A Level Playing Field?

FedInvent Patent Newsletter for Patents Granted November 16, 2021

Hello from FedInvent,

Here is what's happening in the Federal Innovation Ecosphere.

On Tuesday, November 16, 2021, the Patent Office granted 6,782 new patents. One hundred thirty-seven (137) have taxpayer funding. 

You can access this week's FedInvent Patent Report here

You can browse the patents organized by department are here.

Take Me To The FedInvent Patent Report

The highlights include:

  • The Moderna Patent Battle — The WSJ Weighs In

  • Alexa, Order the Rolex

  • Motor Coach Seat Belts

  • Handwriting Recognition for Intel

  • The Real Fog of War

  • Another Gray Area

  • The Bayh-Dole Scofflaws

  • And Patents By The Numbers

The Moderna Patent Battle Continues

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board weighed in on the Moderna and NIH disagreement on who created the gene sequence at the essence of the Moderna vaccine. The opinion piece, Ganging Up on Moderna raises many of the issues that usually play out behind the walled garden of the patent sphere — who are the inventors, who owns what, who is licensing what technology from whom, is everyone playing on a level playing field. This article presents another view of the dynamics of taxpayer-funded (or maybe not taxpayer-funded) innovation. It's worth a read.

You can read the editorial here.

Alexa, Order the Rolex

Biometrics have typically involved faces, fingerprints, and, more recently, your voice. iPhone users use facial recognition and fingerprint scanning about 50 times a day. There are no statistics on how many times a day those same users operate their phones with their voice. Acceptance of biometrics is increasing as well as long as the user controls its use. At the same time, voice interfaces are also growing in use and acceptance. Your voice is your newest biometric.

A new biometric patent is from the University of Florida — 11176960, "Method and Apparatus for Differentiating Between Human and Electronic Speaker for Voice Interface Security," was granted on Tuesday. This invention presents a way to enable voice-operated devices to differentiate between human speakers and voice bots. The inventors have figured out a way to use the anatomical mechanisms of human speech — the lungs, the larynx, and the articulators (the tongue, cheeks, lips, palate, throat, and nasal cavity) to create technology that will differentiate between human speech and synthetic speech. 

Juniper Research estimates there will be 275 million digital voice assistance by 2023. Digital voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant control more than 3 billion IoT devices. This figure is expected to more than double by 2023. The use of voice interfaces and speech-to-text conversions is growing exponentially in many other locations — cars, smart TVs, the operating room, even elevators in the pandemic era of no-touch interfaces. Technology that knows the difference between a human voice and a machine-created voice means that the opportunities for nefarious activities are growing too. The new technology will help stop bots from ordering things (Alexa order the Rolex). It will also prevent opening your front door (Hey Google, unlock the front door.) Unless it's your voice that does it 


Motor Coach Seat Belts

This week's patents included 11173871, "Retrofit Seat Belt System for Motor Coach, with Impact Dampers and Cable Support." The Department of Transportation funded this work.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst invented a new three-point seatbelt system for retrofitting motor coaches, buses. As the patent notes, a typical motor coach carries dozens of people, making the consequences of a crash even more severe than crashes involving passenger cars. The motor coach industry today is faced with the challenge of protecting the safety of its passengers.  

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, less than half of the 30,000 buses on the road today have shoulder belts. These busses make 600 million passenger trips a year. Shoulder belts became mandatory on larger buses built after 2016 — and even fewer have structural improvements to strengthen the vehicles' sides and roof to absorb impact in crashes. The invention may help get the older buses retrofitted.  

Here's the issue with this invention? Will anyone on a bus use it? 

Handwriting Recognition for Intel

Optical character recognition for handwriting has been around for a while. The Census Bureau, the purveyors of vast amounts of data from handprinted survey forms of all kinds, started using OCR for its forms before the 2000 Census. This type of data capture has required structured forms and fancy ways to improve the capture and accuracy of the data. Finding and extracting handwriting from unstructured documents remains a considerable challenge.

