Patenting Chemical Inventions

Patenting Nootropic Compositions

Nootropic Technology and Patents

Nootropics are also called “smart drugs” or cognitive enhancers.  The term “nootropic’ covers drugs, supplements, or other substances that improve cognitive function.  In particular, these substances improve so-called “executive functions” such as memory, creativity, or motivation.

Examples of known nootropics include caffeine, modafinil, the racetams (e.g, piracetam, aniracetam, phenylpiracetam), nicotine, amphetamines, various, psychedelics, and many plant derived extracts and supplements.

Recently, ebbu, the leader in engineered cannabis products has figured out how to make formulations that enhance creativity and focus without the undesired side effects often associated with cannabis.

The Neurohacker Collective offers a product called Qualia, which they define as “a supplement stack with 42 ingredients that will optimize every major system of your brain so you can be more productive and create more impact in the world.”

Research and development in nootropics appears to be growing rapidly.  And rightfully so.  Who wouldn’t want a simple way to enhance cognitive function?  Now, the question on my mind: Can we patent these nootropics?

Patenting Nootropic Innovations

Nootropic research interests me for two reasons — one personal and one professional.

Personally, I like the idea of supercharging my brain.  Taken to the extreme, is there a supplement that would help me learn things faster?  Could I learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu techniques in a few minutes instead of a few months? Ideally, I would like to learn things as rapidly as my 8 month old.

Professionally, I like the field of nootropics because of the opportunities for creating patentable subject matter.

Nootropics can be claimed as compositions of matter.  Compositions of matter patents are my favorite because they define the invention chemically.  (I love chemistry and chemical patent law).  Also, I think composition claims are among the strongest claims available to an inventor because they cover all uses of the claimed composition.

Patenting New Formulations of Naturally Occurring Compounds

I’m also interested in nootropics because many of them appear to be found in nature — in plants and fungi.  That creates some interesting questions of patentability.  Here’s why: A natural product cannot be patented.  It’s not new.  It has been around forever in nature.  And under US patent law, only new things can be patented.

However, while the naturally occurring form of the nootropic cannot be patented, new forms or formulations of the nootropic can be patented.  Accordingly, if researchers discover a cognitive enhancer in some naturally occurring mushroom, they could not patent the mushroom itself.  (It’s not new).  But, they could probably patent purified forms of the nootropic and/or new formulations using that nootropic.  They could also pursue new methods of purifying the nootropic and/or formulating it.  In each case, the critical question is whether the “invention” is the product of human engineering.  (For a related discussion, see the uproar over Nestle and its patents related to the Fennel flower).

Likewise, a company like Neurohacker could seek patent protection for their Qualia product– assuming that their combination of 42 ingredients is a new combination.  Provided that the combination is new, the major hurdle to patentability would probably come down to whether that combination would have been “obvious” when the Neurohacker researchers made it.

At a high level, I cannot think of too many 42-member combinations that are “obvious” to formulate without some sort of guidance.  Nevertheless, the invention would be evaluated at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by the legal standard of obviousness.  Under that standard, I suspect that the inventors could demonstrate that their combination is not obvious by providing evidence about how that combination optimizes every major system of the users brain and/or makes the user more productive and/or allows the user to create more impact in the world.

 

Top 5 Patentable Food Technologies

Top 5 Patentable Food Technologies

Food and food technology are both patentable.  Patenting a new invention is one way for a firm to stay ahead of competitors. Many inventors never consider patenting food technology. Many wonder whether food is patentable at all.  To be clear, anything new and not obvious is potentially patentable. Including food and all of the technology relating to food.  For example, methods of preparing food, equipment, software, and novel compositions.  Below are five current examples of exciting technologies and innovations within the food industry.

1. Patenting Sous Vide Technology

Sous vide is a French technique where cooking is done through the use of an immersion circulator. Food is placed into a plastic bag, air is removed, and placed into a water bath at a precise temperature. The immersion circulator keeps the water at a precise temperature gently cooking the food all the way through.

The technology is expensive and was relegated mostly to restaurants. However, a number of retail products have become available (e.g., Joule, Anova, and Sansaire) that are relatively affordable and growing in popularity.

New food preparation devices are patentable

New food preparation devices are patentable

 

While the general technology is not new, improvements made to the technology are new. These new advances are potentially patentable, as long as the advances are new and not obvious.

2. Patenting Smaller Versions of Large Scale Equipment

Larger scale, industrial equipment is often very expensive. Using this technology for producing foods on a smaller scale for the average cook is often cost prohibitive. Improving equipment for cost effectiveness is patentable.

