US Intellectual Property Chinese Inventors
The Latest FedInvent Newsletter
Hello from FedInvent,
We hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving. We're back with our latest communique on the federal innovation ecosphere. But first, here is the link to the latest FedInvent Reports.
US Intellectual Property Finds Its Way To China
The dominant theme in science and technology policy discussions is the theft of US intellectual property (IP) and concern about how US know-how and innovations wind up in China. "The greatest long-term threat to our nation's information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality, is the counterintelligence and economic espionage threat from China," according to FBI Director Christopher Wray. The FBI reports that the People's Republic of China has mounted a sustained and ongoing industrial espionage program for the systematic theft of US intellectual property. China's brazen cyber intrusions target businesses, academic institutions, researchers, lawmakers, and the general public.
Congress is now investigating UniEnergy Technologies' transfer of its US government license to produce vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB) technology to a Chinese entity. This VRFB technology, designed by the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory with the express purpose of advancing US national interests and fostering a manufacturing boom in our country, is estimated to have cost US taxpayers more than $15 million to develop. Multiple letters from Congress to DOE Secretary Granholm note, "Instead of advancing our strategic interests, it appears that DOE has allowed this critical technology to be given to foreign entities, including some based in the People's Republic of China (PRC)."
On November 15, 2022, GAO released a new report, "China: Efforts Underway to Address Technology Transfer Risk at US Universities, but ICE Could Improve Related Data." The federal government spends billions of dollars yearly on research conducted at US universities. International students and scholars contribute to this research. GAO reports that about a third of foreign graduate students studying STEM at US universities are Chinese nationals.
From 2016-2020 there were 722,765 (32%) Chinese nationals studying STEM at US universities —some with access to sensitive research. The only group of foreign nationals studying in the US larger than the Chinese national cohort is the 925,352 STEM students from India. These students make up forty-one percent (41%) of foreign STEM students. During the COVID pandemic, the number of international students dropped but has rebounded since international travel reopened. Recent reports have noted the importance of, and challenges in, combating undue foreign influence, particularly from the PRC, while maintaining an open research environment.
US agencies have identified several factors indicating the types of students—such as being from a country of concern like China—who may pose a greater risk of transferring technology to foreign entities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement keeps a database related to these factors but hasn't assessed if it needs updating to capture additional data related to these risks. Also, some ICE data may indicate students' access to technology is incomplete.
Another aspect of this equation is how many Chinese researchers work on projects that receive taxpayer funding. Patents and patent applications are public sources of information about the nature of the technology Chinese nationals work on. We decided to look at the FedInvent portfolio of patents and applications published between 2021 and 2022. Here is what we found.
Taxpayer Funding of Chinese Researchers
From January 7, 2021, through November 22, 2022, 353 patents or patent applications had at least one Chinese national listed as an inventor. There are 150 patents and 203 patent applications. (You can see the full list of patents and patent applications here.)
Department-level funding for projects with Chinese nationals listed as inventors is as follows:
DOD, DOE and the Research Labs
Patents and applications with Department of Defense (DOD funding citations include 28 with Army funding citations, 23 with Air Force citations, and 11 documents with funding citations from the Navy.
The research labs also funded work that resulted in patents with Chinese nationals as inventors. The Air Force Research Lab and Air Force Office of Scientific Research appeared in 22 citations. The Navy Office of Naval Research appeared in eight. DARPA was a funding source cited six times.
The Department of Energy's ARPA-E appeared 11 times as a source of funding for projects with Chinese nationals as inventors.
Patents Owned By US Universities — Eighty-nine percent (89%) of the patents and applications with Chinese nationals as inventors have higher education R&D (HERD) entities — colleges, universities, and postdoc academic research institutes as applicants and/or assignees.
Patents Owned by Chinese Universities — Of the 353 patents and applications, 39 cite ownership by a foreign college, university, or research entity. Thirty-three (33) of those are owned by Chinese academic institutions. Twenty-six (26) inventions are co-owned by a US academic institution and a Chinese university. Three are co-owned with the Chinese university and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Three more are owned by a US university, a Chinese University, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). One patent is owned exclusively by a Chinese University.
Taxpayer-Funded Patents Assigned To Chinese Academic Institutions
Co-Owned By US and Chinese University —26
Co-Owned by the US Government and a Chinese University — 3
Co-Owned By US and Chinese University, and the US Government — 3
Owned by a Chinese University — 1
TOTAL — 33
One invention with US taxpayer funding is assigned to a Chinese university. PG Pub Number 2022024329, "Molecular Detection Of Novel Coronaviruses," is assigned to the University of Hong Kong. The patent application was filed in December 2021 and published by August 2022. HHS funded the invention.
This application is the work of three esteemed Hong Kong-based virologists — Drs Leo LM Poon, Malik Peiris, and Daniel KW Chu. Leo Poon is the Head of the Division of Public Health Laboratory Science at the University of Hong Kong. In 2003, Professor Poon was involved in the discovery of a novel coronavirus as the cause of SARS. He was one of the first scientists to decode the SARS coronavirus sequence. Identifying the SARS coronavirus in humans and animals prompted him to hunt for novel viruses in wildlife. This work led to the discovery of the first and many other coronaviruses in bats. He is currently actively involved in studies related to MERS and SARS-CoV-2. Joseph Sriyal Malik Peiris is a Hong Kong-based British and Sri Lankan virologist, most notable for being the first person to isolate the SARS virus.
