Embedded systems and patenting (1)

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Participants of the training on the topic of embedded systems had a chance to listen to the lectures of Evaldas PabrėžA on patenting of inventions. This knowledge is essential (or will be essential) for every person

who participates in the development or application of embedded systems, therefore we should not be surprised by the number of participants, and live discussions going on. Perhaps, the willingness to participate in discussions was promoted by the fact that the age of the lecturer and the participants was similar. Some people from the audience were even older since there were habilitated doctors and professors.

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Lector Evaldas Pabrėža, 2013-02-01 (photo G. Zemlickas)

Evaldas Pabrėža and his colleagues have high ambitions, and we would like to specify three of them. They want to develop a successful laser development company, and ensure successful operation of this company with small initial investments, and the third objective is to develop a patented and successfully commercialized technology, which most probably would be a materialized result of the two first objectives.

What ammunition is available to the young developer to implement his creative ambitions? Having completed the Faculty of Physics at Vilnius University he became a specialist of modern technologies management. Before being granted a bachelor’s diploma, he has practised as an IT Engineer in the mobile company Bitė. He has a considerable experience in patent consulting which he has acquired when working in the law firm “Metida”, which is the leading company in Lithuania engaged in patenting of inventions and recognized as one of the best companies representing the interests of intellectual property. He also had worked in the company Altechna and travelled to South Korea, USA, Germany and many other countries with different projects. Thus, despite the young age, E. Pabrėža has a vast experience in many different areas of activity.

In the area of fundamental research, E. Pabrėža has been working at the Institute of Physics in the Center for Physical Science and Technologies, Department of Laser Technologies for Applied Research headed by Dr. Gediminas Račiukaitis. At the same time, he is a postgraduate student preparing his master’s thesis on sensors, Raman scattering, and similar things.

Dear Evaldas, when providing training for those working in the area of designing and application of embedded systems you have conveyed your knowledge and experience in the area of patenting. Was your objective to introduce the basic aspects of this area, or did you try to convey the special knowledge for those working in the area of embedded systems?

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Training group of participants in Vilnius. E. Pabrėža leads the seminar “Inventions and patents. Practical aspects”. 2012-12-19, photo G. Zemlickas

Evaldas Pabrėža. I gave quite an extensive course from general aspects of intellectual property protection to specific requirements applied to descriptions of inventions and preparation of description. We were focusing on scientists and engineers in that we were doing certain amount of practical tasks, we looked for previous inventions in data bases, and tried to prepare their descriptions thus improving our practical skills. During this part of the course, I tried to present some of purposeful and specialized examples so that scientists and engineers working with embedded systems or designing them could be able to describe them for patenting.

What are the subtleties related to patenting of embedded systems? What is necessary or would be useful to know?

E. Pabrėža. Embedded systems is a interdisciplinary area, a group of devices or structures at the periphery of electronic and information technologies. Since it is related to information technologies, one should be aware of certain limitations, i.e. what cannot be patented.

According to European patenting rules, computer programs cannot be patented. To put it short, embedded systems is a transitional area located on a delicate boundary between what may be patented and what may not. The software cannot be patented unless it has a clear connection with the hardware. When the result is a technical enough solution, then patenting is allowed. These were the things I wanted to draw the participants’ attention to.

Are these things clearly defined or do they depend on the approach, understand and assessment by specific experts? In other words, how specific interpretations can affect the final result?

E. Pabrėža. Both inventing and official registration of inventions are areas of technical work. Partiality already starts at the inventor himself, i.e. how he describes or presents the invention, what he would emphasize. Patent consultant also expresses his opinion when presenting findings. Then goes the assessment by the patent office expert. In case of any disputes to be dealt with in court, findings of external expert would be provided. In each case mentioned, subjective decisions are possible.

Then, how should act an inventor who is willing to protect his invention with a patent in this environment of subjective decisions?

E. Pabrėža. Description of inventions is a craft that has to be learned. It needs specific skills. Legal education is not enough, technical knowledge is also required. A scientist must be skilled in writing scientific articles, however these are far from enough for writing a description of a technical invention. Special skills are required as well as argumentation of the specific approach to novelty. Presenting and describing the essence of an invention is totally different from writing a scientific article.

What would be your advice to those working with embedded systems? Apparently, the have not completed special courses, nor worked in patent bureaus for probation. Their expertise is revealed in a completely different activity. Does it always requires to employ an expert from a patent bureau?

E. Pabrėža. When preparing design proposal it would be useful to think of certain amount of funds for employing an expert – it is not difficult. I can tell from my own personal experience that for an inventor getting acknowledged to the subtleties of technical description of an invention is worth only in case he plans to prepare 20-30 descriptions through his active inventor’s life. Otherwise, the skills of preparing descriptions will be insufficient, and requiring excessive efforts and time costs. For a creative person, it would not be efficient since he would spend too much time and efforts. Having prepared twenty or thirty patents, a person achieves the similar level of expertise as the experts in this area from other countries. The most effective measure would be having at least one employee in the technical faculty or scientific centre of the higher school that would specialize in the area of patents.

Is there any course in the technical faculties of Lithuanian universities intended for teaching students how to prepare descriptions and applications for patents? Are students introduced to the requirements and peculiarities of writing project applications?

