The end, beginning No 6
Embedded systems, inventions, and patents
Evaldas Pabrėža, with whom we had a chance to familiarize in the first part of the conversation, is convinced that specialists of embedded systems are going to be sought after in the near future in Lithuania. The boom should start in the areas of lasers and biomedical equipment, and then move to other areas. Not long ago, similar scientific breakthroughs were observed in information technologies, and now the “throne of science” should be given up to another field. It shall bring with itself nanotechnologies, other recent achievements in physics, and technological solutions.
All this was discussed during the interview with Evaldas Pabrėža, Director General of UAB Integrated Optics.
Should we or shouldn’t we get into someone’s garden
Is it true that the area of laser design, where you also start to express yourself, is inconceivable without application of embedded systems?
Evaldas Pabrėža. The area of application for embedded systems is very wide, therefore I will refrain from specific examples. In the company UAB Integrated Optics, my partner Jonas Jonuška is an electrician who previously worked with embedded systems. He programmes microprocessors using assembler program, which by itself is a telling fact. Some of Jonas’s ideas in laser design comes from the extensive knowledge in electronics and optics. A good laser designing team should have at least one good electrician, an engineer and an optician, and maybe a programmer that would ensure user interface. Such team can already seek for reliable result. In major laser companies, designers of electronic and optical products tend not to interfere with the work of others, however, for my partner such interdisciplinary knowledge is the source for drawing on ideas. For the meantime, it answers the purpose.
Over past few years, some venture capital funds have been established, which is a huge support for the development of newly-established companies. We also will try to take advantage of some of these funds. Our ideas, knowledge and time combined with the funds from certain venture capital funds could bring excellent results.
What do we need? We need that scientists from one scientific field would give tasks for designers and specialists from another field. Such communication could be very useful. Before it is achieved, it is difficult to speak about greater progress.
Proper management of intellectual property
A question for you as an expert in patenting. Is it true that the result of inventor’s scientific activity belongs to himself but at the same time is a property of the university?
E. Pabrėža. I’ve looked to the strategy of Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) concerning commercialization of the results of scientific activity and management of intellectual property. It has been established in the respective document that intellectual property partly belongs to the university, even in the cases when the student who has developed it do not work for the university. This has been reasoned by the fact that the student used university laboratory, equipment, and maybe reagents, computer, etc.
What has higher value: intelligence, knowledge, and time used for work (which often is hard to estimate), or technical means required for achieving the work results?
E. Pabrėža. The rules have been approved by KTU, and similar activity is observed in other universities. If I’m not mistaken, KTU rules say that inventor is entitled to 40 percent of financial benefit received from application of the invention, including certain operating costs related to commercialization. Granting 30–40 percent of funds received as a result of commercialization for the inventor is not a bad thing in itself. What is bad is that university (not KTU in this case) takes a significant share of inventor’s intellectual property but usually do not have qualified staff in this area to use and manage this intellectual property properly. Universities do not allocate financial funds for this purpose, nor have the experience of how to use this property efficiently. That’s where the biggest problem lies in.
As if the boundaries of inventions do not exist
How could young minds be attracted to the areas where embedded systems are used?
E. Pabrėža. I can tell you what has attracted me myself. While working at UAB Altechna I had a chance to meet postgraduate Lithuanians from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. They were working on technologies how a femtosecond laser could be used for entering several terabytes of information into a small volume of simple glass. It is a huge amount of information, which could be retained for an unlimited period of time – for as long as the glass can persist. It does not decay, and information recorded is hard to affect since glass is resistance event to radiation, therefore this way of storing information would be of extreme reliability when flying to long-term space missions.
Moreover, our doctoral students in Southampton claim that changing polarity in glass five degrees of freedom are obtained to record the information. To put in simple terms, one point manages to store more than one bit of information. There are also disputes going on regarding information recording system alternative to binary information recording. Interesting times are yet to come for inventors.
Maybe, a time will come when femtosecond laser will no longer need a table to be mounted on, and it will be possible to carry it in one hand?
E. Pabrėža. It is difficult to talk about the limits of inventions because they seem not to exist. These limits may remarkably decrease or indefinitely increase.
Having mentioned Lithuanians from the University of Southampton, we should also mention physicists of Groningen University in Holand led by professor Douwe A. Wirsma. In this group of scientists also works our fellow-countryman and former student of Vilnius University Andrius Baltuška. This group has been working on generating the shortest in the world optical impulses of 4,8 fs. By now, it is considered a world’s record. Thus, we can be proud of our Lithuanian scientists.
Hoe to make the specialists of embedded systems more visible
Let us get back to Lithuania. What are the areas you see the greatest prospects for young scientists working in the area of embedded systems?
E. Pabrėža. In business, similarly as in science there are still much to do. Young people should find their place in industry to face the prospects that awaits for them. There are quite favourable conditions to apply the knowledge and skills in the area of laser development or dealing with relevant problems in biology. Specialists of embedded systems could be perfect mediators between different fields of science, including, of course, science and industry. They can perfectly express themselves in interdisciplinary research, or in designing or producing final products.
Talking about scientists as I see them, they should gather into certain groups or societies to be seen, or at least they should identify themselves for the public to understand what they are doing. There is also a need to prepare specialists of embedded systems because currently we only have specialists from some other fields who learn about embedded systems and start working with them. Of course, there are electronics engineers prepared in Lithuania who are taught programming and processor programming, and these specialists could probably form the core of people working with embedded systems.