For example, a conche (Indi Chocolate) is a machine that distributes cocoa butter within chocolate to develop flavor and texture. The process is so important, that many chocolate manufactures keep their conching process secret.  See https://indichocolate.com/collections/chocolate-making-machines/products/wonder-grinder-model-2

Products like these may seem niche, but there is a growing trend amidst home cooks and chefs wanting to have control over the quality of their ingredients. Improvements to existing technology may focus on either home or restaurant use. Many home cooks may not want to make their own chocolate, but smaller restaurant, cafes, or bakeries are potential users.

3. Patenting Phone Apps and Devices for Food Preparation

Within the context of food technology, smartphones are used for setting a timer, for grocery shopping, and organizing recipes. But smartphones are rarely for preparing food.

For example, a thermometer that plugs into your phone. A growing trend is integrating smartphone technology into appliances. Samsung has a new oven connecting to a smartphone allowing controlling temperature, measuring food weight, and calculating calories.

4. Patenting Gluten Free Products and Compositions

Gluten free diets are a growing trend. Most grocery stores have specific gluten free sections. Maintaining gluten free diet is difficult because gluten is found in most foods. For example, wheat is used as part of the fermentation process for soy sauce. Many foods contain flour as a thickening agent and for maintaining food’s structure. Cross contamination becomes a risk for naturally gluten free foods exposed to gluten comprising foods.

Gluten free food technology could especially be valuable in the area of baking because gluten provides pastries, breads, and pizzas their structure. Gluten free technology is patentable by patenting the chemical composition. The chemical makeup of these products must be unique, i.e., never disclosed before.

5. Patenting Novel Food Compositions, Such as Aquafaba                                                            

Vegan diets are not just for ethical reasons but also for food sustainability reasons. Maintaining a vegan diet is difficult because animal based products are used in many foods. Eggs have many chemical properties that are hard to find in other ingredients. Some attempts for replicating these chemical properties are using various starches or other hard to find substitutes. But a recent discovery could change everything.

Aquafaba – the liquid from cooking legumes, like chickpeas – has similar properties as egg whites. Experts believe that the protein and starches in Aquafaba mimic the proteins in egg whites. For example, whipping Aquafaba to make meringue. Developing Aquafaba technology could benefit millions of vegans by producing protein compositions. Advances in this area is patentable.  New forms of Aquafaba could give rise to patentable compositions of matter.

See https://www.craftybaking.com/recipe/strawberry-cream-aquafaba-vegan-cake

Conclusion – Food and Food Technology is Patentable

Food technology is an enormous and growing industry.  Even more remarkable–this industry is just beginning to tap into the opportunities available for protecting and monetizing technology by using the patent system  Patents provide a powerful tool for those creating new and not obvious inventions.

 

This post was written by Alex Kong, JD.  Mr. Kong is an associate attorney at Chadeayne LLC with a background in chemistry and specialty in food technologies.

Patenting Beer – Claiming Compositions, Apparatus, and Methods of Brewing

Can I patent beer?

Yes, a brewer can patent beer.  Similarly, the inventor could pursue patents for new methods of making beer or new devices for making beer.  Those patents give the inventor the right to exclude others from making or using the invention without permission.  The idea is that the inventor should have the right to own the idea for a limited time in exchange for bringing it into the world.

The rapidly evolving Extreme Brewing community embodies innovation.  Brewers are constantly seeking out new— different — beers.  Accordingly, the industry is constantly inventing new technology.  

Beer can be patented as a composition of matter, giving the brewer ownership of that recipe

Beer can be patented as a composition of matter, giving the brewer ownership of that recipe

Like any other food technology, a new beer can be patented as a “composition of matter.”  The brewer would need to claim it in a patent application, explaining  how it differs from all other beers.  Here, defining the beer as a chemical invention provides numerous opportunities for distinguishing it from the prior art.

How to patent beer – claim it chemically

To receive a patent on beer, the inventor (i.e., the brewer) would benefit from claiming it as a new composition of matter.  The brewer should draft patent claims, defining the beer and showing its inventive features.  The claims should emphasize how the new beer differs chemically from all others that came before it.

For example, the beer could differ on account of using different ingredients.  Or, it could differ on account of selecting particular varieties of amounts of traditional ingredients.  For example, particular types and amounts of hops, herbs, spices, yeasts, and barley give rise to unique chemical properties.  Those sorts of innovations would justify a patent on the new composition of matter.  For a brewer who creates something truly innovative, claiming the invention chemically could provide the best way for capturing the value of that contribution.

A chemical invention from start to finish

Each of the components used to brew can be defined chemically.  Then, during the brewing process, these ingredients undergo a variety of chemical transformations. For example, during fermentation, yeast converts carbohydrates into ethanol and carbon dioxide.  Ultimately, the brewer enjoys a finished product, having its own chemical composition.

