Corporations form private board to settle patent spats quickly
Exasperated with the slow pace and high expense of patent courts, several companies have decided to set up their own mechanism for settling disputes over intellectual property. The firms are forming the National Patent Board (NPB), a private group patterned after the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau. NPB is expected to start tackling cases this year. Both parties must agree to have NPB handle their tiff. No discovery procedures or witness testimony will be allowed. The evidence will consist only of presentation of briefs, relevant documents, and lawyer arguments. Judging cases will be three independent patent attorneys. Their decisions must be based on U.S. statutes and rulings by federal courts. For more information on NPB, spearheaded by Procter & Gamble Co., phone James McCarthy at (202) 393-3403.
Shifts suggested in federal environmental technology policy
Government regulations, not the marketplace, often determine the development of environmental technologies. So concludes a panel of environmental engineers formed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The panel recommends that government agencies perform an analysis to ensure that benefits of any proposed environmental regulation outweigh costs of implementation. The analysis would include assessments by peer review panels representing government and nongovernment interests, including regulatory and technology agencies, industrial development organizations, universities, other research groups, and congressional representatives. The panels would identify technology needs or establish positions on specific existing technologies. These "societal judgments" would be in addition to engineering assessments consisting of peer reviews. The latter would remain the domain of the engineering profession. E-mail Ross Dunbar at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (202) 785-3756.
Revolutionary design methods needed for manufacturing 2020
Today's design methods are "primitive" compared with expected requirements 21 years hence. That conclusion comes from a study by the Board on Manufacturing and Engineering Design of the National Research Council. Conceptualization, design, and production of products, the report says, will have to be "as concurrent as possible" to reduce time-to-market, encourage innovation, and improve quality. Future design systems, it adds, should provide for complete simulations of products and should integrate input from customers and workers, who will be integral members of the design team. Design tools should enable an enterprise to move directly from a digital product description to the development of product processes and tools. Engineers will draw on libraries of reusable design modules that consider a host of parameters, including waste generation and maintenance time. To order the report, "Visionary Manufacturing Challenges for 2020," phone (800) 624-6242.
When is an engineer qualified to present expert testimony?
The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) wants to make sure that courts properly screen engineers before agreeing to receive expert testimony from them. The academy has filed a "friend of the court" brief with the U.S. Supreme Court contending that judges should weigh the qualifications of engineering experts as closely as they weigh those of scientific experts. In a 1993 decision, the Supreme Court said that Federal Rule of Evidence 702 requires trial judges to screen expert testimony "in the sciences" so as to assure that any such testimony is both relevant and reliable. The NAE brief argues that the rule should apply to engineers, since it is a "bedrock fact that engineering, like science, must be guided by nature's truths." The matter is part of a tire company case, which the court will decide in its current session. Phone Richard A. Meserve at (202) 662-6000.
Nominations now open for $500,000 Draper Prize
NAE is accepting nominations for the 1999 Charles Stark Draper Prize, the most bountiful award for engineering. Presented annually, the prize consists of a citation, a gold medallion, and a $500,000 honorarium. Judges give primary consideration to innovative engineering achievements and their reduction to practice "in ways that have led to important benefits and significant improvements in the well-being and freedom of humanity." Last year's winner was Vladimir Haensel for the chemical engineering process of platforming. Living individuals from all nations are eligible to receive the prize. Nominations must be postmarked by February 26. NAE will keep nomination forms postmarked after that date for consideration for the 2000 Draper prize. For forms or information, phone (202) 334-2196.