When we do not think about the value of our work
What difficulties or disruptions do you see in this activity? How they look from the side.
E. Pabrėža. I know some physicists who work in the nanopolimerization research group in Laser Research Centre at Vilnius University. They are working with 3D polymeric patterns of nanometric dimensions. They required a development equipment, which for them appeared to be very simple: a baker with a solution to put a sample in, mix it, then take it out, and dry out. They decided to make this equipment by themselves. With the help of processor programming, one member of the group produced a prototype. It seems to be good, however, it’s a pity that our scientists fail to appreciate the value of their time.
Let us say, our scientists order a service from a certain company and are surprised by the price of the service. It seems too expensive for them taking into account the time required to produce the product. This is because they think that their time does not cost anything. Therefore they undertake this work by themselves, and try to learn processor programming or other very complex things. This could be called satisfying curiosity on public money for every day of their work has a certain price. When did I notice it?
That’s why our specialists are more universal, and some of them are extremely skilful.
E. Pabrėža. I agree that our engineers and scientists are forced to be universal compared to the colleagues in the analogous fields abroad. If our scientists would aim to produce more of these products thus developing a business, then it would be commendable, instead, they produced a single product without thinking about its costs. Our specialists and scientists learn a lot of things, however, they are willing to continue to learn without creating any higher value.
I do not quite understand the diversity of your interests: where they extend in width, and where they go into deep? You have been working in the areas of patenting and consulting, and now you have a laser production company established, and judging from this picture, you still have some ideas in reserve.
E. Pabrėža. You see, patenting itself does not create any value. It is a tool to protect and defend own ideas. I am also interested in commercialization, which goes after patenting. The activity that is behind patenting is the most interesting for me. However, in Lithuania, there is an extremely low number of those engaged in patenting that someone has to do this. People need to be encouraged to patent their ideas, and afterwards comes commercialization.
How the essence of invention should be described?
What was your impression about the audience which came to listed to your course on patenting during the training on embedded systems?
E. Pabrėža. We had lots of discussion, which was a good thing. People were mostly discussing the things that are right or wrong when patenting their idea. Some of the participants thought it was not right to patent a technical idea as widely as possible without leaving space for other developers. Some of them claimed that patenting is exactly the way of getting a certain monopoly for a certain fee to the state. Seemingly, it is pure commerce, however, at the same time it is a mechanism of implementing all the technical solutions and technologies. A patent, i.e. the right to a monopoly acquired, is a tool to get returns for the idea and the efforts required for the development of this idea.
But couldn’t we call it an unsolvable collision between what is rights and what is wrong? Every case is individual and unique, similarly as a response to a question.
E. Pabrėža. Similar competition is observed between Panašiai konkuruoja grynai capitalist apologists and followers of the principles of open technologies. These are two different ideologies, and none of them cannot be called the right one. Real life is much more complex.
During the training, we attempted to prepare a description for an invention. For the majority of the participants everything became clear very quickly, and I gave them a practical task. Everyone prepared their descriptions, and afterwards we analyzed them. The major part of the group managed to understand what is most important and essential in the invention presented as an example. However, putting all this into several sentences appeared to be much more difficult. It turned out that the majority of participants have overrated their ability to learn this lesson. This was due to the lack of skills of formulating technical thoughts.
Do not expect a good uncle to come up with an idea
Is it required to provide the know-how of the invention in its description, i.e. to reveal the essence of the invention?
E. Pabrėža. Description must meet the criterion of industrial applicability so that other person could replicate the invention upon receiving its description. This requirement has also provoked discussions that there might be some unscrupulous employees in the patenting services who could reveal the invention to third parties. In my personal experience, such rumours have not proven themselves.
However, I could agree that there might be cases of information leakage when publishing scientific articles with editorial offices employing external experts. The same cannot be said about the system of patenting, which is certainly more reliable. Having submitted a description of an invention, the person received a document containing the date, required signatures and a seal, therefore there is no reason to worry about what is going to happen afterwards. Having received the approved certificate of invention submission, one can be sure that it will be valid in any place in the world, and no one could patent an invention having the same or similar description. Therefore, inventions should be patented first, and only afterwards be published in scientific literature.
How much does it cost for the author to submit an invention for patenting?
When the inventor himself submits an application and a description of the invention to receive a patent, he as a natural person will pay LTL 200. when application is submitted by a university, then the price is LTL 400. If there is a need for consulting services, and consultants submit the description, it will cost LTL 2000.
Thus, it is useful to learn something for yourself despite the fact you would rather promote specialization.
E. Pabrėža. When you are planning to use something you have learned only once in your life, then it will not be financially profitable. Learning also has its cost.
And for the end of the conversation, are you going to apply you knowledge in the area of technical work?
E. Pabrėža. Yes, definitely. However, we will also attempt to make some unprecedented moves. First, we are planning to commercialize the technology of laser production. We want to design the first prototypes of our product, and only then ask for investments so that we could dictate our own terms and conditions.
Even now, I see many possibilities for young people in Lithuania if they have good ideas and are willing to work hard. However, we should not expect someone to come, give a good idea and motivate to work.
Interviewer Gediminas Zemlickas