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Washington beat

Washington beat

Federal appropriations for R&D hit new high for fiscal 1999

Federal support for R&D in fiscal year 1999 will exceed $80 billion, the highest level in history. The total is $4.1 billion higher than in fiscal 1998. The Dept. of Defense remains the largest federal sponsor of R&D. Its R&D funding of $38.5 billion is up 2.9% from a year ago, according to an analysis by the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The steepest rise, 8.8%, goes to research projects funded by the National Science Foundation--a total of $2.8 billion. Funding for R&D at the Environmental Protection Agency is up 3%, while NASA's projects gain only 0.2%. Cuts are made in NASA development programs, including the Space Station and Aeronautics and Space Transportation. American Society of Mechanical Engineers and 32 other societies are urging President Clinton to include in his fiscal 2000 budget support that meets or exceeds a target of doubling federal investment in civilian R&D over 12 years.

Supreme Court upholds limit on period for patent applications

The Supreme Court has clarified the meaning of the grace period that inventors have to test their creations before applying for a patent. Once inventors put their ideas up for sale, federal law says they have only 12 months to apply for a patent or they forfeit that right. What inventors attempt to sell, the court emphasizes, does not have to be an assembled, working product. It can be merely a conception. The court invalidated a patent issued for a computer-chip socket, because its inventor had applied for the patent a little over a year after putting his socket idea--for which he had made detailed drawings--up for sale. Inventor Wayne Pfaff contended that he did not make an actual prototype of the socket until months after the sale proposal. The case is No. 97-1130, Pfaff vs. Wells. The High Court also has heard arguments and will soon rule on a much more significant patent case, No. 95-728, Warner-Jenkinson Co. Inc. vs. Hilton Davis Chemical Co. At issue is the question of how similar two products or processes must be in order to constitute a patent infringement.

Fees of Patent Office lowered for first time in memory

It's never happened before as far as anyone at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) can recall. The agency's patent fees have been reduced. A newly signed reauthorization act mandated across-the-board cuts, which average about 6%. Among the many reductions in fees: basic filing drops from $790 to $760; basic filing for a small entity from $395 to $380; independent claims from $82 to $78; independent claims for small entity from $41 to $39; design filing fee from $330 to $310; notice of appeal and filing a brief from $310 to $300; and request for oral hearing from $270 to $260. Trademark fees remain the same. You can view the new patent fee schedule on UPSTO's web site at www.uspto.gov.

Crash tests results disappointing for small utility vehicles

Only one of 10 small utility vehicles crash tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (Arlington, VA) earned a good overall rating. On the other hand, only one tested poorly. "There's a range of performance in between, with half of the vehicles we tested turning in marginal crashworthiness performances," comments Institute President Brian O'Neill. The best in the 40-mph offset crash test was the Subaru Forester. The worst performer was the Isuzu Amigo. In between, the Jeep Wrangler and Suzuki Grand Vitara and its "twin" models, the Vitara and Chevrolet Tracker, earned acceptable ratings, while four other small utility vehicles--the Kia Sportage, Honda CR-V, Jeep Cherokee, and Toyota RAV4--rated marginal. Phone Brian O'Neill at (703) 247-1500 or FAX (703) 247-1588.

Firms customizing Java language for appliances, machinery

Demand is soaring for a universal computer language that can remotely address a variety of embedded chips in appliances and machinery. The leading candidate appears to be a version of object-oriented Java, hailed as the "write once, use everywhere" language. Java already drives some Internet and database applications. The National Institute of Standards and Technology and 37 firms have been trying to devise Java standards. That effort, however, has been too slow for some major players. Eight companies, including Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, decided to form a separate group to develop standards for real-time extensions to Java. Sun Microsystems, which originated Java, announced that it now has a version for use with chips in home appliances. Meanwhile, many engineers feel a growing need for a working acquaintance with Java. A new book from Sams Publishing (Indianapolis) has an appealing title for the busy designer, "Teach Yourself Java 1.2 in 24 Hours." Aiming at beginners as well as seasoned programmers, author Rogers Cadenhead packs humor with facts you can apply to all flavors of Java. Get details at www.samspublishing.com.

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