Federally Funded Research and Development Centers
Twenty-one (6%) of the patents or applications with Chinese national inventors are assigned to US Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs). Nineteen are DOE FFRDCs. One patent is funded by the MIT Lincoln Lab, a US Air Force FFRDC, and University Affiliated Research Center. One patent is funded by the Jet Propulsion Lab at Cal Tech. The Jet Propulsion Lab is an FFRDC funded by NASA.
Taxpayer-Funded Patents Owned by Chinese Companies
There are two patents and three applications owned or jointly owned by Chinese companies. The Department of Energy funded one patent. The National Institutes of Health funded the other four.
1) Patent 10900047 — Novoymes Inc. funded by the National Energy Technology Laboratory by a cooperative R&D agreement between Novozymes and the Department of Energy.
The Novozymes project team includes Novozymes, Inc (Davis, CA, USA); Novozymes, A/S (Bagsvaerd, Denmark); Novozymes Investment, China (Beijing, China); Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Richland, WA, USA); Université de la Méditerranée and Universite de Provence (France); Cornell University (Ithaca, NY, USA).
2) Patent 11020494 — Crown Bioscience Inc. (Taicang). The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at NIH invention funded this invention via a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant.
Crown Bioscience is a global contract research organization (CRO) providing discovery, preclinical and translational platforms to advance oncology, immuno-oncology, and immune-mediated inflammatory diseases. Crown Bioscience Inc. (Taicang) is in Taicang, China.
3) Published Patent Application 20210100877 — Generon (Shanghai) Corporation Ltd. and the University of Pittsburgh.
4) Published Patent Application 20210138038 — Generon (Shanghai) Corporation Ltd. and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
5) Published Patent Application 20220091129 — Jingjie PTM BioLab (Hangzhou) Co., Inc.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at NIH funded the three applications assigned to Generon (Shanghai) Corporation (2) or Jingjie PTM BioLab (Hangzhou) Co., Inc. (1).
Generon (Shanghai) Corporation is an integrated biotech company located in Zhang Jiang Hi-Tech Park, Shanghai, China. The firm utilizes cutting-edge biotechnologies to discover, develop and produce biomedicines. Generon (Shanghai) Corporation collaborates with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the University of Pittsburgh.
Jingjie PTM BioLab (Hangzhou) Co., Inc. develops and distributes biotechnology products. The Company produces protein-modified pan-antibody coupling resins, unmodified antibodies, histone modification antibodies, protein-modified pan antibodies, and other products. Jingjie PTM BioLab (Hangzhou) also operates import and export businesses.
As you review the patent list, you'll see that Chinese national inventors working on projects with taxpayer funding are involved in a wide swath of US science and technology R&D.
A Caveat — The information on Chinese nationals presented here reflects those inventors who have declared themselves as being from China, Macau, and Hong Kong. This analysis doesn't include inventors who are students or visiting researchers whose "location" appears on a patent as the location of the university where they work. We find these inventors when we research the origins of a patent or a grant and find citations like "Dr. So and So, Wuhan University" along with citations of US taxpayer funding in academic journal articles that matched the grant cited on the patent." We exclude these inventors from our analysis.
What We're Working On
The FedInvent team has been busy mapping Department of Energy (DOE) funding from grants, national laboratory contracts, and cooperative R&D agreements to the patents that cite them. FedInvent already maps patents from the Department cited on the patent down four or five levels into the agencies and projects that funded them. We wanted to use the DOE grant information to look deeper at where the taxpayer money is going and who owns the IP that comes from it.
The DOE grant to patent analysis reveals information on who is working with whom. The grants show who received the grant money. The patents reveal who received the patents. And in theory, the entity that will be commercializing the invention. In the world of technology transfer, this is called downstream outcomes.
For example, a grant awarded to Stanford University resulted in a patent assigned to Harvard. A $2 million grant from DOE's National Energy Technology Lab for a project titled "Innovative Manufacturing and Materials for Low Cost Lithium Ion Batteries" was awarded to Optodot Corporation. A patent, 11355817, citing the same taxpayer-funded grant, is assigned to LG Energy Solution, Ltd. LG Energy Solution (LGES), one of the world's largest battery makers. LGES company is headquartered in Seoul, South Korea. LGSE builds large lithium-ion battery cells and packs for electric vehicles (EVs) and other energy storage applications. Here the US taxpayer-funded development of intellectual property owned by a Korean battery manufacturer.
LG Energy Solution has a joint venture with General Motors to build an EV battery factory in Ohio and a second joint venture with Honda to build a $4.4 billion battery factory in the US at an undisclosed location. The Honda LG Energy Solution factory will be delivering batteries by 2025. It's unclear if the technology in the patent will be part of this effort, but at least LGES will be building EV batteries in the US.