Tuesday's newly granted patents included 11176361, "Handwriting Detector, Extractor, and Language Classifier."  The patent notes, 

High-value documents, such as mission plans or intelligence reports, may be handwritten for cultural reasons or to frustrate electronic methods of surveillance. The age-old method of couriering sealed handwritten documents is impervious to modern threats of hacking and electronic attack. Most of today's handwritten documents do not possess such levels of intrigue but rather reflect everyday activities such as diaries, calendar notes, letters, to-do lists, and other common artifacts. However, even these seemingly mundane snippets of information can shed light on an intelligence analysis problem if properly indexed and searched. A large volume of documents contains unstructured handwriting notes mixed with print and images.  

Some of our adversaries don't use Google Docs or store their plans on their iPhones. Instead, they handwrite documents and make notes on maps and hard copies of pictures. 

The newly patented invention hunts through images of electronic documents, finds areas that have handwriting, and figures out the language of the handwriting based on the shapes of the characters. Once you know the language and where it is, software can extract the words and figure out what the handwriting says. The invention also includes ways to extract handwriting on top of the text and deal with handwriting using different color pens. This type of handwriting recognition will be a useful tool for the Intel Community.

The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict in the Office (ASD SOLIC) of the Secretary of Defense funded this research. And Raytheon put all the contract information in the government interest statement on this one.

The Innovation Agenda

The Fog of War

The fog of war is the uncertainty in situational awareness experienced in military operations. Fog is a metaphor for war's ambiguities. Once a battle begins, tactically relevant information can become confusing and even distorted. DARPA seeks to fix that problem and turn it into an advantage.

On November 2, 2021, DARPA's Defense Sciences Office released a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) called Coded Visibility (CV). This program's goal is to develop next-generation obscurant systems to provide US forces with "an asymmetric advantage in combat. DARPA wants to enhance our soldiers' visibility while suppressing adversary visibility and detection."

First, obscurants are anthropogenic (manufactured) smoke or fog. Second, there are problems with the current obscurants. DARPA explains,

  • Using the current fog and smoke obscurants block our soldiers' visibility and that of our adversaries. The net is no strategic advantage.

  • Once you use one of these obscurants, you're stuck with what you get. There are no making changes once you've let obscurants loose.

  • These things are nasty and can choke our soldiers. Soldiers need to use respirators. As we all know from the last 18 months of COVID, masks impair performance. Military-grade respirators are bigger, heavier, and more in the way than these little KN-95 masks we're wearing.

There are three high-level technical requirements. Here they are without the military jargon. We'll simplify it here. DARPA wants a next-gen solution that is tailorable to enable "asymmetric vision." We can see them. They can't see us. Second, DARPA wants a tunable solution. A solution that can be tuned after the obscurant has been let loose. Simply put, DARPA wants more control of the fog and smoke once it's operational. Finally, they want a safe solution. The BAA notes that the current obscurants contain "metal flakes that known to pose a risk to respiratory health and the environment, requiring the use of gas masks and respirators." The goal here is to make these obscurants safe and breathable for personnel. (And not create new obscurants that turn out to be bioweapons.)

DARPA wants obscurants that enable US forces to see the adversary's trucks, tanks, old pickup trucks with combatants, and machine guns in the back. DARPA doesn't want the adversaries to see our equipment or, more importantly, our soldiers and marines. 

DARPA and the branches have already invested serious R&D into creating infrared night vision goggles (soon-to-be night vision glasses to solve the neck injury issues.) This technology, as we've noted before has enabled the Army to "own the night." DARPA wants to keep it that way. This technology will help enable a new way to design and use obscurants.

There is a compelling reason to read this BAA document, even if you aren't a particulate enthusiast. Coded Visibility is a window into the nexus of new and emerging technology in infrared vision, nanoparticle and bioparticle science, plume dynamics, and the state of the art of the real fog of war.

Next, DARPA will be reaching out to Harry Potter to see if he and Hogwarts want to collab on a new invisibility cloak for US forces. New taxpayer-funded nanofiber textile fabrication innovations that make the DOD invisibility cloak feasible.

Another Gray Area

In the course of patent events, we sometimes vacuum up patents that are not officially federally funded. We find new inventions from entities that do a lot of federally funded R&D. This time. They don't cite taxpayer funding. This week we found this new intention from MITRE.

