Monday, July 28, 2008

Are Software Patents On Shaky Ground?

For those of us who work with the US intellectual property system on a regular basis, it is pretty clear that there are some fairly serious systemic problems. Interestingly enough, it seems that the USPTO may be rethinking its position on software patents, specifically as a way to discourage the 'patent trolls'. A patent troll, I might add, is the ancient and hereditary enemy of the intellectual property gnomes.

It looks to me and some others that there may be fewer, higher quality software patents in the USPTO's future, and from my perspective this is a 'good thing' indeed. The system cannot work when choked by an undigestible mass of low quality software patents, so anything to stem the tide should be applauded. It remains to be seen, however, whether these relatively minor adjustments will be enough to save the system. Patents on gene sequences, software patents, 'futurist patents' (patents on inventions no one actually knows how to build now but may be possible later), and more all raise serious questions about how and if a rational, fair, and efficient intellectual property system can be built.

Monday, July 14, 2008

New Tools for DNA Manipulation

This is a fairly interesting development - it seems that a Japanese company has developed some very small MEMS (micro electro-mechanical systems) designed to improve our ability to accurately manipulate strands of DNA without breaking them. Like many current systems they use optical tweezers to move the DNA strands around, but the novelty here are the micro 'bobbins' and 'hooks' that allow users to hold a strand in place and edit it. Kind of like a DNA sewing machine.

Infrastructure tools for the bio-design revolution - they arent really here yet, but when they are it may have systemic effects as profound as the development of the general purpose computer.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

First Solar Thermal Component Plant to go Online in Nevada

Utility scale (>10 Megawatt) solar thermal systems are now poised to go mainstream as Austra plans to open a plant in Nevada to mass produce some of the essential components. Previously, most solar thermal installations (especially for utilities) were one-off 'proof of concept' affairs which had a generally negative impact on the resulting price per watt figures, so a source for standardized components is a fairly significant step.

As far as I am concerned, any efforts to improve the state of the art in thermal or panel based solar systems should be supported vigorously.

The Ausra news release can be found here.