Often, new foods and beverages are readily distinguished based on their molecular components.  Each of these distinctions provides an opportunity for patenting the invention.  The brewer creates inventive subject matter every time he deviates from traditional recipes or methods.  Recently the TV Show Brew Dogs discussed adding kelp to beer.  Dogfish Head Brewing recently t introduced a beer with garlic.  And Ballast Point is currently serving a beer called “Red Velvet,” which is made with beets and chocolate.

Ballast Point is serving a "Red Velvet" Beer made with beets and chocolate

Ballast Point is serving a “Red Velvet” Beer made with beets and chocolate

An inventor of new (different) beer ideas can apply for a patent on those ideas.

Why bother patenting beer?

Many brewers scoff at the idea of filing a patent.  Or they find the idea immoral or untrue to the community.  Practically speaking, filing a patent application (on any technology) only makes sense if the invention is truly new and better.  (Something known or obvious cannot be patented).  If the invention meets those criteria, then filing a patent application would give the inventor the option for preventing competitors from practicing the invention.  The inventor/patent holder would get to decide who gets to use the invention.  For example, a small brewer with a patent could prevent (or demand royalties) if a large commercial entity began copying the invention.

What’s the process for patenting beer?

After drafting claims, the inventor would file them as part of a patent application at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”).  During patent prosecution at the USPTO, the application would be examined by an examiner.  The inventor would have the opportunity to explain why the beer is both new and innovative (i.e., nonobvious).  After convincing the examiner of the newness and nonobviousness of the beer, the examiner would allow the claims.  The inventor would then receive a patent on the new beer composition.

 

Food Patents – Can I patent a food or recipe?

Patenting Foods and Recipes

Recently the Huffington Post published an article on an ingenious new food that gets kids to eat their broccoli. When I see achievements like this, I always wonder whether the inventor filed a patent application on the new technology.

Foods are patentable, just like any other composition.  The patent laws do not distinguish a food simply because we eat it.  Rather, the law would classify food as a composition of matter.  At the United States Patent and Trademark Office, food recipes would probably fall under Patent Class 426: “Food or Edible Material.”

Can I patent food?

A new food can be patented as a composition of matter.

Food is Patentable as a Composition

Under U.S. Patent law, an inventor can patent a process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter.  The food must be new, useful, not obvious, and meet the other disclosure requirements for patentability.  However, the critical point remains the same:  Food can be patented.  The patent laws do not discriminate food from any other composition of matter.

The Food Must be “New”

Only new inventions can be patented.  This is ofteatent application35 U.S.C § 102.  Often, a “new” food is difficult to distinguish from a prior art food.  For example, an inventor may struggle to differentiate a truly innovative soup from all prior art soups that came before it.  For a truly new soup, drafting a successful patent application depends on the inventor’s approach to drafting claims.

Thinking Small

A clever way to distinguish one food from another is to describe it at the molecular level.  In the soup example above, understanding how one soup differs in molecular composition would provide a powerful means for defining the differences.  Instead of arguing why certain ingredients are subjectively better, the inventor could objectively quantify the improvement.  Instead of qualitatively explaining why certain recipes are better, the inventor could point to concrete molecular differences.  Defining a food invention in terms of it’s molecular composition provides a significant advantage when arguing for patentability during patent prosecution.

Food is patentable

The greatest challenge is explaining why a new food was truly innovative.  Here, Chef Peter Wong worked with some unique combinations of ingredients at the 2012 DC Chili Cook-off in Washington, DC.

The Food Must be “Non-Obvious”

For most inventions, obviousness is the critical hurdle to getting a patent.  The non-obviousness requirement for patentability is set forth in 35 U.S.C. § 103.  In short, the inventor must show that the food would not have been a trivial or routine advance beyond other  previously disclosed foods.  This area of patent law is very complicated for a variety of reasons.  The undisputed standard for evaluating whether an invention is obvious can be found in the Supreme Court’s 1966 Graham v. John Deere decision.

The Inventor Must Adequately Disclose the Food.

In order to receive a patent, the inventor must provide a comprehensive disclosure of the invention.  The inventor must also teach the public the best way to make and use it.  In the case of a new food, the inventor must teach the public how to make it without “undue experimentation.”  The recipe must be something that can be reproduced by someone having ordinary skill in the industry.  This disclosure rbargain an inventor accepts when applying for a patent.  The inventor must give up the secret recipe in exchange for a limited period of patent protection.

Organometallic Patent Expert

Organometallic Patents Benefit from an Expert in Organometallic Chemistry

Inventors of new inorganic or organometallic technology should work with patent professionals with expertise in inorganic or organometallic chemistry.  Inventors’ patents will always be limited by the technical expertise of their patent professionals.

