EOL's Patents: A Culture of Innovation

Working at EOL is a unique experience. In how many places throughout the world are engineers and scientists physically building original hardware and software tools that change the way we understand the atmosphere, climate, and observational sciences? There are not many, and, incredibly, EOL is one of them. The number of patents that originate in this laboratory is an obvious indicator of its culture of innovation. One walk by the EOL Director’s Office, where several of the patents are displayed, should indicate that something special happens in EOL.

What is a patent?
A patent is a legally enforceable right to exclude others from making, using, and/or selling an invention; they have been issued by the United States government since 1790. Nearly every consumer product holds and/or licenses at least one patent, including the device you are viewing right now.

UCAR’s General Counsel hosts on its website a list of patents issued to UCAR staff during the past 24 years. Of the 73 unique patents, 26 were issued to staff in EOL or ATD (Atmospheric Technology Division, a predecessor of EOL). Additionally, between September 2013 and April 2016, 11 currently pending UCAR patents were filed - nine by EOL staff. All in all, EOL patents focus on a broad range of inventions, but several center on lidar, dropsonde, and bistatic radar technology.

Kelly Coleman is a paralegal/legal administrator at the Office of General Counsel. Her wide eyes and animated personality show her excitement for innovation - she has seen quite a bit since starting her tenure here in 1996. “We really enjoy working with EOL. The Lab is one of the most ambitious.” she said. “We appreciate their work and their positive view of what they’re doing.”

EOL’s abundance of patents does not indicate the ease of obtaining one, which is no trivial task. Walk into EOL engineer Scott Spuler’s office, and you’re greeted by a warm smile, an impressive electric bicycle, and four patents mounted low on the wall with Spuler’s name and meticulous drawings etched in metal. He actually holds five patents with four pending, all of which are related to remote sensing, so he knows something about the process of obtaining a patent at UCAR. “It’s not a lot different from writing a peer-reviewed journal article,” said Spuler. “But different in that you focus more on the process and how you make it work.” Patenting original work begins with an invention disclosure, which includes writing up the technological part of the software, technique, or physical invention. Then, the inventor must work with a lawyer at UCAR’s Office of General Counsel to broadly cover what the invention does, find if others have done it, and have pictures drawn (no color allowed). Once a patent application is submitted, a patent examiner performs his or her own check to see if other inventions have any overlapping claims of the patent in question. If so, it is sent back for revision, often multiple times. The entire process, from finishing the invention to receiving the patent, usually takes a few years.

Why Obtain a Patent?
Why do engineers and scientists at a non-profit research laboratory go through process of getting a patent? Usually, patents are obtained so that the research can continue without others claiming the technology and/or selling it rather than distributing it responsibly for the greater good of the observational science community. Another important reason for patents is the ability to efficiently transfer technology from NCAR to, for example, a commercial company. EOL’s AVAPS®, a dropsonde system that measures vertical profiles of atmospheric variables, is currently licensed to Vaisala and used by the U.S. Air Force Hurricane Hunters, the UK Met Office, and many others. This licensing can yield royalties as well. It is important to note that such technology transfer is enabled by the implementation of the Bayh-Dole Act in the 1980s, which allows a federally funded organization to pursue ownership of an invention, rather than turning that ownership over the the federal government, as was previously the case. Lastly, an invention disclosure or patent is an excellent way to show that the funding provided for a project has been fruitful - potentially leading to further funding.

Evolution and Revolution in Scientific Research and Development
When asked what is unique about EOL and its culture of innovation, laboratory Director Vanda Grubišić turns to three words:  evolution, revolution, and agility. “All three of these words apply to our developments. The evolutionary development is very agile, as it is linked with the deployment side of things,” said Grubišić, referring to EOL’s numerous and varied field deployments. “We respond agilely to scientists’ needs by fine tuning and evolving our observing systems.” On the other hand, Grubišić said, when prompted by technological advances, EOL engages in revolutionary developments, whereby our engineers are quite agile in adopting new technologies and applying them to designing new observing systems. The water vapor differential absorption lidar (WV DIAL), a water vapor profiling instrument using optical technology, is an excellent example of such revolutionary technology that stems from recent advances in semiconductor diode lasers. The Airborne Phased Array Radar (APAR) is another such development, which represents an application of phased-array antenna technology to an airborne dual-Doppler and dual-polarization weather radar. Both of these are coming together in a laboratory that hosts an intersection of science and engineering.

Seeding Innovation
The UCAR President has recently formed an Innovation Council and has invited representation from all NCAR Laboratories. According to Scott Rayder, Senior Advisor to the UCAR President, the Council's purpose is to normalize, streamline, and seed innovation across all of UCAR. Twelve staff from across UCAR and NCAR are members of the Innovation Council, including engineer Matt Hayman from EOL. “EOL has a tremendous role to play [in innovation]. It is a treasure trove of observational tools,” said Rayder. The laboratory’s track record of innovation through patents should help EOL play a vital role on the Council.

EOL’s many patents are an example the laboratory’s innovative spirit. “The long list of patents is a clear indication of EOL, and prior to it, Atmospheric Technology Division (ATD), being vibrant environments that promote and foster innovation,” said Grubišić.

