Washington Beat

August 12, 1996

Proposed registration system would sidestep

patent delays

It takes an average of 19.1 months to get a patent in the U.S. Technology,
however, advances faster than that in many fields. Inventions often are obsolete
before getting any protection from imitators. The Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers-United States proposed a solution, outlining the plan at a
hearing before the technology subcommittee of the House of Representatives.
Under the plan, innovators could register their ideas before commercializing
them. Applicants would submit drawings or models that would fully disclose how
their articles can be duplicated. These would be kept confidential for the
three-year life of protection which begins on the day of application. Applicants
also would swear that the article is original and utilitarian. Suspected
infringers would come before an administrative tribunal of experts in current
technology. They would have to prove that they did the necessary R&D to
produce a similar idea. Registration applicants also could file for normal
patents for their inventions. Once a patent is issued and accepted, the
registration would expire.

Put more engineering projects in space station, panel urges

Plans for the space station are shortchanging engineering research and technology development. So concludes a study by a committee of the National Research Council. NASA currently decides which projects have the most commercial poten-tial and provides a large share of funds for them. "Few, if any, are in the engineering and technology area," the report notes. NASA, it adds, should auction to companies perhaps 15% of the re-sources of the space station. Thus the market would decide which privately funded projects have the best chance of success. The space station is in its last stages of design, with the first module scheduled for launch in late 1997. Still, the committee says, minor modifications could en-able some engineering and technology experiments. For example, technicians could install sensors in the station's framework. Thus, engineers could study the station itself to determine effects of outer space on exposed surfaces and large structures. Experiments on board could include tests of electric rockets, remote-controlled robots, or improved space-craft batteries. And, the space station could provide a testbed for advanced electric-propulsion systems for future spacecraft.

Prototype of new space shuttle will be
shaped like a wedge

The replacement for NASA's aging space shuttles could look like a vertical triangle in flight. Such a design, submitted by Lockheed Martin Corp., won the competition for the prototype X-33 Advanced Technology Demonstrator. The firm will construct the ship at its "Skunk Works" plant in California. It expects to hire 1,000 new employees for the project and provide work for many subcontractors who have been hit hard by defense cutbacks. The vehicle will be 68 ft wide at its tail and 67 ft from nose to tail. Its gross liftoff weight will be 273,000 lbs. The full-scale version of the craft, called VentureStar, will be twice the size of the X-33. The body airframe provides lift, while its small control surfaces are used when gliding to land. VentureStar would not have detachable rocket boosters to help it into orbit, as the space shuttle has. Its reusable aero-spike engines, designed to perform efficiently at all altitudes, would do all the work. The remotely controlled X-33 will be unmanned, but VentureStar will be able to carry a crew. The competing design from McDonnell Douglas Corp. was a vertical take off and land cone-shaped rocket while the Rockwell International Corp. entry looked like an advanced Space Shuttle.

Government fellowships promote integrated manufacturing

The National Research Council named 12 predoctoral fellows
this year to study ways to improve the integration of product design with
manufacturing processes. The fellowship, offered at many universities, carries a
stipend of $20,000 per year from the Department of Energy. The government plans
another competition for 1997 fellowships. If you're interested, phone the
fellowship office at (202) 334-2872. After Sept. 1, information and applications
for the 1997 competition will be available on the Inter-net at http://fellowships.nas.edu .

Win95 application simplifies flow charting for designers

After only an hour, a user can master a powerful new program for creating flow charts. Demonstrated in Arlington, VA, Flow Charting PDQ(R) takes advantage of Windows 95 and Windows NT. It uses OLE integration and Hyperlink to keep order in a maze of complex charts. PDQ can rapidly set up ISO 9000 diagrams, electronic schematics, and data flow and logic charts. You also can add custom shapes and images to on-screen templates. Creators of PDQ at Patton & Patton Software, Morgan Hill, CA, claim their pro-duct allows the busy engineer to "concentrate on the work instead of the software."

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