Patent professionals can be viewed as translators, translating the technology into patented property

Patent professionals can be viewed as translators, translating the technology into patented property

For an inorganic or organometallic invention, the patent attorney should have expertise in the relevant technology (inorganic or organometallic chemistry) and chemical patent law.

Patent professionals often play the roll of translator for their clients.  We convert the technical scientific language into the language of legal patent documents.  Through this process, we draft claims, converting a physical thing into intellectual property.  A mediocre understanding of either patent law or the technology undermines the value of the resulting patent application.  This ultimately compromises the value of the resulting patent.

Unfortunately, inventive entities are often hasty in preparing patent applications.  They wait until the last minute.  Then, they find a patent professional who has a “good enough” understanding of the relevant technology.  Bad idea.  The patent process consumes several years and tens of thousands of dollars.  See costs.  At the end, the process yields an inventors single greatest asset: a government endorsed monopoly on the technology.  If the inventor creates something worthy of such a large expenditure, that inventor should not skimp on finding the right patent professional.

Inorganic and Organometallic Patent Expert

I am a card carrying hard core organometallic chemist.  When I refer to myself as an expert in organometallic chemistry, I do not mean that I once used Grubb’s catalyst in my organic synthesis.  To the contrary, I spent five years, earning my PhD from Peter T. Wolczanski.  See photo below.

Peter Wolczanski is a famous inorganic and organometallic chemist.  He is pictured here, next to the high vacuum line, which is a staple or inorganic laboratory equipment.

Peter Wolczanski is a famous inorganic and organometallic chemist. He is pictured here, next to the high vacuum line, which is a staple or inorganic laboratory equipment.

I have synthesized novel, highly air-sensitive transition metal compounds, characterized them, and studied their reactivity.

Many chemists limit their studies to organic molecules or a narrow set of application targeted compounds.  In the Wolczanski group, we studied the full spectrum of transition metals.

Finding a patent attorney with a PhD in chemistry does not guarantee expertise in any particular discipline.  This is particularly important in some niche areas of chemistry because finding the right patent professional can be more difficult.  The inventor should take the time to make sure that the patent professional understands the technology.

For the organometallic chemists out there, do not be afraid to ask your lawyer to opine on the point-group symmetry of your compounds.  Or ask them to provide a reasonable molecular orbital splitting diagram.  Obviously, there are a number of ways to ensure a good fit between the inventor and the patent professional.  Don’t settle.

 

 

Patenting Cannabis Technology

Patenting Cannabis Technology

The cannabis plant is not patentable because it has been in the public domain for centuries.

The cannabis plant is not patentable because it has been in the public domain for centuries.

Changes in cannabis culture are creating incredible opportunities for new cannabis technology.  Cannabis and cannabis derived products are overwhelmingly popular in the worldwide market.  This popularity is especially noteworthy because the plant and its derivatives are still illegal in the United States.  But the war on cannabis appears to be coming to a close.  (See video below).  And the popularity of the drug appears to be on the rise, for both medical and recreational uses.

The above changes suggest tremendous opportunities in the cannabis technology industry.  Events like the Cannabis Business Summit hope to capture some of these opportunities. As inventors rush into that space, they should remain cognizant of the opportunities for patenting their inventions.  For example, inventors could define their inventions as new compositions, devices, or methods.

Changing Cannabis Culture Creates Patent Opportunities

Setting aside the political issues associated with cannabis, the changing climate is creating incredible business opportunities.  According to CNBC, the legal cannabis business is already huge.  And the Huffington Post opines that those sales will quadruple by 2018.  Most of this business comes from growing and selling the plant itself.  But other industries are beginning to blossom.  For example, the cannabis food and beverage industry and cannabis device industry have experienced wild growth.

With these new industries come new products and new technology.  Inventing something new (i.e., different) gives rise to patentable subject matter.  In the case of cannabis, there are a variety of opportunities for inventing new technology.

New Chemical Compositions Derived from Cannabis.

Although the cannabis plant has been known for thousands of years, making new compositions from that plant would give rise to patentable inventions.

Although the cannabis plant has been known for thousands of years, making new compositions from that plant would give rise to patentable inventions.

Naturally occurring substances cannot be patented.  As compounds, they are not “new” because they occur in nature without human ingenuity.  However, new purified forms of the chemical components of cannabis are potentially patentable.  Similarly, new combinations of known molecules can be patented.  Regardless of political attention, the patent office will treat cannabis inventions as chemical inventions.

Given the variety of different molecules found in the cannabis plant, the potential for new combinations of those molecules is virtually infinite.  Finding new combinations of molecules having desirable properties would give rise to new compositions of matter.  These new cannabis compositions can be patented.