MITRE patent 11175634, "Robust and resilient timing architecture for critical infrastructure," is an invention to protect the transmission and precision of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) clock synchronization to vital information systems. The ‘634 patent identifies dependence on the Global Positioning System (GPS), a mechanism widely relied upon for precise timing, as a single point of failure vulnerable to environmental and intentional disruptions. Instead, the MITRE solution is a distributed network consisting of local communication points transmitting clock reference and correction information broadcast via Frequency Modulation (FM) band radio signals.

The MITRE inventors don't envision the complete elimination of GPS, but a combination of ground-based reference clocks fed by high-speed fiber and GPS spread spectrum signals to verify the performance of a synchronized timing system. This invention is an important addition to cybersecurity. 

A Note on the Federal Innovation Ecosphere

Every week we find a few of these gray area patents and applications where the management companies for the big FFRDCs are patenting their own inventions without citing government funding. We also have a long list of companies whose annual reports show that almost all of their work is for the military and the intelligence community. Yet, these firms have robust portfolios of patents, with not a single one citing government funding. These aren't Bayh-Dole scofflaws where they acknowledge funding from the federal government but don't say from who. These firms have patents for inventions that tie back to their work for the Feds that have no citations at all. We're working through that analysis and will report it to our subscribers when it's ready for prime time.

Bayh-Dole Scofflaws

This week we have four patents assigned to Bayh-Dole scofflaws, entities that don't disclose the statutorily required information on the federal department and contract through which they received taxpayer funding:

  • Raytheon Technologies for gas turbine engines (11174757); 

  • Northrup Grumman Systems Corporation received a patent for a high-performance optical absorber (11175437). The patent presents another carbon nanotube invention.

  • Two electronic warfare-related inventions from BAE Systems Information and Electronic Systems Integration Inc. (11177848 and 11177852)

You'll find these patents on the Government Interest Acknowledged panel.

Patents By The Numbers

On Tuesday, November 16, 2021, the Patent Office granted 6,782 patents. One hundred thirty-seven (137) of those newly granted patents benefitted from taxpayer funding. Here are the numbers for these taxpayer-funded patents:

  • 130 patents have Government Interest Statements.

  • 30 have an applicant or an assignee that is a government agency.

  • The 137 patents have 147 department-level funding citations.

  • These patents are the work of 515 inventors.

  • The 498 American inventors come from 35 states and the District of Columbia.

  • The Big Three States:

    California has 29 first-named inventors and 134 total inventors. 

    Massachusetts has 14 first-named inventors and 64 total inventors. 

    Texas has nine first-named inventors and 29 total inventors.  

  • Seventeen foreign inventors come from seven countries.

  • There are 72 patents (52.5%) where at least one assignee is a college or university, the HERD.

  • Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) received 13 patents.

  • A federal department is the only assignee on 16 patents.

  •  Five patents have Y CPC classifications indicating that USPTO believes the invention may be useful in helping to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Patent Count By Department

Count By Technology Center

Here is this week's Tech Center breakdown.

The Health Complex

The table below shows the Department of Health and Human Services funding citations for patents granted on November 16, 2021. 

That's this week's FedInvent patent update.

Before We Go

Next Thursday's FedInvent Patent Application Report will be included with the Thursday, December 2, 2021 application newsletter. We're sure you won't want to read about patents over the holiday weekend, and we want to avoid the FedInvent family from giving us the evil eye because we are fooling around with patents while the turkey is in the oven.

As usual, there are many more taxpayer-funded patents than we can cover here.  Please explore the FedInvent Patent Report.  It’s an important addition to your newsletter subscription.

If you'd like to catch up on earlier FedInvent Reports, you can access the newsletters here on Substack. In addition, the reports are available on the FedInvent Links page.

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We'll see you later this week with the FedInvent report on Thursday's published pre-grant patent applications and the latest on taxpayer-funded patents, and the latest on the federal innovation ecosphere. 

The FedInvent Team 

FedInvent tells the stories of inventors, investigators, and innovators. Wayfinder Digital's FedInvent Project follows the federal innovation ecosphere, taxpayer money, and the inventions it pays for.

FedInvent is a work in progress. Please reach out if you have questions or suggestions. You can reach us at info@wayfinder.digital