The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is giving top priority to inventors of homeland security technology. This is no small favor. "Typically, we're able to knock 14 to 15 months off the 17-month initial examination," says Steve Kunin, deputy commissioner for patent policy at the patent office. Surprisingly, the initiative to fast-track anti-terrorism technology was not prompted by 9/11. Actually, it was set in motion in September 1996 in response to the Oklahoma City bombing. At the time, the Clinton White House challenged government and the public to find ways to fight terrorism. The fast-track for counter-terrorism innovation was the patent office contribution. After 9/11, the initiative shifted from one of "counter terrorism" to "homeland security." Surprisingly, the volume of security-oriented patents did not jump noticeably after 9/11. "Interestingly enough, we haven't noticed any increase in petitions to make applications special [guv-speak for fast-track requests]," says Kunin. About 1% of all current applications come with a request for homeland-security fast track. "But that's no small number," says Kunin, "We receive 350,000 applications worldwide, so it's still 35,000." The patent office isn't combing through nifty inventions in search of security ideas, though. The applicant needs to identify the innovation as a security device, which must then pass through patent office criteria. The office, however, posts information about the initiative on its Website and explains what qualifies for fast-track attention to hundreds of daily callers.
Using wireless chips and accessories, engineers can now extract data from the unlikeliest of places -- pumps, motors, bridges, conveyors, refineries, cooling towers, parking garages, down-hole drills and just about anything else that can benefit from monitoring.
With strong marketplace demand for qualified engineers across the board that currently outstrips the available supply, there may never be a better time for engineers and project managers to advance their careers and salaries. Whether those moves are successful in the short-term and long-term is likely to depend on how the transition from one job to the next is handled.
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