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NASA Space Patents

NASA Patents To Be Auctioned 224

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the free-pair-of-scissors-for-the-red-tape dept.
Presto Vivace writes to tell us that as a continuing push to commercialize NASA-funded technology a group of 25 NASA patents will be auctioned off this coming October. "The sale, which will include rights to signal processing, GPS for spacecraft and sensor technologies, is the first auction under a partnership announced earlier this month between Goddard's Innovative Partnerships Program (IPP) and Ocean Tomo Federal Services LLC. Ocean Tomo provides a marketplace for intellectual property, which NASA wants to leverage in commercializing its technology."
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NASA Patents To Be Auctioned

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  • Auctioned off? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:05PM (#25016781)

    Those patents belong to the American people!

  • by Eric Smith (4379) * <eric@NosPAm.brouhaha.com> on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:05PM (#25016789) Homepage Journal
    As a US taxpayer, I already funded the research that led to these patents. Now they'll sell them off, which superficially sounds like a good thing. But the reality is that it means that I get to pay for them again. The companies buying the patents aren't ultimately the ones paying, it's those of us that buy products from those companies.

    The results of taxpayer-funded research need to be made freely available, not sold to the highest bidder.

  • Hell No! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dynedain (141758) <slashdot2 AT anthonymclin DOT com> on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:07PM (#25016817) Homepage

    If my tax dollars paid for the research and development that has lead to a patent, then that patent should remain in the hands of the government, not sold to the highest bidder.

    If these patents are so valuable that someone is willing to buy them (and theoretically license them), then NASA should be licensing the patents themselves. Sounds like a better long-term supplemental funding solution to me. Several other agencies have fee and license structures (FCC, FDA) that helps supplement their annual Congressional appropriations. Why not NASA as well?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:08PM (#25016829)

    NASA is a government agency, it is funded by taxpayers money. All research by NASA and patents they own should be in the public domain, it belong to the people.
    They cant just auction them away. The work was made by a government agency, so it belongs to the people!

  • by hirschma (187820) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:09PM (#25016839)

    TFA didn't really get into detail, but does this mean:

    1. Taxpayers fund research,
    2. Government patents results,
    3. Government sells patents to private concern,
    4. Taxpayer gets to pay for research again via the consumer channel,
    5. Private concern profits?

    Seems like another form of corporate welfare to me. Is this the case?

  • by compumike (454538) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:10PM (#25016859) Homepage

    For copyrightable material, "Works created by an agency of the United States government are public domain at the moment of creation." [wikipedia.org]

    But here, for patentable material, it's clear that that is not the case. The theory goes that since the taxpayer paid for it, the taxpayer should get the rights to it. It's essentially always the case that the inventors will "assign" the work to the organization... but should NASA really be able to hold a competitive IP position when we're all forced to pay for its work?

    Think of the private spaceflight organizations, for example, who might want to enter similar fields. They're already being forced to pay for NASA's research (via taxes), but they're being excluded from the result, while the opposite (NASA forced to pay for private company XYZ's research without a return of IP) is not happening.

    --
    Hey code monkey... learn electronics! Powerful microcontroller kits for the digital generation. [nerdkits.com]

  • by BitterOldGUy (1330491) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:12PM (#25016885)
    Ah. So the American Corp who would get these patents (by lottery or by political connections), saving money on R&D, can now pass the savings on to the CEO in terms of even higher salary and perks. He earned it after all by saving the company millions of dollars in R&D costs.

    In the meantime, NASA doesn't get to recover the costs that they spent (our tax dollars) and therefore has to beg Congress for more money. Congress, on the other hand, has things they would rather spend money on: wars, pork barrel spending, things that buy votes from joe sixpack who doesn't give a rat's ass about space - space science is one of those "elitist" pursuits, bridges to no-where, tax breaks to big oil, tax breaks to big corps who've lobbied for them, their own increasing salaries and perks, etc....

    Sorry, I didn't mean to sound bitter.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:13PM (#25016895)

    Gee, we paid for these patents. The end result of this will be higher prices when consumers end up using the results of this technology.

    If they wanted to promote technology, they should put these in the public domain; but instead they've opted to make some more money by screwing the people who provided the funding in the first place.

    This is also what Universities have been doing with public money and the patents they come up there, over the last 20 years. Which has lead, IMO, to less innovation (and a few richer professors). So, while NASA isn't alone here, the entire US government has plunged headfirst into doing their best to stifle innovation, and worsening the common good, all in the name of a few quick bucks.

    If today's stock market action is any indication, this whole steaming mess is about to come crashing down. But with NASA and the Universities approach, it will stay down for quite a while.

    When will they get it that the economy is better off by increasing innovation, rather than hindering it?

    Thank G*d we still have OSS left.

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:14PM (#25016901) Homepage Journal

    It's bad enough that NASA patents its inventions at all. But perhaps it's occasionally necessary, to prevent dangerous tech from getting into private hands. And maybe if the patents were awarded to American holders strategically to "promote progress in science and the useful arts", which is the only basis patents have, from the Constitution, they might be worth their infringements on free communication and further innovation.