New Cannabis Edibles are Patentable.

According to CNBC, the legalization of medical cannabis in several states has paved the way for a budding edible medical cannabis industry. Small businesses in states such as Colorado and California are making cannabis derived treats such as candy, cookies or soda.

New Edibles Derived from Cannabis are Patentable

New Edibles Derived from Cannabis are Patentable

As we have discussed in some earlier articles, new foods (e.g., candy, cookies or soda) can be patented as compositions of matter.  New flavors of those foods could give rise to additional patents.  Given that this class of cannabis containing readymade foods is relatively young, the body of prior art is relatively small.  Less prior art makes it more likely that the foods could be defined as new compositions, increasing the likelihood that they could be patented.

Along with opportunities for patenting cannabis compositions per se comes the opportunity for patenting methods of making those new compositions.  A new food is probably made via a new method.  That new method could be claimed and patented.

New devices and methods for administering cannabis or cannabis compositions are patentable

The Pax by Ploom illustrates one example of technology growing up around cannabis development

The Pax by Ploom illustrates one example of technology growing up around cannabis development

New devices for using or administering cannabis are patentable.  Smoking cannabis has one indisputable downside—the user is smoking the plant.  Generally speaking, breathing in burning materials is bad for the user.  (Humans should not breath in things that are on fire).

Responding to this downside of smoking, the cannabis device market has grown significantly over the years.  Wikipedia describes several varieties of herbal vaporizer technologies.  And some websites, e.g., GotVape, specialize in selling commercial embodiments of the vaporizing technology.  Many devices, such as Pax by Ploom or the iolite product line have been patented.  But the space still remains wide open.  Inventors of new devices should follow iolite’s lead by claiming their inventions.

Patenting methods of administering cannabis

U.S. patent law recognizes “methods” as a separate category patentable subject matter.  In addition to patenting new “devices” for administering cannabis, the inventor could pursue patent claims directed to the methods of administering cannabis by using those devices.

Changing Culture Suggests Increasing Opportunities for Patenting Cannabis

In recent years, the public opinion surrounding cannabis has changed considerably.  And it appears that the nation (and the world) will probably continue to move toward decriminalization and legalization of this plant.  One good illustration of this shift can be seen through CNN medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.  This past August, he publicly changed his position on cannabis use — discussing some unparalleled medical benefits  of the drug along with an overwhelming lack of side-effects.  Here is the video:

Assuming that this trend continues, it will spawn new industries filling the void created by illegality.  Some examples are new foods, compositions, drug products, services, etc, discussed above.  The early stage of these industries makes them particularly exciting from a technology standpoint.  The technology is in its early developmental stages, so it is bound to encounter big leaps forward— pioneering inventions.  Accordingly, the cannabis technology field offers especially exciting opportunities for inventing and patenting new technology.

 

 

 

 

American Chemical Society – Feedback from Dallas

Patents at the American Chemical Society Meeting

I had the pleasure of attending last week’s American Chemical Society Meeting in Dallas Texas.  At the meeting, I had an expo booth, where people could visit with me and ask anything they wanted about patents.  First off, I was impressed with how patent savvy the community has become over the past decade.  When I was a PhD student from 2001-06, very few of us thought about patents.  Now, it seems like patents are becoming integrated into all levels of chemical research.

Below, I’ve summarized some of the most popular topics that I discussed during my time at the meeting.  For several of these questions, I have provided links to places with relevant information.  In some cases, I have already posted about these topics.  In two cases, I will need to prepare answers (“coming soon”).

This was Chadeayne LLC's expo booth at the American Chemical Society Meeting in Dallas

This was Chadeayne LLC’s expo booth at the American Chemical Society Meeting in Dallas. We had about 850 visitors.

American Chemical Society’s Patent Questions for Chadeayne LLC

These were the most popular patent topics discussed at Chadeayne LLC’s booth at the American Chemical Society meeting in Dallas:

These later two topics have a few especially interesting sub-topics, which I will follow up on soon.

For University Tech Transfer, I think the following topic is especially interesting: Ownership of the invention reverting back to the inventor after the University passes on the opportunity for patenting it.  In one sense, this give the inventor an opportunity to invest in 100% of the idea.  On the other hand, it seems to create an incentive to downplay the importance of the invention when disclosing it to the University.

For Idea Theft, I am intrigued by what would happen when someone steals an idea protected by a provisional patent application.  In theory, that thief would be developing the true inventor’s technology for free.  (After the true inventor asserts their patent rights, the thief would be left in a situation where any work performed on the invention benefits the true owner).  That would be poetic justice!

