Report urges programs to meet
Japanese rebound in R&D race
Japanese R&D is making a comeback, and Americans better take steps to avoid another technology gap. So concludes a congressionally mandated study by a panel of the National Research Council. The Japanese government plans to increase dramatically its funding of research over the next five years, the panel finds. Meanwhile, it says, U.S. government spending on research is likely to remain flat or shrink. The report calls for more collaboration in technology between the two countries. It also suggests that the U.S. Trade Representative's Office, the Patent and Trademark Office, and industry keep a "watch list" of patent applications by American citizens in Japan. The aim would be to ensure that significant innovations receive adequate protection in Japanese markets. The report further urges the federal government to step up programs to train U.S. engineers in Japanese and to provide them with opportunities to work in Japanese laboratories.
Government crackdown targets scams in invention promotion
For decades unwary inventors have been bilked of thousands of dollars by firms that promise to promote their ideas. Now the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched "Project Mousetrap," a multi-state crackdown on deceptive marketing by such firms. The agency is working with state attorneys general to obtain restraining orders against suspected companies. FTC says the firms falsely claim they have the resources and corporate connections to develop and market individuals' inventions. They promise they can provide professional assistance in getting a patent and securing licensing and manufacturing agreements with manufacturers. "It is a fact that less than 1% of all new product concepts succeed in the marketplace," comments Director Jodie Bernstein of FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Yet the fraudulent firms in this industry conclude, after a 'professional' evaluation, that virtually every new idea or product crossing their desks is patentable and has 'tremendous market potential.'" Few, if any, customers, she adds, have even made back their investment, let alone any profit.
Uncle Sam tells hopeful Edisons how to avoid costly rip-offs
Another goal of Project Mousetrap is to educate individual inventors about invention promotion frauds. In cooperation with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, FTC is distributing several publications describing how to detect and avoid the scams. Reputable companies, they note, are choosy about which ideas they pursue. They typically work on a contingency basis and do not insist on a substantial up-front fee. Among other tips: Beware of firms that imply they will protect your idea by registering it with the patent office's Disclosure Document Program. Such registration, which costs only $10, merely provides evidence of the date of the invention's conception. Unscrupulous invention promotion firms, one brochure warns, often apply for patents that provide such limited legal protection that it is easy for competitors to find a way to design around the patent.
Digital single lever controls small aircraft
In most small civilian planes, the pilot must work three levers to control the engine--one for the throttle, one for fuel-air mixture, and one for propeller pitch angle. That can be a tough task in emergencies. But a Manassas, VA, firm has successfully flown what it believes to be the world's first all-digital single-lever power control (SLPC) system for a general aviation aircraft. In SLPC, developed by Aurora Flight Sciences Corp., a computer performs all three functions. The pilot needs to give only a single command: the power sought. While there have been several previous SLPC arrangements for general aviation aircraft, all used mechanical mixing of the controls, rather than digital computers. The computers can adapt to specific flight conditions. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sponsored Aurora's work.
Design for economical kit plane triumphs in NASA-FAA contest
First prize in a government-backed aeronautical design contest goes to a student team from three colleges in Kansas. The team designed a four-passenger kit plane that can be built in about 200 hours and priced at about $75,000. This is the third year that NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration have coordinated the National General Aviation Design Competition for university students. This year's winning entry, called the Adagio, uses a Zoche AeroDiesel Engine Z0 02A and features an unusual, inverted "V" tail. Adagio's prefabricated structures make possible the short assembly time. Second prize goes to students from the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. They designed a high-performance plane using a low-wing, pusher configuration. Dubbed "the Stingray," it features a turbocharged engine, retractable landing gear, and advanced composite materials.