Idea for green tech patents gets mixed reviews

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A federal plan to boost green technology innovation by dramatically cutting the patent processing time is drawing mixed reaction from intellectual property attorneys in Indiana as they wonder whether the pilot program will help or hurt their clients.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office late last year launched what it calls the Green Technology Pilot Program. The one-year trial program is aimed at encouraging more inventors to apply for patents relating to green technology by fast-tracking those applications.

Indiana attorneys practicing in the intellectual property area say it’s too soon to get a full picture of how successful the program is, but the response so far doesn’t show the interest that the USPTO has referred to in talking about the program.

“The lackluster response to this program is just a part of how the overall patent office operates with so many nuances,” said Barnes & Thornburg attorney Shawn Bauer, a partner in the firm’s IP section. “Everything comes with advantages and disadvantages in this process, but to me the downside outweighs the upside right now.”

Announced just before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Denmark, the green technology program is designed to encourage development of businesses with products that reduce use of fossil fuels and protect the environment. Often, these green-tech products are incremental improvements on existing techniques from multiple fields, such as circuits within software or a larger product aimed at an environmental purpose.

Patents for inventions relating to environmental quality, energy conservation, renewable energy development, or greenhouse gas emission reduction are allowed to be reviewed without meeting the usual federal requirements. Regular review times range from 18 to 48 months. If they meet certain pilot program criteria, those patent applications are placed on a special docket at the front of the line with a goal to cut the time to about 34 months, on average.

“This will permit more applications to qualify for the pilot program, thereby allowing more inventions related to green technologies to be advanced out of turn for examination and reviewed earlier,” David Kappos, director of the patent office, said in a filing in the Federal Register.

edward courtney Courtney

The program allows the first 3,000 patents to get this special status. But it initially limited applications to certain classifications, which meant many submitted proposals were rejected. Because a large number of submitted petitions didn’t meet those classifications, the office expanded the scope so more patents would be eligible for the project.

The USPTO reported that as of early June, 1,015 requests for accelerated review had been received and only 373 had been granted. Seventy-seven were still awaiting a decision, 502 had been dismissed, and 63 were denied.

Indiana has had only 18 green petitions granted, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Rankin Byrne. The leading cities with at least one listed inventor are Pendleton with nine petitions; Noblesville with six; Anderson with five; Fishers and Indianapolis each with four; and Greenfield with three, figures show.

With about 1.2 million patents pending in the office, attorneys say the overall scope of this project is small and hasn’t garnered the interest some thought it might.

At Indianapolis IP firm Woodard Emhardt Moriarty McNett & Henry, partner Ed Courtney III said he hasn’t had any clients sign on to the program, and he’s not sure how to gauge the success at the halfway point.

Some clients have expressed an interest, but they have backed away when learning the program is more directed at already-filed and pending patent petitions, Courtney said. He hopes the federal agency considers applying the program rules to all future projects so that any business that might want to get involved could sign on with a new filing.

“My initial reaction is that this is a good and beneficial thing, to have applications go through this process more quickly,” he said. “It is exciting and you hope that as a pilot program maybe they’ll think about doing this permanently. That would be a huge carrot for clients to get into this for your IP.”

chuck schmal Schmal

One of Courtney’s colleagues has had more exposure to the pilot program, but even Chuck Schmal – past chair of the Indianapolis Bar Association’s IP Section – said he hasn’t had a chance to apply it to any client petitions. He’s presented seminars on the issue in recent months, discussing it with other IP attorneys statewide.

“By nature, patent attorneys are pretty conservative, and so this hasn’t caught on just yet,” the longtime attorney said. “I’ve recommended it, but no one’s bought into it. There are some concerns that it can slow the process, and so some attorneys just aren’t choosing to move on this. But I do think it’s a good thing and can help the backlog of patent petitions.”

Other attorneys who’ve been more intimately involved with the patent agency process say there are hidden dangers to the project that are preventing more inventors from getting involved. Bauer said it illustrates how attorneys view the USPTO as a tradeoff that must always be evaluated before particular petitions are submitted.

For example, one aspect of the traditional USPTO process is getting an 18-month period of secrecy before a filed patent petition becomes public, he said. The pilot program requires applicants to waive this publication period, meaning they’ll have early publication of the proposed patent and give the public a glimpse of what’s being worked on. This might not mean anything to smaller startup companies that don’t have anything to lose and might need capital to launch development, but more established companies may want to protect their bottom line and not get involved in this, Bauer said.

“Really, this targets startup companies and they’ll find the benefit. That’s been a big issue for clients and is a disincentive for them to get involved,” he said. “But anyone involved with the office knows the whole patent system is a tradeoff. Here, you’re putting information into the public’s hands and enabling others to see that art that goes into the invention while taking away that monopoly to the patent holder.” •


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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.