I will look forward to seeing everyone at the upcoming American Chemical Society Meeting in San Francisco.  In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions about patenting your chemical inventions.

Cost of Patent Application Preparation

Cost of Preparing a Patent Application

Costs for preparing a patent application vary depending on the complexity of the invention.  Here is one source of cost data: patent cost statistics.  Below, I discuss some highlights from the patent cost statistics and also add some other available figures.

Cost of Patent Applications – Recent Numbers

A Seattle company that I work with made of point of asking the cost question of every inventor and every patent attorney willing to comment.  The 2013-2014 numbers fall within the range of $5,000 – $6,000 for a provisional and $12,000 – $15,000 for a non-provisional.  Since the United States moved over to the First Inventor to File system, most attorneys agree that the quality (and cost) of a provisional applications is approaching that for a non-provisional application.

Personally, I encourage my clients to invest in a good provisional patent application at the onset.  That provides the strongest priority claim and also cuts down on the fees for filing a non-provisional application.  (If the provisional application is of non-provisional quality, then it takes little work to use it as a non-provisional one year later).

One major Seattle technology firm reported paying a flat per-application fee based on 3 levels of patent complexity: A = $7500, B = $10,000, C = $12,500.  Nearly all sophisticated software patents are of  B or C complexity.  Chemical inventions are mostly C complexity.

Some Ballpark Cost Figures for Filing a Patent

$10,000, on the low end, to file a patent.  “But [Ronald J. Riley, president of the Professional Inventors Alliance USA] and other small inventors also knock the present system:  High legal bills — inventors can expect to spend $10,000, on the low end, to file a patent; most of that is attorney’s fees.” How much does it cost to file a patent?  What is the cost of a patent?  (Akweli Parker, “Inventor’s reality,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 23, 2006)

$10,000 – $15,000 as a range.  Attorney fees charged for preparing a patent application. “[M]ost companies spend between $10,000 and $15,000 in attorney fees to prepare the application.” Patent attorney fees. (Dean Turman, patent attorney at MacCord Mason, Greensboro, North Carolina quoted in Michelle Cater Rash, “Restructuring raises patent fees, could hinder startups,”Business Journal Serving the GreaterTriad Area, April 11, 2005)

Complex Inventions Cost More

Complex inventions cost more to prepare than simple applications.  More work and more expertise are required to file patent applications on complication technology.  For example, one should expect patents covering chemical compounds or processes to involve more work and expertise than inventions to simple machines.

Many large firms break inventions down into tiers of complexity.  Extremely simple inventions would fall into the least costly tier, hovering around $6,000.  (Extremely simple inventions could include coat hangers, paper clips, earmuffs, etc).  Highly complex inventions would fall into the most costly tier, ranging from $15,000 and upwards.  Highly complex inventions would include pharmaceutical, medical imagine devices, complicated software, and the like.

One back-of-the-envelope way to determine the cost is to ask the level of education required to work with the technology.  Would a machinist or technician understand the invention?  Or would understanding the invention require a PhD?

According to Julia Feldmeier of the Washington Post, filing a patent application “can easily run more than $20,000, depending on the complexity of the patent…” See “Any Bright Ideas?; How Local Inventors Try to Capitalize on That ‘Aha!’ Moment,” The Washington Post, March 4, 2007).

 

Overview of Patent Process for Inventors

Overview of the Patenting Process

The overview of the patent process will likely depend on who you ask.

The overview of the patent process will likely depend on who you ask.

Can you give me an overview of the patent process?  Inventors and founders often ask me for an overview of what to expect when getting a patent.  That’s a fair question.  And there are a variety of approaches to answering it.  The answer really depends on the person’s perspective. A patent secretary will view the process differently from a patent agent, who will view it differently from a government official, etc..

For example, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) provides an overview of the “Process for Obtaining a Utility Patent.”  Understandably, the USPTO focusses largely on the procedural aspects of getting a patent.  After all, the USPTO is concerned with how each applicant navigates their system.

I come at the patent process from the inventor’s perspective.  I am most concerned with maximizing value from the patent process.  So my “overview” is a little bit different.  I focus on comparing the invention to the state of the art and using that comparison to draft the most valuable patent claims possible. Below, I have outlined this process.  Notably, it looks quite different from other “overviews” of the patent system.

Inventor Focussed Overview of Getting a Patent

My overview of getting a patent can be distilled into 9 steps, which I’ve outlined below.  Notably, a patent professional would add “client development” and “engagement” before step #1.  (For many patent professionals, getting the client consumes about 30% of all time).  Likewise, a patent litigator or transactional attorney would care only about step #9.  A patent secretary would focus primarily on the paperwork involved in steps 6-8.