There is scientific dispersion, the term used to describe when scientific discoveries and know-how spread across a community of researchers. Then there is taxpayer money dispersion, where the money goes to one entity, then it flows to others. This downstream entity is getting the patents. One of the important issues here is who is making sure that these second-tier entities abide by the requirements and spirit of the Bayh-Dole Act that enables the organization to retain title to the invention.
FedInvent is also analyzing the National Science Foundation (NSF) grants data to see which grants resulted in the most patents. If you want to know where the federal R&D funding goes, what innovations come from it, and maybe, more importantly, who owns the inventions, documenting the nexus between the money and the inventions is essential.
The DOE and NSF projects are both very fulfilling exercises in data geekery.
FedInvent Custom Reports
If you'd like a custom analysis, FedInvent and the team at Wayfinder Digital would be happy to help you. Reach out to us at email@example.com. We'd love the opportunity to work together.
As our readers know, FedInvent is not a happy camper about the new public patent search tool that the USPTO released on October 1, 2022, the first day of the government fiscal year 2023. We suspect this is one of the race to the cloud projects underway at USPTO. No doubt this move to the new platform will show up on the 2023 report to Congress on USPTO's IT "achievements" for GFY 23.
Every time we use this apparatus, a patent word, we can't have more than one patent open. The application times out if you aren't active within a yet-to-be-determined timeframe. (Is USPTO trying to save money by limiting the number of concurrent users on its cloud platform?) If you are working on a lengthy analysis, you wind up re-entering the same search criteria to get back to your search.
The app also causes an explosion of tabs in your browser when you have one patent open and try to open a second, third, or fourth patent. Of course, you can't open the patent or app, but you get empty tabs nonetheless. Did anyone tell the people who designed this PPUB "application" that patent people often need to look at multiple patents at the same time to follow along with a rejection logic from your favorite patent examiner?
Then there's the missing data — the document display presents an assignee but not an applicant. The International Patent Classification symbols are missing in action as well. Patent people who understand classification like comparing the CPC and the IPC. And getting to a usable PDF is impossible unless you go to the European Patent Office's Espacenet site. (Really!!)
Today's complaint concerns the appearance of new mystery data in the new document display on the new platform — the Type Code. Check out the image below.
Our first instinct was USPTO coughed up some new useful data. Figuring out what it is is a challenge. We found nothing useful when we searched our databases and the files from USPTO. Next, we sent an email to the PPUB Help Desk. Someone at USPTO must know what this data is.
We sent our question along with a screenshot of the Type Code section of a patent. USPTO strips out the images when it delivers the email. This wasn't an executable file; it was a .png image. We get it, cybersecurity risk. Patent applicants upload drawings. USPTO can't scan an image to make sure there is no malicious code?
Our first attempt to get an explanation of the Type Code from the Help Desk resulted in an email that explained the CPC Current Type. CPCI is inventive content. CPCA is additional information useful for searching. Complete with a link to training material on the CPC. We'll skip the condescending tone of the email. So we tried again.
Without getting into the technical detail, our second attempt question was this, "The range of Type Codes appears to go from "01" to "09" and then "12", "14", "15", "16", "17", and possibly beyond. I have also found instances where there are multiple "Type Codes" (see example in attached image). Also, documents where the assignee is the inventor do not have "TYPE CODE" (s). Is this correct?"
Here's what we got back:
USPTO sent a link to the 1997 version of 667-page Green Book which has pages that go back to 1985. Unfortunately, the text in this document isn't accessible for search. We give up.
The USPTO's GFY 2023 Budget request includes $725.6 million in for the Office's IT program. USPTO made it clear that they were moving to the cloud. Earlier this month USPTO announced it was giving up a significant amount of space at its Alexandria facility. We can’t help but wonder if it was the part of the facility that housed the USPTO data centers.
We suspect part of the rush to put out a dysfunctional patent search tool was a race to the cloud by the end of the fiscal year. As a result, there was no feedback from the users of its system. USPTO spent money to take a working patent search tool and turn it into an almost unusable tool that only works in one desktop browser. Welcome to 1997.
One more thing. USPTO issued a Request for Comments on USPTO Initiatives To Ensure the Robustness and Reliability of Patent Rights. You can read it here. The RFC notes,
"The USPTO will continue our efforts to explore changes to the procedures for identifying prior art on information disclosure forms to provide efficiencies for applicants and to allow examiners to more readily identify key prior art through the development of an automated tool for USPTO examiners that imports relevant prior art and other pertinent information into pending US patent applications."
It would be helpful if external users, especially the ones who can't afford $200+ a month for commercial patent search products, had a search tool that was good at searching and letting users see more than one patent or application at once. The period for comments ends 01/03/2023. We'll try to calm down by then to submit a civilized response.
As always, if you have questions or ideas, please reach out to us. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please share FedInvent with other like-minded innovation enthusiasts. If you aren't a paid subscriber, please consider helping us keep the lights on.
Thanks for reading FedInvent.
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 email@example.com.
FedInvent is a reader-supported publication focused on the federal innovation ecosphere. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.