Coal Blah Blah Blah

FedInvent Apps Newsletter November 11, 2021

Hello from FedInvent,

On Thursday, November 11, 2021, the Patent Office published 7,299 pre-grant patent applications. One hundred seventy-seven (177) of those applications benefitted from taxpayer funding.

The FedInvent Patent Report is available here.  You can browse the patent details by Department here.

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Here are a few of Thursday's highlights:

  • Coal — Not Blah, Blah, Blah

  • Breast and Ovarian Cancer Vaccines

  • The Genome Defense — A Good Read

  • Keep Things Moving

  • A Life Line for Electrical Workers

  • Alcohol-Impaired Driving Technology Is Now The Law

  • And the Applications By The Numbers


Coal — Blah, Blah, Blah

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, ended with what is being called the Coal Compromise. According to Reuters, there was last-minute drama as India, backed by China and other coal-dependent developing nations, rejected a clause in the agreement calling for the "phase-out" of coal-fired power. After a huddle between China, India, the United States, and European Union envoys, the clause was amended to ask countries to "phase-down" their coal use. 

We'll skip making snarky comments on the carbon footprint of the hundreds of private jets that brought the climate change dignitaries to Glasgow, Scotland, or commenting on Greta Thunberg's uncannily accurate blah, blah, blah dismissal of the global leaders. Instead, we'll focus on coal and rare earth elements for a few paragraphs.  

The advancement and increasing interest in green energy production and environmental protection technologies have spurred rare earth elements. Rare earth elements (REEs) are a group of 17 chemical elements in the periodic table, including scandium, yttrium, and 15 lanthanides. REEs are critical materials for many applications in the defense and national security sectors. REEs are widely used in high technology products such as permanent magnets used by clean energy technologies like the generators of wind turbines, lasers, health care devices, catalysts, rechargeable batteries, anti-missile weapon systems, and other devices. Due to their electromagnetic, metallurgical, and optical properties, REEs also play irreplaceable roles in global clean energy technology development.

University of Wyoming researchers Dr. Maohong Fan and Zaixing Huang are the inventors on publication 20210347652, "Methods and Apparatus for Separation of Rare Earth Elements From Coal Ash." Their application covers methods for separating rare earth elements from coal, coal by-products, and coal-derived products. Chemical engineering, scaling up for industrial use and commercialization aside, the ability to extract rare earth elements from coal and coal ash could change the market dynamics for rare earth elements and address the need for environmentally beneficial coal ash disposal.

Top Countries for World's Coal Reserves

  1. United States (22%)

  2. Russia (15%)

  3. Australia (14%)

  4. China (14%)

  5. India (10%)

Top Countries for the World's Rare Earth Elements Reserves

  1. China (37%)

  2. Vietnam (18%)

  3. Brazil (17.5%)

  4. Russia (10%)

  5. India (5.75%)

  6. Australia (3.4%)

  7. United States (1.25%) (Tied with Greenland)

(Source: US Geological Service)

The EPA estimates that 140 million tons of coal ash are generated annually. A green approach to dealing with this industrial waste globally will be a nice secondary benefit if this invention is feasible.

This is not blah, blah, blah. 

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Breast and Ovarian Cancer Vaccines

Each week when we dig out all of the federally funded patents and patent applications inventions, we find many related to treatments and detection of cancer. There are 15 applications this week. There were nine patents on Tuesday. Since we started publishing the newsletter, we have identified at least 325 patents and applications that are cancer-focused.  

We only count the patents where the inventors explicitly identify the invention as being useful in treating cancer. 

This week we found 20210346480, "Breast and Ovarian Cancer Vaccines," an application from three scientists at the University of Washington. The three inventors, all women, include two experts in the immunology and immunotherapy of breast and ovarian cancers and a biostatistician. All We enthusiastically embrace the inclusion of data experts. The US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC) and the National Cancer Institute funded this work.

Over 1 million people are diagnosed with breast cancer worldwide, and more than 400,000 people die of breast cancer each year. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. Preventing the development of breast cancer could have significant health and economic benefits for all individuals. Billions of healthcare dollars would be saved if people did not receive expensive cancer-related surveillance and therapeutic interventions. The mothers, daughters, sisters, and families out there hope it works.


The Genome Defense

The breast cancer patents and patent applications resonated more than usual this week. We're reading Jorge Contreras' new book, The Genome Defense — Inside the Epic Legal Battle To Determine Who Owns Your DNA. Mr. Contreras lays out the legal and scientific drama that surrounded the AMP v. Myriad gene patent case.  

First, any author who can make content on patents engaging and consumable is to be commended. Mr. Contreras upped the patent author game by writing about the BRAC DNA patents and head-exploding genetics. After reading this book, give it up if you don't understand patentability, what a product of nature is, and what a composition of matter is.

(In my half-Irish, half-Ashkenazi Jewish family, we've had lots of BRAC1 and BRAC2 genetic testing and genetic counseling. Much of it required second opinions making this book an especially compelling read.) 

There is a lot of marginalia in the FedInvent copy. The best three sentences in the book are the explanation of the three parts of a patent.  

A patent… consists of three main parts: a lengthy background section, a detailed description of the invention, and finally, a set of legal "claims" that stake out what the inventor owns.

The first part of a patent reads like a scientific paper written by a lawyer, and the last part reads like a legal document written by a scientist. In both cases, you get the worst of both worlds.

We'll be using this one all the time, with attribution to Mr. Contreras, of course.

