By Rose Eveleth
Posting in Technology
For the thousands of unused patents, there is still hope for a new lease on life. One site helps match up innovators and patents.
The US Patent Office approves hundreds of patents each week. Trust me, I know, I used to go through them all to find interesting ones for Scientific American's Patent Watch column. There are a lot of patents in there. And chances are, a lot of them won't wind up being used in anything in particular.
So what do you do with an unused patent to bring it to life? You set it up with innovators who might be able to dream up new uses for that technology.
Think of Marblar like a dating site for patents and users. Patented technology that isn't being used goes up, and innovators look for things they might be able to develop. There's even a cash prize of 10,000 for the best uses.
"There are a lot of dormant inventions just gathering dust in research universities," says Daniel Perez, Marblar's CEO, told New Scientist. "This is taxpayer or philanthropy-funded research that isn't demonstrating the impact it could. So we'll simply be asking our users how they would use this invention."
The best part is that, perhaps unlike the dating sites you use, Marblar seems to actually work. Samuel Arbesman wrote, in Research Fortnight:
It seems to work. A pilot competition to find a use for a new method of binding DNA strands together without using an enzyme resulted in the sponsor of the competition getting two possible start-up ideas. That seems to be the way for Marblar to make money: organisations that are unsure what to do with a technology that they’ve licensed put up money for a competition, Marblar runs it, and the community finds the answers.
So the next time a university comes up with a patent that finds no use, or a business is looking for inspiration, they can turn to the web and perhaps find a match made in heaven.
Via: New Scientist
Aug 13, 2012
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This is certainly not new. Most research takes far longer to move from the laboratory to the market than most people believe. Often, basic discoveries languish for decades or even centuries before finding their way to market. One problem with this is that the old saw 'invent a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door,' is far more often a lie than an actual observation. I don't know about others, but as a technically trained specialist, I was appalled and shocked to discover in my first job that despite having been hired by the company to apply my expertise to their problems, solutions discovered and proposed still required 'selling.' In years of such work I've seen really strange things--democratic votes taken to determine which way to solve a technical problem for instance. (In that particular case, it cost the company many months and much money to repair the inevitable damage caused by their initial decision.) Basic mathematical theorems often take a century or more to find practical applications. Many theoretical inventions require materials or technologies which don't yet exist in order to become practical. Truly new processes and inventions often require decades of marketing and thought in order to become marketable. Babbage invented the computer long before we could build one. In 1970, when I was in High School, and badly wanted my own computer, no one I knew could understand why. Today, it's likely you don't even know how may computers you own, as they are found in what might seem odd places. The main driver in computer adoption turned out to be entertainment; only later did the availability of cheap processors explode into all of the various odd nooks and crannies...an explosion which continues and shows little sign of slowing. If you want to make money, there are some very simple things which work almost universally: Find a use for something others are paying to dispose of (used vegetable oil has gone from a disposal problem to an income stream for many restaurants.) Look at solutions without problems (unused patents for example,) and find ways to apply them to problems without solutions. And my favorite, find a pair of problems which can be used to solve each other. (The need for jobs and the need to clean-up the environment, for example.) Often, solutions are invented which, although they solve their intended problem, don't do so economically. Redesigning such solutions to be economical can be profitable. Unfortunately, even the most obvious, most profitable, simplest solutions will meet resistance. There will be people who will lose if it is implemented, and they will fight out of a reflex to protect themselves. And there is a natural resistance to change--until very, very recently, change has nearly always been for the worse, few organisms actively try and change or pursue changes simply because doing so is contrary to survival. Unfortunately, selling is nearly always an appeal to the emotions rather than logic--and a good emotional appeal (usually based upon a basic drive; fear, sex, etc.) can easily sell people things which may even be actively harmful. Now if you could invent a way to ensure people made the best overall decision.....
Wow, could this business model possibly garner cash for our public institutions and taxpayer supported reaseach efforts? It seems that too often research breakthroughs funded by taxes end up benefiting private parties - could a Non Profit effort prevent the continuation of our Wall Street model of socialzed cost privatized profit?
Understandably, not all patents are necessarily overtly useful, but in order for there to be a patent issued, some requirement should be made that they be used. There must be millions of patents doing nothing. What is the point of issuing a patent for something useless?