EOL Patents:

Title

Patent Number

Date Issued

Inventor(s)

Frequency Stable Pulsed Laser

6,633,596 B1

2003-10-14

Randall, Mitchell Alfred

Method for generating a representation of an atmospheric vortex kinematic structure

7,728,760 B2

2010-06-01

Lee, Wen-Chau

Lidar system for remote determination of calibrated, absolute aerosol backscatter coefficients

7,656,526 B1

2010-02-02

Spuler, Scott

High pulse-energy, eye-safe lidar system

7,583,364

2009-09-01

Mayor, Shane

High pulse-energy, eye-safe lidar system

7,583,364

2009-09-01

Spuler, Scott

Polarization lidar for the remote detection of aerosol particle shape

7,580,127

2009-08-25

Mayor, Shane

Polarization lidar for the remote detection of aerosol particle shape

7,580,127

2009-08-25

Spuler, Scott

Method and apparatus for clutter filtering staggered pulse repetition time signals

7,728,765 B1

2010-06-01

Hubbert, John

Radar system

7,053,813 B1

2006-05-30

Hubbert, John C.

Receiver for Bistatic Doppler Radar Network

5,469,169

1995-11-21

Holloway, Christopher L.

Low Cost Telemetry Receiving System

5,486,835

1996-01-23

Hock, Terrence F.

Raman cell for high power applications

7,869,469

2011-01-11

Spuler, Scott

Precision polarization optimized optical beam processor

7,869,127

2011-01-11

Richter, Dirk

Bistatic Multiple-Doppler Radar Network

5,410,314

1995-04-25

Wurman, Joshua Michael

Data Quality and Ambiguity Resolution in a Doppler Radar System

5,247,303

1993-09-21

Pratte, Jules F.

Optical Multi-Pass Cell

8,508,740 B2

2013-08-13

Richter, Dirk

Integrated Control System for Preparing and Deploying Sounding Devices and Managing Telemetry Therefrom

5,548,283

1996-08-20

Martin, Charles L.

Self-orienting embedded in-situ flux system

7,949,481 B2

2011-05-24

Semmer, Steven R.

Self-orienting embedded in-situ flux system

7,949,481 B2

2011-05-24

Militzer, John

Portable Intelligent Whole Air Sampling System

5,553,508

1996-09-10

Semmer, Steven R.

Portable Intelligent Whole Air Sampling System

5,553,508

1996-09-10

Norris, Kenneth D.

Lidar system for remote determination of calibrated, absolute aerosol backscatter coefficients

7,656,526 B1

2010-02-02

Mayor, Shane

Frequency Stable Pulsed Laser

6,633,596 B1

2003-10-14

Wulfmeyer, Volker G.

Self-orienting embedded in-situ flux system

7,949,481 B2

2011-05-24

Maclean, Gordon

Method and System for High Volume Sample Rate Holographic Particle Measurement

8,634,074 B2

2014-01-21

Fugal, Jacob

Bistatic Radar System for Centralized, Near-Real-Time Synchronized, Processing of Data to Identify Scatterers

6,462,699 B2

2002-10-08

Burghart, Chris Dale

Bistatic Radar System for Centralized, Near-Real-Time Synchronized, Processing of Data to Identify Scatterers

6,462,699 B2

2002-10-08

Randall, Mitchell Alfred

Bistatic Radar System for Centralized, Near-Real-Time Synchronized, Processing of Data to Identify Scatterers

6,462,699 B2

2002-10-08

Wurman, Joshua Michael

Bistatic Radar Network Having Incoherent Transmitter Operating in a Scanning Mode to Identify Scatterers

6,456,229 B2

2002-09-24

Burghart, Chris Dale

Bistatic Radar Network Having Incoherent Transmitter Operating in a Scanning Mode to Identify Scatterers

6,456,229 B2

2002-09-24

Randall, Mitchell Alfred

Bistatic Radar Network Having Incoherent Transmitter Operating in a Scanning Mode to Identify Scatterers

6,456,229 B2

2002-09-24

Wurman, Joshua Michael; Randall, Mitchell Alfred; Burghart, Chris Dale

Radar System Having Multiple Simultaneously Transmitted Beams Operating in a Scanning Mode to Identify Scatterers

6,377,204

2002-04-23

Randall, Mitchell Alfred

Radar System Having Multiple Simultaneously Transmitted Beams Operating in a Scanning Mode to Identify Scatterers

6,377,204

2002-04-23

Wurman, Joshua Michael

Portable Intelligent Whole Air Sampling System

5,553,508

1996-09-10

Fox, Jack R.

Portable Intelligent Whole Air Sampling System

5,553,508

1996-09-10

Delany, Anthony C.

Portable Intelligent Whole Air Sampling System

5,553,508

1996-09-10

Dabberdt, Walter F.

Radiometer including a cleaning system

8,182,613 B2

2012-05-22

Semmer, Steve R.

Radar Acquisition system

5,589,833

1996-12-31

Randall, Mitchell Alfred

Radar Acquisition system

5,589,833

1996-12-31

Loew, Eric

Recoverable Airborne Instrument Platform

6,144,899

2000-11-07

Lauritsen, Dean K.

Facility for Preparing and Deploying Sounding Devices

5,636,480

1997-06-10

Lauritsen, Dean K.

Dual Path Ultraviolet Hygrometer

5,227,636

1993-07-13

Schwiesow, Ronald L.