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Keeping Things Moving

The pharma patents and applications can be surprising. You need to get past the title to figure out what's going on. That's the case with 20210347742, "CFTR Regulators and Methods of Use Thereof." Inventors from the University of California, San Francisco, have invented a new compound that may be effective for both dry eye disease and constipation. (We get it, it keeps things moving.) While the inventors didn't quantify the cost of dry eye disease, they note that healthcare costs associated with constipation are significant. It is estimated that about $7 billion is spent annually to treat constipation, with more than $500 million spent on laxatives. Four different institutes at NIH funded their work.  


COVID Detectives

There are two new COVID-19 detection-related inventions this week. The first is for a Rapid Field-Deployable Detection of SARS-CoV-2 Virus from inventors from the J David Gladstone Institutes and the University of California.

The second is 20210349104, "Viral Serology Assays," from a who's who of scientists from the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The Department of Health and Human Services and Meso Scale Technologies, LLC. 


A Life Line for Electrical Workers

The Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana, applied for a patent published as publication number 20210346738, "Electrical Safety Emergency Response Systems and Related Methods." This application is for an electrical worker safety system consisting of a flexible vest and coupled eight-foot nonconductive lifeline to extract a worker safely from danger.

According to the proposed invention, the emergency response system allows enough flexibility for a worker wearing the vest to operate without impeding effective movement while significantly improving the ability to maneuver an injured worker away from an accident and avoid additional injury. 

The prior art? A rope draped over the worker attended to by a safety observer.


Alcohol-Impaired Driving Technology Is Now The Law

On November 8, 2021, the House of Representatives finally passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Infrastructure Bill. In the August 31 FedInvent Newsletter, we wrote about the bill, including provisions to mandate the incorporation of advanced impaired driving technology in new passenger vehicles. When the bill is signed, it will be the law.

The Secretary of Transportation has three years to issue a final rule prescribing a Federal motor vehicle safety standard that requires passenger motor vehicles manufactured after the effective date of that standard to be equipped with advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology. Vehicle manufacturers will be required to implement the technology no earlier than two years and not more than three years after the date on which that rule is issued. This timeline means that the final rule should be released by November 2024, assuming the bill gets signed this month. The new alcohol detection devices would need to be installed in new vehicles between 2026 and 2027. (This seems like a very ambitious timeline.) 

Many technical and social issues will need to be resolved, not the least of which is how this technology will work. The current technology has lots of limitations — hot car problems, cold car problems, the need to switch from a passive sensor to one that requires the driver to actively blow into a sensor to turn on the vehicle when environmental issues impede passive sensors. There are a host of privacy issues and the cultural issue on whether the 229+ million drivers in the US will accept having to prove they are innocent before they can use their car. No doubt, the constitutionality of the technology will be challenged as well. There is also another substantial issue. Can this technology be integrated into the ignition system of electric vehicles in the same timeframe?  

One thing is for sure, now that impaired driving technology is the law, the patents held by early inventions funded by the Department of Transportation's National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) will be in play. 

In the meantime, Sec. 25025 and Sec. 25026 of the bill deal with drug-impaired driving data collection and marijuana research. These sections cover a host of gnarly issues, including the toxicity of legal versus illegal marijuana, what products are available where, and reporting of alcohol and drug toxicology results in cases of motor vehicle crashes. Stay tuned for a host of new research grants focused on how to detect marijuana use and the presence of a drug-impaired driver.  

The bill also calls for ways to monitor backseat seat belt use and to detect that there may be a child in the car when it's turned off. The biosensor researchers will be busy.


Patent Applications By The Numbers

On Thursday, November 11, 2021, USPTO published 7,299 pre-grant patent applications. One hundred seventy-seven (177) of those applications benefitted from taxpayer funding. Here are the patent application numbers for Thursday:

  • 171 patent applications have Government Interest Statements.

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

  • The 177 applications have 193 department-level funding citations.

  • These applications are the work of 559 inventors.

  • The 551 American inventors come from 35 states. 

  • 8 foreign inventors come from 7 countries, including two inventors from the Russian Federation.

  • There are 114 applications (64%) where at least one assignee is a college or university, the HERD.

  • One patent application is the result of a collaboration between five different higher education R&D entities.

  • A Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDCs) is the assignee or applicant on 19 applications.

  • A federal department is one of the assignees on 19 patents.

There are no patent applications with Y CPC classifications indicating that USPTO believes the invention may be useful in helping to mitigate the impact of climate change. (But there are lots of applications that are beneficial in mitigating climate change.)

Six patent applications list only the inventors. Five of those applications are the work of inventors with university affiliations. The sixth, 20210351559, is the work of a group of inventors who work for MIT Lincoln Labs (MITLL), a federally funded research and development center. Officially MITLL is a University Affiliated Research Center funded by the US Air Force.  

Patent Application Count By Department

The table below shows the number of patent applications citing funding by one or more Department Level entities.

The Health Complex

The following table shows the number of funding references citing the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the individual Institutes.  

That's this week's FedInvent patent applications update. The FedInvent Patent Applications Report has the data and the details on many more taxpayer-funded inventions.

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

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

Thanks for reading FedInvent. We'll see you next week for the latest on taxpayer-funded patents, new patent applications, and the latest on the federal innovation ecosphere. If you aren't a paid subscriber yet, please consider subscribing.

The FedInvent Team 


About FedInvent 

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. 

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