  1. Extracting the Invention – Organizing all available information about the invention by interviewing the inventors, usually multiple times.
  2. Studying the Invention – Studying all available information provided by interviewing the inventors and reviewing documents provided by the inventor.
  3. Comparing the Invention to the Prior Art – Independently evaluating the invention from the standpoint of someone skilled in the relevant art; Determining similarities and differences.
  4. Drafting Patent Claims – Defining the invention in a manner that emphasizes its patentable aspects.  This involves applying the analysis in step #3 to synthesize definitions with the greatest likelihood for covering valuable property within the following twenty years.
  5. Drafting Patent Application(s) – Drafting supporting descriptive material.  This material often provides definitions for key terms in the application, along with examples, and background information.
  6. Filing Patent Application(s) – Formatting the application from step #5 to conform with the USPTO’s standards for patent applications.  Then, filing the patent application with the USPTO and paying the required fees.
  7. Arguing for Patentability – After filing a patent application, the application sits “pending” at the patent office for years.  See Stats.  After waiting, a patent examiner examines the claims and (almost always) rejects them as a “first action.”  At that point, the applicant must address the examiner’s reasons for rejecting the claims–usually through some combination of arguing or amending the claims.
  8. Grant of Patent – After agreeing on a set of patentable claims, the Applicant pays the issue fee and the USPTO grants a patent.  The Applicant is then responsible for paying maintenance fees 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5 years following the grant.
  9. Enforce or License Patent – A patent provides the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention that is defined in the claims.  This right to exclude is the source of all value – a monopoly – the ability to prevent competitors from entering the market.  That right may be sold (licensing the patent) or enforced against competitors via a patent infringement lawsuit.  This later route is also called patent litigation.

 

Better Brewing Through Chemistry

Brewcraft's Rogue Brutal Kit comes with all ingredients EXCEPT yeast, along with instructions for brewing the beer

Brewcraft’s Rogue Brutal Kit comes with all ingredients EXCEPT yeast, along with instructions for brewing the beer

Improving Brewing with Chemical Principles

From the standpoint of patent law, brewing could be divided into three categories of invention.  These categories are as follows: compositions, processes, and devices.

Notably, each category of invention includes some sort of chemical component.  Each Ingredient, intermediate, and finished product could be viewed as chemical composition.  Processes describe making or using those compositions (for example the steps in a recipe).  Equipment is used to manipulate or measure those compositions (for example, the carboy, funnel, airlock, etc.).

In an earlier article, we discussed patenting beer technology.  We noted that craft brewing is filled with innovative people, bound to rapidly improve this technology.  In this article, we discuss a chemist’s view of using two “kits” for  home brewing. The first kit is Rogue’s Brutal IPA using the Beercraft kit.  The second is Brewer’s Best Double IPA.  Both were brewed using the Brewer’s Best equipment kit.  The kits and equipment were purchased from Sound Homebrew in Seattle, Washington.

Brewing Process Steps from a Chemical Standpoint

Chemically speaking, the brewing process can be broken down into these fundamental steps:

  1. EXTRACTING — Grain is steeped in warm-hot water, extracting certain components of those grains into the water, creating a “tea”.
  2. DISSOLVING — Sugar (provided as malt extracts) is dissolved in the boiling tea, creating a “wort.”
  3. EXTRACTING — Hops are boiled in the wort for varying lengths of time, extracting certain components of those hops into the wort.
  4. PHYSICALLY MANIPULATING —The wort is transferred to a fermenter and cooled.  At this stage, some of the undissolved solids may be physically separated  (e.g., filtering or decanting) from the wort.
  5. ADDING BIOLOGICAL REAGENTS — Yeast is added to provide a fermentation catalyst
  6. CONTROLLING REACTION CONDITIONS — The system is equipped with an airlock, isolating it from the surrounding atmosphere, thereby controlling the reaction conditions.

Each of the above steps requires the brewer to follow people-sized instructions with the hopes of producing favorable microscopic results.  The brewer adds tangible amounts of water, grains, sugars, and hops to a pot.  The brewer monitors the clock on the wall and the thermometer in the brew pot.  The brewer’s ultimate goal is producing an aqueous solution of molecules (beer) that is pleasing to drink.

Practically speaking, brewer can follow people-sized recipes and produce good beer with reasonable reproducibility.  Nevertheless, thinking about the underlying chemistry may provide some sources for future innovation.  The rapidly growing craft brewing community seems to be constantly looking for new and different beers.  Our hope is that focussing on the chemical underpinnings of brewing will create opportunities for making inventive beers.

