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Carderock wants researchers to patent their innovations

By Kelley Stirling, NSWC Carderock Division Public Affairs | Sept. 27, 2016


Potential inventors from Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division attended a training session on patents and technology transfer in West Bethesda, Maryland, Sept. 20.

Dr. Joe Teter, director of technology transfer; and Dr. John Barkyoumb, director of strategic relations; both working in Carderock's Chief Technology Office, along with Dave Ghatt, Carderock's lead patent attorney, devised this training as a way to reach employees who may be considering filing for a patent and for those who may just be considering inventing something. Barkyoumb is also the chair of the Invention Evaluation Board (IEB).

Brandon Swartz, an operations research analyst for the Cost Effectiveness Branch, attended the training. Although he has been at Carderock for several years, he says when new employees are getting up to speed on Carderock technical capabilities and business practices, they need to understand the resources available to the organization.

Teter said Carderock receives about 20 patents a year, but he thinks that number should be higher.

"A place this size, where we have essentially more than 1,000 scientists and engineers, we should be generating a lot more than 20 a year," Teter said. "We have the bandwidth to go higher."

Part of the challenge, Barkyoumb said, is many of the newer employees don't know how to or even why they should file for a patent. Barkyoumb and Ghatt gave in-depth presentations on why and how to file for a patent to the 25 employees who attended the training.

"I really encourage filing for patents," Ghatt said, adding it protects the government when its inventions are patented. He also went into detail about the legal ramifications the government faces if an invention is not patented, such as lawsuits for infringement.

According to Ghatt, the patent attorney will draft the patent application once the inventor provides an "invention disclosure," where a detailed description of the invention, with illustrations, is given, including what its intended use will be for the government and potentially outside government.

"Most patents are rejected the first time," Ghatt said. But that should just be understood as part of the patenting process, which generally takes about two years. Ghatt encouraged employees to file for patents because patents are important to both technical and business operations at Carderock.

"Carderock is 'where the fleet begins,' and patents build on that legacy of innovation we are known for," Swartz said. Once a government employee invents something and it is patented, the government owns the rights to the invention. From a legal perspective, an engineer who uses government equipment, money and time to invent something does so on behalf of the government. Likewise, an engineer who works for the government but spends his own time and money to invent something will own the invention.

Ghatt gave an example of this by describing Richard James, the inventor of the Slinky. In 1943, James was a naval engineer in Philadelphia working to develop a way to support or suspend shipboard instruments in rough seas. He was using tension springs when he dropped one and thought it would make a neat toy. James didn't use any government time or materials, and he took the idea home. Working with this wife, Betty, they came up with the Slinky. James patented the Slinky and sold millions of the toys.

"There are two reasons to get a patent -- to be defensive on your product or to make royalty money," Teter said. "With the Navy having a very big patent program compared to other services, most everything we do is defensive."

The hope is that a commercial entity will license a patent and create the product the government can then buy back, Teter said. That's where technology transfer comes in. At Carderock, that is when the Navy works with a non-Department of Defense entity to create or develop a mutually beneficial product, process or application that is consistent with Carderock's and the DoD's mission by entering into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA). Teter gave the third presentation at the training that covered how to develop CRADAs with industry and academia.

Carderock can receive the royalties from a license sold to a commercial entity. Teter said the money goes right back into Navy research and he thinks Carderock has a responsibility to the American taxpayer to file for patents.

"In the current competitive fiscal environment, we have to be vocal about our technical excellence," Swartz said. "Recognition is a huge part of advancing the Navy's mission and an individual's career. Our warfare center has to display the technical excellence of our workforce."

Filing for a patent at Carderock:

What is a patent?

A patent is a legal document that protects new, useful and non-obvious inventions for a limited amount of time (usually 20 years) and in exchange, the invention is disclosed to the public.

Why should I patent?

1. It benefits the inventor. An inventor's name is listed on the patent, regardless if the invented item is owned by the government. The inventor can also be recognized within the government with monetary awards and other prestigious awards such as the Vice Adm. Bowen Naval Patent of the Year Patent Award.

2. It benefits the government for two reasons. One is that patents serve to defend the government's work so that a commercial entity cannot sue for infringement rights of a government patented invention; and two, a commercial entity may decide to license and produce the patented invention, which may give the government royalties and which may allow the government to buy the product rather than producing it themselves.

3. It benefits the warfighter. Most of the technology developed at Carderock is military in nature and ultimately benefits Sailors or Marines.

What types of things can be patented?

Machines, manufactured items, composition of matter, software, hardware, processes and business methods.

What do I do if I think I might have an idea for invention?

Write it down, date and time stamp, and have it witnessed by two technically competent people. Continue to write detailed notes and draw illustrations as the idea develops.

What are the steps to filing for a patent?

1. Fill out an invention disclosure. Using the department chain of command, the inventor should present the idea to the department's Invention Evaluation Board representative, and that person will assist in filling out the invention disclosure. The IEB will evaluate the invention disclosure to determine if the invention will go forward for patent application.

2. File a patent application. This process is done through Carderock's patent attorneys. With the detailed notes and illustrations, the attorneys should be able to draft the invention description that will be used for the application. The application is filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Once a patent application has been filed, the application starts receiving the benefit of patent protection, but it is only when an official patent is issued that full patent protection is realized.

3. Receive an issued patent. This generally takes about two years from the time a patent application is filed.