    But those inventions were paid for by the entire American public, as directed under the government elected by the public to serve the entire public. Simply turning them over to private corps for a little money doesn't justify the public investment.

    It's just another subsidy forced on the entire public on some special preference for some private corporation. I thought Republicans hated that kind of thing.

  • by Fastolfe (1470) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:14PM (#25016905)

    No, you'll still have paid only once, assuming the terms of this sale are equitable. Your original investment (taxes paid) into the research that created these patents is being *sold*, not given, to a private company. NASA is getting something in return for this, which means you are getting something in return for it.

  • Re:Hell No! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Adambomb (118938) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:17PM (#25016949) Journal

    Why not NASA as well?

    Easy answer with a question: Why would they set up a licensing setup (with all the overhead and fun as their investment) when the government can instead get the big boost from the initial sale and then tax both the sale itself, the revenue of the company, and the sales of the consumer? This would then shunt any overhead of profiting off the patent to the winning bidder as well.

    Granted, the answer only makes sense when it goes with the assumption that it can be spun such that your objection doesn't become the 51%+ demographic as you're exactly right that this is complete bull.

  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:20PM (#25016983)

    But the reality is that it means that I get to pay for them again.

    Suppose instead that you were the sole owner of the patents, but for some reason (you choose) you didn't want to spend money to develop and market products based upon the patents, even though you might personally be interested in buying whatever products are ultimately produced using the patents. Would you not be happy with a cash settlement from the sale of your patents? Presumably you could still purchase whatever products came out of the patents and enjoy them while paying a small share of what the patent buyer paid you (in the form of a higher product price) in exchange for a product that you want. How is this not a good deal?

    Now, in theory it would be better if all of us taxpayers saw some "return" on our investment in the form of lower taxes going forward based upon the proceeds of a successful sale of patents generated from publicly funded research. However, in practice any proceeds will probably go to NASA and not be returned to the US Treasury so in that sense the US taxpayer is getting a bit of the shaft. On the other hand, maybe some useful products, which wouldn't otherwise be available to the public, will come of this so it may not all be bad.

    If the patents were made freely available then other countries and foreign companies could free-ride and enjoy the fruits of our research efforts without reimbursing us for any of the costs that we have already paid for the research. How would that make you feel? Perhaps you prefer that nobody earns any profit, even though your tax dollars are already a sunk cost either way, just to spite the winning bidders? Either way you still paid for the research and got no direct return.

  • The Best Way? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:26PM (#25017057)

    They claim they want to sell the patents so that the technology is available for American businesses? Wouldn't the best way to do that be to not patent them at all in the first place? Or at least liscense the patents cheaply to any and all interested American businesses?

    We already paid for the research once, now we'll end up paying for it again when some company begins gouging prices because they hold the patent and no one else can compete.

  • by reebmmm (939463) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:33PM (#25017147)

    Let me just add: nothing is being sold. Each of the lots is "an exclusive license" and not an actual assignment. Presumably, the exclusive license will have development and commercialization requirements--just like any other federally funded patent license agreement. Typically, the point is to bring the technology to market. Obviously, NASA doesn't think it's doing a good job of that right now.

    Also, you have a very messed up idea of how government works. Things that happen with your tax monies aren't freely available to you. If a pig farmer gets a subsidy, you can't go take a pig.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:37PM (#25017191)

    The entire purpose of NASA to begin with was for open research and space-technology.

    ALL NASA funded research should be property of the US public domain. i.e. Patented by the USA but no specific company or entity.

    I have always been a firm supporter of NASA, but if they privatize then pull the funding. If they want taxpayer money fine, but if they are going private then go all the way, and let the insiders pay for their own research instead of leeching the public.

  • by WiglyWorm (1139035) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:37PM (#25017199) Homepage
    by liscencing them?
  • by Eric Smith (4379) * <eric@NosPAm.brouhaha.com> on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:40PM (#25017225) Homepage Journal
    No, I get to pay more every time I buy products using the patented technology. When I paid the taxes to fund NASA, it was most certainly NOT with the intention or stated purpose that they would develop things to sell to me.
  • Say what? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by miffo.swe (547642) <daniel DOT hedblom AT gmail DOT com> on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:41PM (#25017237) Homepage Journal

    Correct me if im wrong but since when did NASA fund its own research instead of receiving enormous sums of money from the taxpayers? From where i stand this does look like NASA wants to cash in twice. US taxpayers have already paid for the patents once.

    These patents should be free to use for Americans but by all means use them competitively against the rest of us.

  • by Eric Smith (4379) * <eric@NosPAm.brouhaha.com> on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:48PM (#25017331) Homepage Journal
    Whether it's an exclusive license or a sale, the result is the same. I get to pay for the research again and again.

    Your example with the pig is exactly why the government shouldn't be giving out subsidies. I am unable to identify which of the Powers of Congress enumerated in Article I Section 8 of the US Constitution includes the power to grant subsidies to private entities.

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:48PM (#25017333) Homepage Journal

    How reasonable. What are you doing on Slashdot?
    The other choice would be to grant none exclusive rights to companies. Maybe on a per product basis? That would then open up problems with auditing and do we want NASA doing that?

