Patent Office seeks input on proposed Internet policy
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) wants to take fuller advantage of the Internet in communicating with design engineers and others who use its services. PTO has drafted an "interim policy" for its staff, but hopes to get opinions and suggestions from other stakeholders before forming a final version. The agency is particularly interested in comments relating to the following questions: What types of PTO correspondence should not be communicated via Internet e-mail? Should digital signatures, digital certificates, public key/private key encryption, and key recovery be used for Internet e-mail? If so, what software should PTO use? To what extent should PTO allow its web site to be used to search and retrieve scientific and technical information in patent applications, much of which PTO must keep in confidence? PTO will accept written comments on its proposed Internet policy until December 28, 1998. Contact Magdalen Greenlief by fax at (703) 305-8825 or by e-mail to email@example.com.
Supreme Court agrees to resolve hot dispute over patent appeals
How much leeway should the Federal Circuit Court have in overruling patent-granting decisions of the PTO? The question has brought heated debate among inventors and patent lawyers. "Currently," the Circuit Court's 11 judges explain in a statement, "we affirm decisions as long as we lack a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made." The court has long applied what is called the "clearly erroneous" standard in considering appeals in patent cases. The PTO solicitor, however, contends that the court should give more deference to the agency's fact-finding examining patent applications. The solicitor maintains that the Administrative Procedure Act limits the court to either the "substantial evidence" standard or the "arbitrary and capricious" standard. Both give more weight to PTO rulings. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the question. It agreed to review a PTO appeal of the overturning by the Circuit Court of a patent denial by the PTO. The case is Lehman vs. Zurko, 98-377.
Law promotes women, minorities in engineering, science
Under a new law, the federal government will establish a Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology. The Commission will consist of seven representatives from U.S. businesses and four educators appointed from the fields of engineering, physical science, or life science. They will eventually submit a report to the President and Congress recommending policies to help break down barriers that women, minorities, and people with disabilities pursuing a technical career face. Meanwhile, the National Science Foundation is awarding eight universities nearly $2.5 million each to significantly increase the number of African-American, Hispanic, and Native-American students receiving doctoral degrees in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering. Phone Jesse Lewis at (703) 306-1634.
Technology Administration gets $657 million in FY 1999 budget
The appropriations law for fiscal 1999 gives the Commerce Department's Technology Administration $656.6 million, 91% of what President Clinton had requested. Outlays increased for the Advanced Technology Program (ATP), allowing first-year funding for about 65 new "high-risk" research projects. Republican leaders in Congress earlier had targeted ATP for elimination. They also had opposed the President's request to expand the Baldrige National Quality Program to include education and healthcare organizations. But Congress also funded that expansion, awarding $4.9 million to the Baldrige program. The annual Baldrige awards had been limited to industrial organizations. The appropriation package includes $2.3 million to enlarge the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Technology to promote partnerships among businesses, colleges, and state governments.
Five new centers established for engineering research
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has invested $10 million to fund the first year of five new Engineering Research Centers. Each will receive $2 million in the first year from NSF, leveraged by support from industry, state governments, and partnering universities. A center at Johns Hopkins University will try to develop new computer-integrated surgical systems. At Clemson University, a center will explore ways to make it easier for engineers to visualize film and fiber design on a molecular level. The focus at Virginia Polytechnic Institute will be on integrating components of power electronics into modular systems customized for industrial use. The other two centers, at Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Hawaii, will study, respectively, the engineering of living tissues and the future use of marine biotechnology products. Phone Lynn Preston at (703) 306-1379.