Brewing Chemistry – Molecules, Time, Temperature, and Concentration

Brewing beer is chemistry.  Generally speaking, the progress of a chemical reaction depends on (1) the chemical regents, (2) the reaction time, (3) the reaction temperature, and (4) the reagent concentration.  The term “chemical regents” refers to the molecules in the reaction.  Different molecules behave differently.  Accordingly, the most important part of chemistry is understanding what molecules are in the reaction.  Chemical reactions proceed more rapidly at higher temperatures and higher concentrations.

Making beer is chemistry.  And craft brewers appreciate that hops are made of underlying molecules.

Making beer is chemistry. And craft brewers appreciate that hops are made of underlying molecules.

Chemical Reagents in Beer Compositions

The craft brewing community recognizes the importance of chemical reagents.  In particular, extreme brewers recognize the benefits of trying new combinations of ingredients in order to create different flavors.  Note, an “ingredient” to a brewer is a “chemical reagent” to a chemist.

One opportunity for further innovation in the craft brewing space could come from viewing the ingredients at the molecular level.  By understanding which molecules correspond to certain flavor properties, a brewer could control the reaction conditions to select for desired flavor properties.  The brewing community appreciates the molecular composition of certain ingredients during the hopping process.  Different varieties of hops are described in terms of their molecular compositions (alpha and beta acids).  Those hops are added to the boils at certain times in order to control how they convert into certain flavors.

Craft brewers should not limit themselves to thinking about hop chemistry.  Each other ingredient added to the beer also has a molecular composition.  Many of those molecules change and react during the brewing process.  For example, many ingredients react with the oxygen while being heated (in the boil) in the presence of oxygen (in the air).

Oxidation Chemistry in Brewing

Another potential opportunity for creating new beers could come from a better understanding of oxidation.  Oxygen is present throughout the brewing process.  Oxygen from the air reacts with many of the ingredients, chemically changing those ingredients to provide different flavors.  Additionally, oxygen is an important part of the initial fermentation process.

Thinking about how certain chemical ingredients react with oxygen could provide new ways to make different beers.  For example, the concentration of oxygen could be controlled rather than relying on the amount naturally present in the air.  One idea would be performing certain brewing steps under and inert atmosphere, by using nitrogen or argon.  By limiting the amount of oxygen present, the brewer could control how much certain flavor molecules oxidize.  Adjusting the amount of oxidation during brewing could lead to new flavor opportunities.  Limiting oxygen could also create opportunities for using higher temperatures and longer times without the negative oxidative reactions.  These sorts of techniques could give rise to new beer technology.

Oxygen is an important part of the fermentation process.   In Extreme Brewing, Sam Calagione advises that a homebrewer introduces oxygen into the wort by “rocking the baby” before sealing the fermenter.  Notably  oxygen is also present in the headspace of the fermentation vessel.  By varying the amount of oxygen present at various stages of fermentation, the brewer could improve the progress of the reaction.

The Llamas’ Brewing Company in Washington state appears to be the first company doing work in the air-free brewing space.

The Hercules Double IPA by Great Divide Brewing Co. provides information about ABV to three significant figures: 10.0% alcohol by volume

The Hercules Double IPA by Great Divide Brewing Co. provides information about ABV to three significant figures: 10.0% alcohol by volume

Chemical Concentration in Brewing

Lastly, a better understanding of concentration could provide some advantages to the home brewer.  Molecular concentration is extremely important in a finished beer.  For example, alcohol by volume (ABV), international bittering units (IU), a variety of aromatic compounds, and residual sugars play an important role in the beer’s flavor profile.  These important metrics are reported to 2 or 3 significant figures.  For example, the ABV in Great Divide Brewing Co.’s  Hercules Double IPA is reported at 10.0% (three significant figures).  Not 10% (one significant figure).  Despite the importance of concentration, many beer recipes treat concentration as relatively unimportant.

Concentration refers to the amount of a given molecule within a given volume.  (The standard is “moles per liter,” which is called the Molar concentration).  In the laboratory, all mass quantities are converted into moles in order to understand the number of molecules.  Then, for solutions, the concentrations are described as molar concentrations, to indicate the number of moles per liter of volume.  In the home brew beer recipes, the volumes used to make the beer are “approximate” and also imprecise.

Many beer recipes treat volume with relatively litter precision.  For example the Brewer’s Best Double IPA recipe instructed the brewer to bring the volume in the fermenter to  “approximately 5 gallons” before pitching the yeast.  Additionally, the glass carboys available at the Sound Home brew store did not provide any volume indicators.  Some very simple improvements to home brewing equipment could be made by providing better volume indicators on the apparatus and paying closer attention to volume.

Please let us know what you think….

Our firm specializes in chemistry and chemical patents.  But, we are relatively new to home brewing.  Please feel free to use the comments section (below) to offer your thoughts on applying chemistry to the brewing arts.