Supreme Court ruling fortifies rights
of patent holders
How much protection does a patent provide against those who come up with somewhat similar ideas? Quite a bit, according to the United States Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision important to most patent disputes, the high court knocked down a challenge to the "doctrine of equivalents." That doctrine maintains that an infringement occurs if there is an "equivalence"--not necessarily exact duplication--between the elements of a product and a patented invention. Some trial lawyers had argued that changes to federal laws in 1952 overrode the doctrine of equivalents. In writing the high court's opinion, how-ever, Justice Clarence Thomas upheld the doctrine, adding that it "should be applied as an objective inquiry on an element-by-element basis." Thus, flimsy differences between two inventions would not be enough to avoid infringement of an existing patent. Warner-Jenkinson Co. was on the losing side in this case. It used an ultrafiltration process that was largely--but not entirely--similar to one patented by Hilton Davis Chemical Co. Although the Clinton administration had urged the justices to side with Warner-Jenkinson, the United States government has been trying to get other countries to adopt the doctrine of equivalents in their patent laws.
Do some 'pilot errors' stem from design of flight controls?
Some accidents attributed mainly to pilot error may actually have occurred because of confusing design features in flight controls. A report by the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board of the National Research Council raises that disturbing possibility. Flight data recorders, it says, are not sophisticated enough to tell if complex controls misled pilots in crucial seconds before a crash. "Major mismatches in how a pilot expects an aircraft to fly and how it actually responds generally occur when a pilot must act quickly and aggressively to correct an unexpected aircraft motion during a difficult maneuver," the panel states. The problem is apt to worsen, it adds, as more advanced technologies enter the design of modern aircraft. The report acknowledges that ever-more-complex systems make it difficult for designers to anticipate all possible interactions between pilots and their flight controls. The board recommends forming teams to evaluate the design and development of both military and civilian aircraft at several stages. The teams, consisting of experts in flight control, piloting, aerodynamics, and flight dynamics, would develop criteria for assessing all aircraft.
Army lab's research on turbines declared 'too ambitious'
The Army Research Laboratory's effort to develop a new combustor design code for turbine engines is "probably too ambitious." So concludes a technical assessment board of the National Research Council. The laboratory has been developing the code, called ALLSPD-3D, since 1991. It is a technology-transfer project for use by U.S. makers of vehicle engines. The Research Laboratory assigned the task to its Vehicle Technology Center (VTC) at the NASA Lewis Research Center in Ohio. Army researchers had hoped the code would provide significant improvement in engine performance and design time. The board, however, says funding appears to be insufficient to ensure that VTC researchers will meet regularly with engine designers in industry. VTC, the board notes, "would have to be prepared to maintain and upgrade the code continually in order to meet increasingly sophisticated future design requirements."
3-D capaciflector electrodes add degree of freedom to designs
Three-dimensional capaciflector electrodes promise greater flexibility for designers of sensor-studded robots and tools. The 3-D feature allows engineers to conform capaciflectors to irregular rounded surfaces, such as robot arms. Capaciflectors emit signals to show the capacitance between a sensing electrode and a nearby object. An almost unlimited number of configurations for capaciflectors is now possible on objects requiring proximity sensing. Screws or pins could serve as sensing electrodes. The new electrodes were developed at Goddard Space Flight Center, under the direction of John M. Vranish. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration owns the invention and has applied for a patent on it.
Global network for standards launched on World Wide Web
NSSN, a global network for standards, is officially open for business on the World Wide Web. Known as the National Standards Systems Network during its development, NSSN allows users to search multiple standards databases in minutes. Information on more than 100,000 standards--including about 30,000 military specifications--will be in the NSSN database by year's end. The new service is the result of a partnership between the National Institute of Standards & Technology and the American National Standards Institute. NSSN's Internet address is http://www.nssn.org.
by Walter Wingo, Washington Editor