E. Pabrėža. All this has to be learned individually by the students, lecturers and researchers who have chosen this path of inventions. Once, I offered a course on preparing patent applications in one faculty. The dean said: “You are young, yet to study for Master’s, so how can you teach about patenting of inventions?..” Then I felt a lack of self-confidence for my young age despite the fact I had the 6-year experience in patenting activity.

There are no doubts that this kind of course, at least an optional one, should be taught in every university. The number of technical students is very high, and we could gather the interested ones in Vilnius or Kaunas to introduce this interesting area of activity.

This would encourage people to engage in invention activity. By the way, how writing a description for patenting differs from writing applications for various projects? After all, today the activity of researchers without projects is hard to imagine?

E. Pabrėža. Writing project applications is not the area I can boast a considerable experience. As far as I know, in some technical programmes there has been already a requirement set to present one or two inventions when submitting a project. Thus, formal binding has already been realized, and scientists are required to patent their inventions in research programmes. The company UAB IAM consultants established by myself has many clients who are scientists carrying out various projects and are required to patent their inventions and technical solutions. How can we help them? We can help in writing the project, describe in detail the place in the project which deals with patenting. We can estimate the price of patenting, how long does it take, and other specific aspects. Technical description is usually prepared by the very scientist since no one can better understand the subtleties of future research. What should be noted here is preparation of the description, which might be a completely new task for a scientists who has not done this before, and at the end of scientific project having all the results of the research in hand, this task should be assigned to a professional.

Usually, scientific project is prepared by the head of the group, who is wasting this precious time for analysing and meeting formal project requirements instead of devoting it to designing. Currently, I am about to finish my master’s studies in laser technologies in Vilnius University, and at the same time, I work in a scientific institute. I can see how my supervisor spends time writing projects during nights since there is no time for that during the day. It would be very useful to have consulting companies preparing the projects for the scientists for a certain reward. However, the question is how should scientists pay for this kind of service when there are no funds provided for that? Would it be possible to include consulting costs into financial report of the project? Beside this, there are much more questions of this type. Cooperation would be useful, however, it is hard to achieve.

With respect to embedded systems, cooperation between researchers from different areas is necessary since the very nature of the systems has underlying application of different research or even scientific fields.

E. Pabrėža. The area of embedded systems itself is focused on designing and application of various products in different areas. Unfortunately, scientists working on embedded systems are not cooperating but rather works individually in various institutions and companies, mainly in the faculties of electronics and informatics. Since their activity is focused on the final and workable product, patenting and certification would be those additional services to be provided by consulting companies to producers and implementers of embedded systems. At first, scientists should use help from external consultant, and eventually the designers of these systems will gain experience themselves.

When providing training for those working (or willing to) in the area of embedded systems, your audience was of nearly the same age as you yourself. What they were most interested in, and what things they found difficult?

E. Pabrėža. I was worried the listeners might be bored since patenting is rather legal and somehow technical subject. Lot of rules need to be learnt and understood. Despite this, I didn’t notice any bored listeners, on the contrary, there were many interested ones. Sometimes there were discussions among them which needed interruption. Apparently, I saw people willing to learn new things, and the material I have presented and discussions that took place were well appreciated.

Mokymų dalyvių grupė Kaune. Seminarą Patentavimas.Praktiniai aspektai veda E. Pabrėža. 2013-02-12. (Foto V.Daniūno)
Training group of participants in Kaunas. E. Pabrėža leads the seminar “Inventions and patents. Practical aspects”. 2013-02-12. (Photo V.Daniūnas)

Participants of the training included undergraduates and postgraduates as well as scientists and even professors having different experience and interests. The majority of the participants were from Vilnius University and Vilnius Gediminas Technical University. Dominating were physicists, electronics engineers, those working with semiconductors, specialists of computer networks, and biochemists. I have noticed that examples provided by me were accepted by the audience differently depending on their relevance to the participants. You could instantly differentiate between the reactions of physics and chemists. Of course, I tried to use example that would not be extremely fie—specific so that an example from the field of mechanics would be understandable for chemists also.

For example, I have used the below described example. It was proposed to design an air-pump to be mounted on the bicycle frame: by pressing the saddle, it would inflate the tires. This example was taken from the exam for European patent attorneys. This solution is quite realistic, however, it has not been implemented yet. In any case, this kind of example is suitable for exams since no one from the examined ones has not heard about this kind of solution, and everyone has equal chances. This kind of task triggers no discussions or unnecessary disputes and allows focusing on finding the answer how this novelty should be named since a description of an invention involves a section where it needs to be explained in one sentence how a certain invention differs from previous methods of inflating tires, and tools used for this purpose.

This idea is likely to be implemented with the usage of embedded systems, however, it might provoke discussions. Could you give an undoubted example involving embedded systems?

E. Pabrėža. We could take, for example, a smart fishfinder/sonar compatible with a mobile phone through Bluetooth – a short range communication interface. Lithuanian company UAB Friday Lab operating in the Sunrise Valley Science and Technology Park has been working on this kind of product and is planning to launch this product to the market. Basically, the product is a small ball with an installed piezoelectric transmitter and receiver, certain electronic components that send, receive, and analyzes the signals. Immersed in water, it records ultrasound signals and registers the waves reflected from the bottom and fishes and transmits them to smartphone, or a tablet computer. In the screen, fisherman is presented the information he is interested in. Manufacturers of the device claim they are able to see what is happening in the depth of 40 m.

To be continued

 

Interviewer Gediminas Zemlickas