    My choice would be to offer the patents free to any US company that builds their product in the US. But that would be a mess to monitor.
    Frankly this seems like a reasonable way to deal with these patents.

  • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:55PM (#25017433)

    This assumes that I own part of NASA or that NASA pays me something out of its profits. All of which is false.

    GP was right. I funded the research with my tax dollars, I own part of it. Either I get some of the cash that the auction netted, or this is nothing but corporate welfare. To anyone who's arguing that the corporation is still paying for it: there's a world of difference between paying for research and stumbling on something that makes money, and paying for a patent on something that makes money. In one, the money overlord bears the risk of the research failing. In the other, the research risk has already been born.

  • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:59PM (#25017493)

    Of course. Except the analogy is wrong. In this case, I (NASA) was paid by someone. That someone is the US taxpayer. As it seems that the patents were work for hire (as evidenced by the fact that they belong to NASA, and not the inventor), they belong to whoever paid the money. I.e., me (the US taxpayer).

    I could accept the alternative of lower taxes because NASA wouldn't require so much funding, but alas, I'm pretty sure DC will find some other uses for my taxes.

  • by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Monday September 15, 2008 @06:05PM (#25017583) Homepage

    Pardon my unamerican ignorance, but what is NASA exactly ? If they are a government operation, shouldn't these patents be delivered to the public domain ? After all, they are the fruits of tax dollars.

    Maybe I have a weird, overly accurate definition of democracy, but it seems as though government property should be considered public property... but hey, don't mind me and my commonwealth mindset. I'm just a cocky Canadian after all.

  • by Fastolfe (1470) on Monday September 15, 2008 @06:12PM (#25017697)

    The government spent tax dollars for NASA. NASA did research that resulted in patents. The value of those patents is all that matters at this point. The rest is a sunk cost [wikipedia.org]. An auction swaps two things of equal value: here, a patent license, and cash. NASA will be able to do more with the cash than they will with a patent. The company owner will be able to do more with a patent license than they can with the cash. For taxpayers, it's a zero sum, except now we have products coming to market that we wouldn't have had before.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 15, 2008 @07:00PM (#25018337)

    US Government patents don't work this way.

    Government R&D or R&D by a commercial firm using Government funds 99% of the time results in a clause in the contract the Government has a royalty free license to use the technology

    I doubt this will be any different

  • We own NASA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kwerle (39371) <kurt@CircleW.org> on Monday September 15, 2008 @07:10PM (#25018459) Homepage Journal

    Your cut is a wealthier NASA.

  • by evilklown (1008863) on Monday September 15, 2008 @07:12PM (#25018475)

    I would like to be the first to suggest a class action lawsuit against both the government and the highest bidder. I wish not to recoup any money but, as previously mentioned, I would like these breakthroughs (made possible by tax-funded research) to be freely available to any citizen of the United States. I think it's time we, the taxpayers, set a precedence for publicly funded research to be publicly available.

  • by zogger (617870) on Monday September 15, 2008 @07:26PM (#25018637) Homepage Journal

    Is that like how the FCC auctioning off the public airwaves to the same telco cartel makes us a wealthier FCC?

  • by SharpFang (651121) on Monday September 15, 2008 @08:09PM (#25019123) Homepage Journal

    Nope. ALL American companies get these patents, freely. None can use them to monopolize a sector of the market and gain unhealthy advantage - they all compete and they all produce better, smarter equipment while competition keeps the prices down.

    Imagine Velcro still being in hands of one manufacturer selling it for $50/inch^2.

  • Re:Auctioned off? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Korin43 (881732) on Monday September 15, 2008 @08:12PM (#25019151) Homepage
    Why the hell does a public organization have patents?
  • Re:We own NASA (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 15, 2008 @10:16PM (#25020303)

    Cut right out of the deal.

  • Re:We own NASA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hey! (33014) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:50AM (#25023155) Homepage Journal

    Not really. NASA is not run as a profit center, so this doesn't add a nickel to its budget. If you want to know where the money is going, you've got to look at the budget busters for current spending: the Iraq war, federal highway spending, flood insurance, that sort of thing.

    This is just a kind of LBO style ideological stunt. When the constituent assets of a company are seen as more valuable than the company, you start selling them off.

    What is worse, by selling the patent, the government in effect competes with other inventors. If the government beats an private inventor to the punch, he is not only deprived of the patent, he is unable to use the invention, unless the government chooses to license the patent as widely as possible. In that case, any work he does around that invention is not only usable, it may result in new inventions. So government inventions benefit everybody working in the field, until they are sold. At that point they benefit the highest bidder exclusively. And that's what this is about: turning public property to somebody's private benefit. The money is a minor side effect.

    We can see the same attitude in attempts to hinder public access to public data like weather forecasts, except through a third party vendor who ponies up considerable dough. It's not the income that matters, it's the exclusivity. Like clean air, information has no market value until you are forced to pay for it.

    The inability to see a common good in something like technological spinoffs from space exploration means that the whole activity is seen as worth less than the sum of its assets. This is not about enriching NASA, it's about liquidating any value it might have.

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