will take your idea and visualize it on paper. They are not always easy to find, but most patent attorneys have those types of contacts. Even if you are an excellent artist, it is wise to have a patent illustrator do your final drawings for your application because he will know exactly what the review committee wants to see. He will know what to highlight and where to add the most detail. As the inventor, you may get caught up in certain aspects of your product that you are really proud of, but that may not be of significance in terms of getting your patent approved.

Securing a patent is quite a lot of work from beginning to end, but do not be afraid to consult professionals along the way. You want to make sure you follow every step of the process flawlessly so that you can get your patent in place as soon as possible. Protect your hard work and creativity!